“Now that the promise of 3-D printing has landed on the national agenda, researchers want to increase the stakes — with so-called 4-D printing.
No, the printers won’t generate hypercubes [above]. Rather, the scientists claim that their “fourth dimension” refers to time — as in the space-time continuum described by the mathematician Hermann Minkowski early in the 20th century. The 4-D structures are first generated by 3-D printers but then transform when activated.
“This is a whole new idea of printing, where you don’t just print static objects; you print things that turn into other things,” explained Skylar Tibbits, an M.I.T. researcher who is working on the printer collaboration with Stratasys, an Israeli 3-D printing company. Mr. Tibbits’s research has focused on self-assembly technologies, for things ranging from toys to furniture.
The research, which was announced Tuesday at the TED Conference in Long Beach, Calif., is into what essentially resembles self-folding origami.”