I am pretty sure most of you have heard of 3D printing technology. Knowing that you can print anything you want, 3D printers have opened up unlimited opportunities for us to print toys, tools in our living room and household appliances as well. However, all of these great products have one thing in common – rigidity. That means they will maintain their shape once we print them, avoiding the hassle of putting pieces together to obtain a complete product.
Lego pieces that need to be assembled (Source: Free Art & Technology)
So what does that really mean? Well, it means printing objects that can change after they are printed—basically printing a raw material that folds into the shape of the final object like a long chain of polypeptides in cells that self-folds into a functional protein.
4D Printing: Self-Folding Strand into “MIT” (Source: The New York Times)
For example, this MIT string works by printing a long strand of plastic that’s made two different polymers that react differently to water; one expands and one contracts, and by intelligently mixing the two based on blueprints, the strands fold themselves into the shape of the final object. Although 4D technology remains premature, such concept has the potential to extend to greater innovations that will allow 4D production of pipes that can actually expand and contract in response to water demand. Or imagine a self-assembling furniture. Print out a flat board and add water; next thing you know it curls up into a rocking chair.
Touch screens are sooo 2000-and-late. You know what’s fresh? Being able to feel the texture of what’s on your screen. Just imagine feeling the cold, hard steel of the weapon your character is holding in Call of Duty; or the soft, silky material of that perfect dress you’re buying online. Does this seem far-fetched to you? Well, this kind of magic is called haptic technology.
What is haptic technology? In short, it is a feedback-technology that simulates the sense of touch by vibration, motion and force through interactions with the user. It is easier to replicate visual and auditory cues from the user, but much more difficult to work on tactile cues. Nonetheless, researchers are actively looking at how to efficiently convert these signals to a sense of touch.
Okay, so why so much fuss about this – what will it bring to you, blog- reader? In many applications, the sense of touch is vital to convey information about the object from the fingertips to the brain. When this sense is combined with the other 4, it dramatically increases the amount of information the brain receives about the object. This reduces the amount of time and error involved in completing a certain task. This is especially important in professional training, such as when doctors and astronauts practice on virtual objects.
A device that provides haptic feedback through a user’s hand.
The video below is a TedEd talk by a professor at UPenn. It summarizes haptic technology and provides some important implications for this applied science. For example, medical students can practice their profession on virtual patients, such as finding cavities on a set of teeth. In fact, cavities can more precisely be found on real teeth with this technology as well! Online shopping can also be enhanced – the shopper can feel the texture of the item before they make the purchase – making it a more convenient experience for all. Gamers will also be more involved in the game as they can feel the ground underneath the character’s feet, and can accurately simulate the driving of a vehicle.
Maybe in the next few years, when you shop for your favourite kind of jeans at hm.com, you will be able to feel that familiar denim texture right from your device at home.