MIT researcher Skylar Tibbits has shown off a process which uses a specialized 3D printer to make multi-layered materials, which then self assemble over time.
It could be used to install objects in hard-to-reach places such as underground water pipes, he suggested. It might also herald an age of self-assembling furniture, said experts.
“We’re proposing that the fourth dimension is time and that over time static objects will transform and adapt,” he told the BBC.
The process uses a specialised 3D printer made by Stratasys that can create multi-layered materials. It combines a strand of standard plastic with a layer made from a “smart” material that can absorb water. The water acts as an energy source for the material to expand once it is printed.
“The rigid material becomes a structure and the other layer is the force that can start bending and twisting it,” said Mr Tibbits.
“Essentially the printing is nothing new, it is about what happens after,” he added.
Such a process could in future be used to build furniture, bikes, cars and even buildings, he thinks.