THE FUTURE OF HOW WE BUILD
Humans are endlessly creative, but one of our greatest shortcomings is that we build things that have no ability to adapt to changes in the environment.
MIT Self-Assembly Lab’s architects, biologists and engineers have set out to change that. They’re collaborating to revolutionize the way we build by inventing materials that can sense and respond to their surroundings, or react autonomously to external instructions.
And we’re not talking about the latest “Internet of Things” gadgets here, but materials that have sensing and actuating abilities built into their very structures.
Sounds complicated? Luckily, we’ve got one of the world’s leading researchers to show us the way. Meet Skylar Tibbits, founder of the MIT Self-Assembly Lab, and the opening keynote for the 2019 Zero Waste Conference.
THE NEW FRONTIER OF MATERIAL SCIENCE
Skylar Tibbits has a bold vision – a world where buildings, products and machines are capable of self-assembly, repair and replication, without robotic parts. And it’s far from impossible: nature does this all the time, especially at the molecular level.
“Nature is a good example of the systems we are exploring — but there are many non-natural systems that demonstrate similar principles.
The link to nature — proteins, cellular replication and DNA — really only came after the fact, when I realized that the systems I was producing were incredibly close to those found in nature,” said Skylar Tibbits in a TED blog.
Much of the Self Assembly Lab’s work is conceptual, demonstrating a single principle or method – such as modular blocks that snap into predetermined shapes when shaken or a structure that morphs to a specific shape when heated – that may be combined and applied to larger things like furniture, clothing or indoor spaces.
An example of “active tailoring” clothing that adapts to the wearer’s body:
Many of Tibbits’ adaptive and programmable designs have been characterized as “4D printing.”
What is the fourth dimension in 4D printing? It’s time. Skylar Tibbits’ Self-Assembly Lab at MIT is designing things that transform over time: contracting, expanding, folding, and adapting to their environment.
Right now, water pipes have fixed capacity and flow rates. If anything changes — environment, demand, ground [conditions] — we have to dig them up and start from scratch. But, if we start laying pipes built with adaptive materials, they could adapt to changes and repair themselves. That’s what Tibbits is building in his lab: robotics without wires or motors, inspired by natural systems like DNA and proteins.
This transformative, responsive way of designing has huge implications for manufacturing, city-building, consumer product development, and aerospace and defense R&D.
RESILIENCE AND SUSTAINABILITY MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
The MIT Self-Assembly Lab has made international headlines recently with its Maldives-based Growing Islands project, which harnesses natural ocean forces to build up the land rather than to erode it. As climate change gets worse, coastal communities are at increased risk of losing ground and old-school solutions like seawalls and sandbags may not be enough.
“All of our work is based on taking simple materials, activating them with forces in their environment, like heat, moisture, pressure, wind, waves etc., in order to promote their structures to transform/assemble/reconfigure and otherwise do awesome things that they otherwise wouldn’t do,” Skylar Tibbits recently told Fast Company.
OPENING KEYNOTE AT ZWC19
Skylar Tibbits is an architect, designer, computer scientist, and artist, and we are pleased to welcome him as the opening keynote speaker for #ZWC19.
Not only can the MIT Self Assembly Lab’s concepts vastly improve the resiliency of our built environment, but they can also reduce energy consumption and natural resource use, aiding in the shift toward a Circular Economy.
The MIT Self Assembly Lab is inventing the tech that may lead to buildings, products and machines that can repair themselves without robotic parts.
How can we apply self-assembly concepts to energize the Circular Economy, reduce natural resource use and prevent waste? Find out at #ZWC19.
Whether you’re totally new to the concept or an industry veteran, the Zero Waste Conference in collaboration with the National Zero Waste Council strikes a balance between theory and action. The conference is your guide to the people, ideas and actions that are having the biggest impact.
2019 Zero Waste Conference:
Mobilizing for Success in the Circular Economy
October 30 – 31, 2019
Vancouver Convention Centre (999 Canada Place)