With the rate of innovation, it’s challenging to keep up with emerging technology. Although the price of 3D printers is coming down, most households don’t have one yet. So it was surprising to come across news that makes it appear almost as if 3D printing is old news. Meanwhile DARPA wants self-destructing tech a bit like messages in Mission Impossible. A potential way to go about this might be shapeshifting 4D-printed technology.
DARPA -- Your device will poof in 5 seconds
When you purchase electronics, you hope it lasts longer than the warranty. In fact, you probably hope it lasts until it’s practically obsolete and has been replaced with a newer, faster and all-around better product. What if electronics simply disappeared when no longer needed . . . as in poof, dissolving into the environment? Those wild DARPA scientists created a Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR)
program earlier this year “with the aim of revolutionizing the state of the art in transient electronics or electronics capable of dissolving into the environment around them.”
In a post called, “This web feature will disappear in 5 seconds,” DARPA explained that electronics used on the battlefield are often scattered around and could possibly be captured and reverse-engineered by the enemy "to compromise DoD’s strategic technological advantage." The electronics still need to be rugged and maintain functionality, but “when triggered, be able to degrade partially or completely into their surroundings. Once triggered to dissolve, these electronics would be useless to any enemy who might come across them.”
DARPA program manager Alicia Jackson said, “The commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, electronics made for everyday purchases are durable and last nearly forever. DARPA is looking for a way to make electronics that last precisely as long as they are needed. The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature.”
How could anyone pull off DARPA’s James Bond-esque self-destructing tech that would more or less vaporize when triggered? The Self-Assembly Lab at MIT may be heading in that direction with shapeshifting technology, otherwise called 4D printing.
3D printing is old news: Welcome to 4D printing & shapeshifting tech
3D printing is exciting and has become increasingly more sophisticated, but what if a 3D-printed object could morph into another object? Computer scientist, MIT Department of Architecture faculty member and TED senior fellow Skylar Tibbits is working in collaboration with Stratasys Inc. on 3D printing with a twist; the goal is to make it more adaptive and more responsive so it can change from one thing into another thing.
During a TED talk called “The Emergence of 4D Printing," Tibbits stated, “The idea behind 4D printing is that you take multi-material 3D printing -- so you can deposit multiple materials -- and you add a new capability, which is transformation, that right off the bed, the parts can transform from one shape to another shape directly on their own. And this is like robotics without wires or motors. So you completely print this part, and it can transform into something else.”
A 3D-printed object would have a “program embedded directly into the materials” that would allow it “to go from one state to another.” Describing a potential 4D printed object in a CNN video, Tibbets said it has invented within it a “potential energy, that activation, so it can transform on its own.” He gave potential environmental activation examples of water, heat, vibration, sound or pressure. Tibbets suggested that 4D printing could have practical applications in fashion, or perhaps in sports equipment, and in “things that need to respond as the conditions are changing.”
If you can’t take eight and half minutes to watch the TED video, then the following links will jump you directly to the cool demonstrations. In the first demonstration, Tibbets showed “a single strand dipped in water that completely self-folds on its own into the letters M I T.” In the second, a single strand self-folds into a three-dimensional cube without human interaction.
He said, “We think this is the first time that a program and transformation has been embedded directly into the materials themselves. And it also might just be the manufacturing technique that allows us to produce more adaptive infrastructure in the future.” He also suggested that a potential use of self-assembly 4D tech in space might include a highly functional system that can transform into another highly functional system.
In an example about more adaptive infrastructure in the future, Tibbits stated, “Let's go back to infrastructure. In infrastructure, we're working with a company out of Boston called Geosyntec. And we're developing a new paradigm for piping. Imagine if water pipes could expand or contract to change capacity or change flow rate, or maybe even undulate like peristaltics to move the water themselves. So this isn't expensive pumps or valves. This is a completely programmable and adaptive pipe on its own.”
That could be great, but our infrastructure is currently a bit of a mess and very hackable . . . the same as many embedded medical devices. Let's hope that if 4D printing is used in infrastructure that it would be more secure.
Detect heart-rate via webcam and app
Lastly, while less sensational, this next one is more attainable for most geeks. If you have ever wanted to detect your heart-rate using a webcam and a Python app, then you are in luck. The project is on GitHub and interested parties might want to start with the README.
The Changelog states:
webcam-pulse-detector is a cross-platform Python application that can detect a person’s heart-rate using their computer’s webcam. I could write 1,000 words about it, or just show you this: