Skylar Tibbits – Photo courtesy Ryan Lash/TED Conference

Skylar Tibbits is a trained architect, designer and computer scientist whose research currently focuses on developing self-assembly technologies for large-scale structures in the physical environment.

Skylar, who is also a TED2012 Senior Fellow, recently presented a new concept at TED2013: 4D printing – where materials can be reprogrammed to self-assemble into new structures. Apparently, this is just the tip of the iceberg in manufacturing with minimum energy consumption. (Check out his website)

Objet Connex multi-material 3D printing technology is an important part of his work – and is being used extensively in this new process. The Connex multi material technology from Stratasys allows you to program different materials properties into each of the various particles of the designed geometry and harnesses the different water-absorbing properties of the materials to activate the self-assembly process.

In a recent post on the TED blog, Hypernatural intelligence: A Fellows Friday conversation with Skylar Tibbits and Suzanne Lee, Karen Eng interviews Skylar Tibbits about his recent work and the difficulty in trying to create “desire” in synthetic systems.

Natural systems obviously have this built in — the ability to have a desire. Plants, for example, generally have the desire to grow towards light and they generate energy from the translation of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide to oxygen, and so on. This is extremely difficult to build into synthetic systems — the ability to “want” or need something and know how to change itself in order to acquire it, or the ability to generate its own energy source. If we combine the processes that natural systems offer intrinsically (genetic instructions, energy production, error correction) with those artificial or synthetic (programmability for design and scaffold, structure, mechanisms) we can potentially have extremely large-scale quasi-biological and quasi-synthetic architectural organisms.

Have a look at these incredible videos showing some 4D printed models that fold themselves into an assembled shape all by themselves when placed in water: 4D Printing: Cube Self-Folding Strand and 4D Printing: MIT Self-Folding Strand

Additional coverage from TED2013: