Swiss designer Christoph Guberan and the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT’s International Design Center have just unveiled a collection of functional inflatable lamps, vases, and vessels. But the special thing about these products is that they are 4D-printed, says Fast Company contributor Aileen Kwun.

Rapid Liquid Printing was developed by the Self-Assembly Lab and Steelcase Inc. last year, and allows for vast improvements upon 3D-printed processes now familiar to us. Rather than printed laterally, as a layered substrate, Rapid Liquid Printed objects are robotically “drawn” four-dimensionally in a vat of gel suspension, which supports the printed structure as it solidifies, allowing for vastly more intricate works in a fraction of the time—in many cases, down to mere minutes. Combined with the Lab’s experimental materials, the 4D-printing technology carries a host of potential applications.

For the presentation at Patrick Parrish Gallery in New York City, the designers have chosen to focus their experimentations on printing inflatable objects with silicone. “The two major things that are new here is that printing soft, stretchy materials is very difficult in any other 3D-printing process,” MIT professor Skylar Tibbits, who founded and co-directs the Lab, explains. “It’s almost impossible—and then, printing inflatables that are also air- and water-tight is really unheard of.”

Currently, the only limitation to Rapid Liquid Printing is physical scale. The printed object can only be as large as the tank containing it. But when that printed object is rendered in a material that has the ability to inflate, morph, or evolve in the span of its material lifetime, the potential applications become exponentially greater: portable shelters, furniture, interiors, and skins are just some of the applications the Lab suggests, and which a handful of industry players have jumped at the chance to explore.

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