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BMW and MIT Self-Assembly Lab collaborate to design the first printed inflatable material; liquid printed pneumatics

The BMW Design Department in collaboration with MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory have successfully developed printed inflatable material technologies that selftransform, adapt and morph from one state to another. This commission is on display for the first time during the exhibition The Future Starts Here, which explores the power of design in shaping the world of tomorrow, at V&A museum in London.


The BMW Design Department and MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory have started their cross-disciplinary study two years back with the mutual ambition to push the boundaries of material technologies. BMW’s forward-thinking concepts of future interiors that can interact and adapt seamlessly were the starting point of an in-depth exploration by MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory. This collaboration resulted in the first example of a fully printed inflatable that can be customized to any size or shape.

The silicone-printed object can change shape depending on the amount of air pressure in the system. The pneumatic controls in the system allow the printed structure to transform into a variety of shapes, functions or stiffness characteristics.

The outcome of this collaboration manifests that a new material future is imminent. There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape. Interiors could even take on malleable, modular uses.

—Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision and BMW Brand Design at BMW Group

Together with the Self-Assembly Laboratory at MIT, Starke was eager to move away from our current understanding of car interiors as the forces reshaping the nature of transportation are eventually shifting toward a kind of vehicle that defies conventions like front and back seats. This is why the study is fully focusing on technological dimensions and material properties at this stage.

After testing various directions on how a visionary interior could take shape, the experts at the Self-Assembly Lab achieved a breakthrough when they managed to liquid print air and water-tight inflatable geometries—i.e., customized printable balloons. With this technology they can produce complex channels and pockets that self-transform.

We then brought together a number of recent technologies such as Rapid Liquid Printing and techniques from soft robotics to achieve this adaptive material structure. In the past, scenarios like these have often required error-prone and complex electromechanical devices or complex moulding/tooling to produce inflatables. Now we’re able to print complex inflatable structures with custom actuation and tunable stiffness.

—Skylar Tibbits, founder of the Self-Assembly Lab

On display at the V&A is a three dimensional object which is highly dynamic, morphing its form and function. This meter-scale object exhibits robotic-like transformation from a pneumatic system with seven independent chambers to create different movement patterns.

This adaptive material technology points towards a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance.

—Martina Starke

The Future Starts Here brings together ground-breaking technologies and designs currently in development in studios and laboratories around the world. Drawing upon international research, and working closely with a range of companies, universities, practitioners and advisors, the exhibition explores over 100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow.


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