MIT research labs have been responsible for many innovations within the 3D printing world, fromMateriable, a 3D printed shape-shifting interface, to xPrint, an open-source modular 3D bioprinter, to3D printed hydraulic robots capable of walking off the print bed. One of the reputable university’s most impressive 3D printing projects, however, is undoubtedly Cillia: a software platform that allows users to easily design and 3D print hair-like structures. The technology could open many doors in the fields of material sensing, adhesion, and actuation.

Before Cillia, makers wanting to create a 3D model with hair-like fine features would have to design each individual strand using CAD software, an extremely time consuming process that effectively made 3D printing hair-like features impossible. The new software, however, bypasses the CAD design step, and can easily integrate thousands of hairs onto a design in just a few minutes through a slider-based interface that lets users determine the angle, thickness, density, and height of the hairs.

With the innovative software, each hair can be generated at a resolution of 50 microns (the width of a human hair) and can be printed in a number of different textures, from coarse to fine, and on different types of surfaces using a stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer. As we wrote about last month, MIT’s Cilliatechnology was recently showcased at the Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI Conference on Human Factors.

Currently, the researchers behind the Cillia software are experimenting with the benefits of being able to 3D print hair-like fibers and have found potential uses in adhesion, sensing, and actuation. For instance, for mechanical adhesion the researchers have been able to 3D print velcro-like pads using fine bristles arranged in a certain angle. Objects with the bristles on their surface have successfully been stuck together.

For sensing applications, the team printed a rabbit figure covered with fur, which is equipped with LED lights that light up whenever the rabbit is stroked in a certain way. In addition to the sensing, this process also required the researchers to print the hair on a curved surface, which while more difficult than printing on a flat plane, proved possible. In order to print the furry rabbit, the researchers first uploaded a CAD model of the rabbit (sans fur) into a splicing program, rendering the object as a triangle mesh. Then, using an special algorithm, they were able to locate the center of each triangle’s base and virtually draw out a single hair from each, which resulted in a “dense array of hairs running perpendicular to the rabbit’s curved surface.”

For actuation, or the moving of objects, the MIT team created a table made from panels of printed hair in varying angles and heights with the capability of sorting objects by weight. With only vibrations prompting the movement, the fibers were able to move coins across the table and sort them according to their weight and vibration frequencies. The researchers have also shown that with vibrations, bristled surfaces could be used as rotary or linear motors. In one particularly fun example, a 3D printed windmill is fastened to a cell phone, the vibrations of which prompt the windmill to begin spinning.

Jifei Ou, a graduate student in media arts and sciences as well as the lead author of the paper, explains that the technology was inspired by naturally occurring hair-like structures, such as actual human hair, and cilia, which filter out and remove dust from our lungs. Ou says, “It’s very inspiring to see how these structures occur in nature and how they can achieve different functions. We’re just trying to think how can we fully utilize the potential of 3D printing, and create new functional materials whose properties are easily tunable and controllable.”

As we’ve already seen through the research lab’s experiments with sensing, actuation, and adhesion, the potentials of 3D printing hair-like structures are vast. “The ability to fabricate customized hair-like structures not only expands the library of 3D printable shapes, but also enables us to design alternative actuators and sensors,” say the researchers in their paper. “3D printed hair can be used for designing everyday interactive objects.”

And really, with the ability to now print hair surfaces at a micron level, what is there that cannot be printed?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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