3D-Printed Hair Is Here, But Its Potential Goes Way Beyond What You Think

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Advances in 3D-printing are changing the landscape of fashion, art, technology, and science. Now the Tangible Media Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed the technology to make customizable patches of ultra-fine programmable 3D-printed hair that may have a profound influence on all these diverse fields. While many people see hair as purely aesthetic, this new product is a far cry from a good wig. The program, called Cilllia, has developed technology that can design and fabricate different hair-like structures. Using bitmap images, and side-stepping the CAD model technique, the specialized hair can be easily made and used for a variety of new functionalities (not just running your fingers through).

Hair keeps us warm, it can sense its environment and touch, and in some cases acts as an adhesive. But hair is also integral to our body's very function. Tangible Media Group's program is named for the most basic hair-like structure that covers all mammalian cells — Cilia. Derived from the latin word for eyelash, this organelle plays an extremely important role in cellular function. Motile Cilia (found in places like the lungs and respiratory tract) undulate constantly in a waving motion, working to keep the airways of the nose and trachea clean and clear — free of mucus and irritants. Small cilia lining the surface of organ cells pick up sensory information from nearby cells or fluids like tiny antennas. The 3D-printed hair also displays similar sensory and mechanical uses.

The Cilllia team developed a bitmap generating program that streamlines the process of creating the individual hairs to specified dimensions, thickness, and other characteristics. Color mapping allows the user to change the geometry of each hair and then send those directions directly into the 3D printer. The hair is soft, and the detailed surface texture has a variety of functions. Cilllia's profile explains, "The ability to fabricate customized hair structures enables us to create super fine surface texture; mechanical adhesion property; new passive actuators and touch sensors on a 3D printed artifact." The program can be used to create unique jewelry, detailed paintbrushes, and curious textures. The hair can be created to have adhesive properties, like velcro. And can be programmed to accommodate different objects' weight specifications.

When a source of vibration is attached to a patch of the hair, it can even move objects in a predetermined path, or sort objects by weight. MIT's video shows how objects might even be made to move to music, floating on the textured surface. These 3D hairs may also soon lead the charge in the development of tactile sensors, points out Futurism.

Check out this video to see all the amazing applications for this program:

Dezeen on YouTube

Cilllia will make you see hair in a whole new way.

Images: DeZeen/YouTube