The last thing people expected to see this year was shape-shifting four-dimensional objects. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what we are getting, and the objective is to use these objects to build outer space structures. This is great news for all companies and organizations exploring space, as launching things into space remains a very expensive undertaking. By using shape-shifting 4D objects, things will look very different in a few years from now.

Printing Shape-shifting 4D Objects is Quite Intriguing

It is evident we need to find ways to get objects into space at a lower cost. Even organizations such as NASA pay up to $40,000 per pound to do exactly that. Such a price point is not sustainable in the long run, yet finding a solution is not an easy feat. Creating more compact payloads is the only way forward from here on out, yet that is a lot easier said than done.

Thankfully, there are some groups exploring potential solutions. The Georgia Institute of Technology is working on a way to create small structures through 3D printing. What makes this concept even more exciting is how the objects expand when exposed to heat, which effectively makes them four-dimensional. These are still the very early days of exploring this technology, though, but the preliminary results look quite promising.

Not too long ago, we talked about how 3D-printed objects could change shape after the printing job is completed. It is evident this technology can be used for various purposes moving forward, including the construction of cost-efficient outer space buildings. Time becomes the official fourth dimension in this three-dimensional printing process, which can lead to very interesting results along the way.

What makes this particular research so appealing for space travel is the use of tensegrity. This refers to a system in which floating “roads” can be held together by cables. All objects can be collapsed with ease, yet still provide a very sturdy surface to work with. Taking this technology to outer space and turning it into something viable will still be quite a challenge, to say the least.

It is quite nifty to see these 3D-printed objects and see them evolve into something entirely different as time progresses. More specifically the original 3D print will be entirely flat, yet they unfold when dropped into heated water. The objects themselves can be hard-coded to only transform after a specific amount of time has elapsed. Relying on temperature to induce these changes is quite interesting, although it remains to be seen if it is a viable solution.

More importantly, these shape-shifting objects will return to their original state as many times as needed. This creates a whole new type of printed objects, which can be restored to their original state as often as needed. They will wear down after multiple transformations, although it appears that is an issue which may be fixed sooner rather than later. Should that be the case, we may soon enter an era in which products are never thrown away completely.

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