Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed 3D printed inflatable structures that can be used as configurable car interiors.
The Self-Assembly Lab at MIT collaborated with German auto brand BMW on the project called Liquid Printed Pneumatics. The experimental engineering technique could potentially help BMW carry out some of the shapeshifting features imagined in its futuristic concept cars.
The result is a stretchy, inflatable silicone prototype that can take on different shapes depending on the level of air pressure inside. It could easily be tuned to different positions or levels of springiness depending on user preference.
"There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape," said Martina Starke, head of brand vision and brand design at BMW Group. "Interiors could even take on malleable, modular uses."
This project marks the first time an inflatable object has been 3D printed. The inflatable was created using the Self-Assembly Lab's Rapid Liquid Printing technique, unveiled last year as a way of printing furniture and other objects. The technique involves extruding material from a computer-controlled nozzle into a tank of gel, where its left to harden. This would allow the use of softer materials that in other forms of 3D printing would collapse under the weight of gravity before they are set.
"Rapid Liquid Printing combines the advantages of casting with the customization and capabilities of 3D printing and demonstrates the first printed inflatables that can fully stretch and transform like balloons," Self-Assembly Lab head Skylar Tibbits told Dezeen. "Speed and customisation are important, but more than that, we can uniquely print with truly elastic silicone rubbers, polyurethane rubbers, foams, plastics and a variety of other materials that are difficult or impossible to print with using other forms of 3D printing."
Tibbits also eyes possible applications for these 3D printed inflatables in shoes, packaging, and soft robotics.
There are no immediate plans to use Liquid Printed Pneumatics for mass production. However, experimenting with new materials gives BMW a chance to reassess how cars look and interact with their passengers. Liquid Printed Pneumatics is on display at London's V&A museum as part of the exhibition The Future Starts Here until November 4.
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