Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and BMW engineers are working to create a new material: elastic, lightweight, strong enough to be inflated - yet adapted for 3D printing. The requirements sound contradictory, but the Liquid Printed Pneumatic project has already started and even brought the first results. This means that inflatable cars really have a chance to come true.
MIT engineers placed a 3D printer nozzle in a container of liquid helium and forced it to deliver droplets of liquid silicone combined with gaseous air. The silicone formed the frame of the cell, into which air was injected, while maintaining the ability to deflate it and inflate it again. The result is a cluster of cells, which is a new material - dynamic, "alive" and capable of changing its shape.
In theory, from such clusters it will be possible to assemble panels or entire assemblies of future mechanisms that can change their characteristics when air is supplied from the outside. From a seating cover that simply adapts to the shape of a person, to an additional door or stiffener that can be instantly activated if there is a risk of crushing the car in an accident. It is not so much a decorative as a functional material of the future, albeit still presented in the form of huge and awkward prototypes.
MIT emphasizes the possibility of dynamically controlled material modification - it was originally conceived for transformation, and using a 3D printer, you can print a complex architecture with any programmed properties. BMW prefers practical solutions, but does not disclose its plans. This can be, for example, a dashboard, which, in an accident, completely turns into an airbag, and then returns to a rigid state.