The 3D-printing community is abuzz with news of an interesting development for the 4D printing movement: The U.S. Army Research Office has taken a keen interest in the possibilities of 4D printing. How keen? US $855,000 worth. That's the size of the grant the USARO has awarded to researchers at three schools—Harvard's School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, the University of Illinois, and the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering—to further their research into 3D-printed objects that can transform themselves over time.
The selected grantee universities will not be working completely independently, but are instead expected to collaborate. And the research isn't pie-in-the-sky, but intended to produce fairly focused results:
"Rather than construct a static material or one that simply changes its shape, we're proposing the development of adaptive, biomimetic composites that reprogram their shape, properties or functionality on demand, based upon external stimuli," says Anna C. Balazs, a professor of Chemical Engineering at UPSSE. "By integrating our abilities to print precise, three-dimensional, hierarchically-structured materials, synthesize stimuli-responsive components, and predict the temporal behavior of the system, we expect to build the foundation for the new field of 4D printing."
Due to the source of the funding, initial applications will presumably be military in nature; a press release teases the notion of vehicle coatings that change structure in response to the immediate environment and soldiers' uniforms that visually adjust their camouflage or physically adjust their protective measures against projectiles.
You're undoubtedly wondering, as we were: Why was 4D printing pioneer Skylar Tibbits not among the grantees? We can only speculate that the USARO reckons Tibbits is already on track to make breakthroughs, with or without their money. Strange as it sounds, in the world of financed researched, perhaps it's a silent vote of confidence.