What is 4-D printing? The new frontier of 3-D printing could revolutionize space exploration

What is 4-D printing? The new frontier of 3-D printing could revolutionize space exploration
Screenshot from the Georgia Institute of Technology's video describing a 4-D printed object Georgia Tech/YouTube
Screenshot from the Georgia Institute of Technology's video describing a 4-D printed object Georgia Tech/YouTube

You've heard of 3-D printing, but do you know about "4-D printing?"

The new technology could lead to innovations in several fields of science, adding new tools to medical and space exploration industries alike. It's a process that requires the perfect storm of light, collapsible materials and tension between parts to cause an entire object to bloom like a flower. The object will rise, expand and take its own shape over time. That's what makes it 4-D.

In a recent video, researchers at the Georgia Institute for Technology used hot water to speed up temperature change in materials. Their invention is made using "tensegrity," a system rods and cables.

This video shows a proof of concept for how to 4-D print rising objects. Georgia Tech/YouTube

It may not look like much, but this principle could be used for an endless list of commercial object that humans would want to build, pack away and then unfurl on demand.

"The goal is to find a way to deploy a large object that initially takes up little space," Glaucio Paulino, a professor at Georgia Tech's school of civil and environmental engineering, said in a release.

It could make for a fun sendoff gift to the humans of Asgardia, mankind's first-ever space nation that plans to be official by the spring of 2018. Picture astronauts bringing collapsible and expandable furniture into space.