New Technique for 3D Printing Actuators, Sensors, and Hair

Although today’s 3D printers are capable of some amazing things, researchers in MIT’s Media Lab are rethinking the technology and expanding its capabilities. They have found a way to bypass a time-intensive step in 3D printing so that hair-like structures can be printed. They have used their new technique to print “hairs” that can perform sensing, adhesion, and actuation.

We’re just trying to think how we can fully utilize the potential of 3-D printing, and create new functional materials whose properties are easily tunable and controllable.

Jifei Ou

The MIT team built a new software platform called “Cillia” that lets users define the angle, thickness, density, and height of thousands of hairs in just a few minutes. This would normally take hours to complete using conventional computer-aided design (CAD) software to draw out each strand. Then users would have to send their design through a slicer program that would translate the drawings into pixels for a printer. The thousands of hairs required to make anything useful would crash a typical slicing program.

The researchers presented a paper detailing the results at the Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May. They wrote, “The ability to fabricate customized hair-like structures not only expands the library of 3-D-printable shapes, but also enables us to design alternative actuators and sensors. 3-D-printed hair can be used for designing everyday interactive objects.”

Source: MIT | Image Courtesy of Tangible Media Group/MIT Media Lab

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