Design Within Reach

Preparing for the 4-D Printing Revolution

Andreas Kroker looks at a 3D-printed figure of himself in Berlin, December 2013. Thomas Peter/ Courtesy Reuters

Two years ago, the physicist Neil Gershenfeld argued that the next great digital revolution would come not in computing or communication but in fabrication. Today, 3-D printing, which uses digital data to rapidly construct physical objects, is more accessible than ever. Automakers are placing the latest printing devices on factory floors, design students are learning they can make virtually anything out of plastic, and scientists are experimenting with human tissue. Last year, Australian biologists at the University of Queensland created a functioning kidney from scratch, albeit in miniature; they are now working on printing such organs by layering tiny sheets of living cells.

Yet just as the world is beginning to grasp the implications of the 3-D revolution, researchers are proposing an upgrade. Their work suggests that the true promise of digital fabrication lies with a fourth dimension -- in printing objects programmed to change over time. Whereas 3-D objects

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