MIT Innovate with 3D Printed Hair

Today, 3d printers can seemingly create almost anything. With this latest 3d printing innovation from MIT’s Media Lab, you can now print hair, fur and other materials with dense arrays of fine features that up until now required great amounts of computation time.

Instead of using standard CAD software to draw individual hairs on the computer, which is an extremely time consuming process, the researchers have created a new software platform name “Cilllia,” that allows users to determine the angle, density, thickness and length of thousands of hair in only minutes.
With this software, the team have designed array of hair-like structures with a resolution of 50 microns. This is about the width of a human hair. By varying the dimensions, they can create a range of different types of bristles ranging from fine fur to coarse bristles.

The MIT team believe this technology could potentially in the future be used to print hair extensions and wigs. However, more immediately they believe their 3d printed hair could perform more useful tasks such as sensing adhesion and actuation.

To demonstrate adhesion, the team printed arrays that act as Velcro-like bristle pads. Depending on the angle of the bristles, the pads can stick to each other with varying forces. For sensing, the researchers printed a small furry rabbit figure, equipped with LED lights that light up when a person strokes the rabbit in certain directions.

And to see whether 3-D-printed hair can help actuate, or move objects, the team fab-ricated a weight-sorting table made from panels of printed hair with specified angles and heights. As a small vibration source shook the panels, the hairs were able to move coins across the table, sorting them based on the coins’ weight and the vibra-tion frequency.

Jifei Ou, a graduate student in media arts and sciences, says the work is inspired by hair-like structures in nature, which provide benefits such as warmth, in the case of human hair, and movement, in the case of cilia, which help remove dust from the lungs.

“It’s very inspiring to see how these structures occur in nature and how they can achieve different functions,” Ou says. “We’re just trying to think how can we fully utilize the potential of 3-D printing, and create new functional materials whose properties are easily tunable and controllable.”

Ou is lead author on the paper, which also includes graduate students Gershon Dublon and Chin-Yi Cheng; Felix Heibeck, a former research assistant; Hiroshi Ishii, the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor in media arts and sciences; and Karl Willis of Addimation, Inc.