viernes, 16 de agosto de 2013

If You Think 3D Printing Is Disruptive, Wait for 4D

ORIGINAL: WSJ - Tech Europe
By Ben Rooney

3D printing will have a direct economic impact of between $230 and $550 billion a year in 2025, according to a report by McKinsey & Company.
Every now and then you come across a technology, or a mooted technology, that sounds so far-fetched, so outlandish that it belongs with proper flying cars and the paperless office. Things that will never happen.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The idea of “printing” objects, so-called 3D printing once seemed pretty outlandish but it has already made the voyage from science fiction to startup. According to a recent report by analysts McKinsey & Company, “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy,” 3D printing will have a direct economic impact of between $230 billion and $550 billion a year in 2025.
But if you think 3D printing is disruptive, then what about a technology that could in the view of one of its main evangelists “make the world editable.” That is disruption.

That technology is 4D printing3D printing but with designs that continue to evolve after manufacture. That really does sound far-fetched. But then a rocket was never supposed to be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere and four-member guitar bands were never going to be big.

According to Jeff Kowalski, chief technology officer for Autodesk, Inc., the very earliest building blocks for that future are in place today.

Before we stray into to that extra dimension, what do we mean by 3D printing? Additive printing, as it sometimes known, is the opposite of conventional, subtractive, production. Say you want to make a metal part. Normally, you start with a large block of metal and mill, drill and grind bits off. To 3D-print that same part you start with a metal powder and, in much the same way as a bubble jet printer builds up a 2D image one row at a time, a 3D printer builds up the part one layer at a time. Using fusion techniques the metal powder becomes a solid.

That changes the economics of complexity. “Historically, the cost of objects has been determined by the number of processed steps. The number of times I have to touch the mill … that’s what affects the price,” Mr. Kowalski said. But in 3D printing “whether you’re just making a cubic solid block, or a highly filigreed whatever it might be” the price is the same. “Complexity turns out to be free,” he said.

But the problem with objects today, conventionally manufactured or produced by 3D printers, is that they are unchanging. “When we make most items today, that’s the end of their definition. Take a backpack, it achieved ‘backpackness’ when it was manufactured,” Mr. Kowalski said.

What 4D printing offers is the opportunity for objects to change, to adapt to their environment, to respond.

Earlier this year, Skylar Tibbits, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Self-Assembly Lab, created a bit of a stir with his talk on 4D printing.

We are looking at the ability to program physical and biological materials to change shape, change properties and even compute outside of silicon-based matter,” Mr. Tibbits told the TED conference in February. He demonstrated a string of 3D-printed smart materials that reacted when it came into contact with water by folding into a cube.

Imagine if water pipes could expand or contract to change capacity or change flow rate; or maybe undulate like peristalsis to move the water themselves,” he said.

Mr. Tibbits is talking about the macro level. What Mr. Kowalski is taking about is design at the cellular level. He is about taking the tools nature uses to make things and essentially re-programming them. Nature makes objects by re-arranging disordered structures into ordered ones. Doesn’t that sound a lot like 3D printing? Except your base material isn’t powdered metal, it is molecules, and you don’t use a 3D printer, you use natures own factory — cells. That puts design at the junction of material science and synthetic biology.

The key is instructing that factory, understanding DNA, being able to predict what is going to happen at the metabolic level and at the environmental level,” Mr. Kowalski said.

In some cases we will need to understand the interior, the pathway, the chemistry of what is going on. In other areas we will not need to understand that chemistry, we can treat it more as the black box and simply address it. We know that for example this sequence, followed by this sequence, will produce this effect.

The cell can be programmed to make molecules, that’s what cells do. So we can make other materials, even ones that plants and animals don’t make today if we find the right instruction for it to ‘print’.If cells can manipulate calcium compounds to make bones, can they manipulate other molecules to make other structures?

DNA sequencing, reading the genome, has gone from taking years and costing millions, to costing thousands. “The next step after sequencing is annotation, where we scan through that massive six billion letters and we figure out what does what. After that it really becomes a design problem of recombination. It’s like code, like computer programming with libraries and APIs.

It still sounds utterly fanciful and like science fiction, and Mr. Kowalski jumped rather quickly through the difficult part: “We figure out what does what.” That is a task of Herculean proportion.

But work has already started, and even today with just a minute proportion completed you can create your own DNA and have it synthesized. The Israeli startup Genome Compiler has a drag-and-drop editor that literally allows you to pick-and-mix bits from genomes to create new DNA that can be synthesized. Want a plant that glows in the dark? There is a sequence for that.

Additional Resources for you to Explore 

Skylar Tibbits is a trained Architect, Designer, Computer Scientist and Artist whose research focuses on developing self-assembly technologies for large-scale structures in our physical environment. Skylar is currently a faculty member in MIT's Department of Architecture, teaching graduate and undergraduate design studios and co-teaching How to Make (Almost) Anything, a seminar at MIT's Media Lab. Skylar was recently awarded a TED2012 Senior Fellowship, a TED2011 Fellowship and has been named a Revolutionary Mind in SEED Magazine's 2008 Design Issue. 

Previously, he has worked at a number of renowned design offices including: Zaha Hadid Architects, Asymptote Architecture and Point b Design. He has designed and built large-scale installations around the world, including locations in New York, Philadelphia, Paris, Calgary, Berlin, Frankfurt, Long Beach, Edinburgh and Cambridge. He has also exhibited work at prestigious institutions, including; The Guggenheim Museum NY, the Beijing Biennale, Storefront for Art and Architecture and lectured at MoMA and SEED Media Group's MIND08 Conference.  

He has been published extensively online and in print outlets such as the New York TimesWiredNatureFast Company, various peer-reviewed journals and books including: Fabricate: Making Digital ArchitectureDigital ArchitectureTesting to FailureScripting Cultures and Form + Code. As a guest critic, Skylar has visited schools around the world including; The University of Pennsylvania, The Institute for Computational Design, The Architectural Association, Pratt Institute and Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

Skylar graduated from Philadelphia University with a 5 yr. Bachelor of Architecture degree and minor in experimental computation. Continuing his education at MIT, he received a Masters of Science in Design + Computation and a Masters of Science in Computer Science under the guidance of advisors; Patrick Winston, Neil Gershenfeld, Erik Demaine and Terry Knight.

Skylar is also the founder and principal of a multidisciplinary architecture, art and design practice, SJET LLC. Started in 2007 as platform for experimental computation and design, SJET has grown into a research-based practice crossing disciplines from architecture, design, sculpture, fabrication, computer science, toys to robotics.

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