If the futuristic milk baths in Westworld’s underground lair-bratory really got your tech-powered design dreams going, then you’re going to love what MIT is doing right now for the future of furniture.
Rapid Liquid Printing, a brand new “4-D printing” process created in collaboration between MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab and leading office furniture company Steelcase, pushes the boundaries of current 3-D printing technology by producing material that will grow and change on its own, according to a recent interview with Steelcase director of new business innovation Rob Poel.
Not unlike the ginormous vats of gelatinous white goo used in Westworld to create AI (which Steelcase is also toying with in collaboration with MIT and other labs), Rapid Liquid Printing uses a technique that injects liquefied rubber, foam, or plastic into a vat of gel, which provides structural support while the material hardens — like a massive candy mold.
The printing method allows for a large piece of furniture to be pulled, fully formed, from the gel within minutes. Or, as Fast Company put it: “Imagine that you could print a tabletop in a matter of minutes, faster than an IKEA product comes down the assembly line. What would that technology look like? And how would it change the processes of mass manufacturing furniture?”
While the only product line Steelcase and MIT created together is a tabletop for the Turnstone Bassline coffee tables, which Steelcase says it doesn’t currently have plans to bring to market, senior industrial designer Yuka Hiyoshi is our homegirl, nailing our design possibility daydreams:
“When you print in the gel, it looks like calligraphy or drawing, so the process itself is fascinating, but the materials are unbelievable,” Hiyoshi told Co.Design, referring to the rubber examples the lab has made. “It’s very tactile. It looks a little bit fragile as well. When you see the tabletop you just want to touch it.”