BMW and MIT Collaborate for Liquid Printed Pneumatics Project

BMW and MIT Collaborate for Liquid Printed Pneumatics Project

Vehicle interiors will change drastically once full automation becomes commonplace. To that end, BMW Design has partnered with MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory to develop 3D printed inflatable material technologies that self-transform, adapt and morph from one state to another. They’ve called it the ‘Liquid Printed Pneumatics’ project.

Showcased at London’s V&A museum’s The Future Starts Here exhibition, which explores the power of design in shaping the world of tomorrow, the cross-disciplinary study two years back with the mutual ambition to push the boundaries of material technologies.

BMW has been exploring future interior concepts that can interact and adapt seamlessly, which was the starting point for the in-depth exploration by MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory. This collaboration resulted in the first example of a fully printed inflatable that can be customized to any size or shape.

In Liquid Printed Pneumatics, the silicone printed object can change shape depending on the amount of air pressure in the system. The pneumatic controls in the system allow the printed structure to transform into a variety of shapes, functions or stiffness characteristics.

BMW and MIT Collaborate for Liquid Printed Pneumatics Project

“The outcome of this collaboration manifests that a new material future is imminent“, says Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision and BMW Brand Design at BMW Group. “The ‘Liquid Printed Pneumatics’ project is a perfect example for a fruitful cross-disciplinary collaboration we’ll see more and more over the coming years, especially at BMW.”

Together with the Self-Assembly Laboratory at MIT, Starke was eager to move away from our current understanding of car interiors as the forces reshaping the nature of transportation are eventually shifting toward a kind of vehicle that defies conventions like front and back seats.

“There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape. Interiors could even take on malleable, modular uses,” she explains. This is why the study focuses mainly on technological dimensions and material properties at this stage.

After testing various directions on how a visionary interior could take shape, the experts at the Self-Assembly Lab achieved a breakthrough when they managed to liquid print air and water-tight inflatable geometries, like customized printable balloons. With this technology, they can produce complex channels and pockets that self-transform.

BMW and MIT Collaborate for Liquid Printed Pneumatics Project

“We then brought together a number of recent technologies such as Rapid Liquid Printing and techniques from soft robotics to achieve this adaptive material structure,” Skylar Tibbits, founder of the Self-Assembly Lab explains. “In the past, scenarios like these have often required errorprone and complex electromechanical devices or complex moulding/tooling to produce inflatables. Now we’re able to print complex inflatable structures with custom actuation and tuneable stiffness.“

On display at the V&A is a three dimensional object which is highly dynamic, morphing its form and function. This meter-scale object exhibits robotic-like transformation from a pneumatic system with seven independent chambers to create different movement patterns.

“This adaptive material technology points towards a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance,” says Starke.

The Future Starts Here brings together groundbreaking technologies and designs currently in development in studios and laboratories around the world. Drawing upon international research, and working closely with a range of companies, universities, practitioners and advisors, the exhibition explores over 100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow.

The exhibition is open until November 4, 2018.


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