Self-Assembling Wood? Weather Activated Clothes? MIT says yes

Created by the MIT Self-Assembly Lab, programmable materials made from wood or carbon fibres could radically transform the way we interact with materials in our environment – from fabrics to construction materials. Textiles in clothing could respond to climate for instance, becoming thicker when the temperature drops. And wood could be programmed to become self-assembling, eliminating the need for instructions or screwdrivers when you buy a furniture flatpack.

Known as programmable materials, these MIT material creations are synthesized with very little robots that tell the material to fold and transform when activated.  This technology relies on something called ‘4D printing,’ whereby the ability to change shape is created during the printing process. In collaboration with Autodesk, the MIT team’s programmable wood panels are created with a compound of specialised plastic filaments and wood fibres, which are arranged into particular patterns with a special printer that is comparable to a Maker Bot. When the wood panels absorb moisture, the wood fibres expand and the printed patterns act like instructions, telling the material what to do and where to move. So a flat piece of wood ‘knows’ how to become a chair, for example. The MIT team believes that this self-assembly mechanism could be used at any scale and replicated in numerous other types of material. You can watch a video of programmable wood in action here.

Lead by Skylar Tibbits, the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT is a multi-disciiplinary group of designers, engineers and scientist who are re-imagining the way we think about materials and inventing self-assembly technology. Says Tibbits, “We work with any type of material – synthetic or natural materials – and really try to design specific geometries that have materials in mind and when you design these two together they respond to energy and the energy sources can be heat, shaking, gravity, pneumatics, electronics. You can use any type of energy and when you mix that with the geometry and the material properties than they can respond and they can change state.”

Find out more about the MIT Self-Assembly Lab here.