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Could Silkworms Represent The Future Of 3D Printing?

MIT designers laid 6,500 silkworms on top of a specially constructed framework and let them do what they do. Such "biological swarms" could someday be used to "print" structures organically.

What’s the Latest Development?


A team of designers from MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matters Group — which “focuses on biologically inspired design fabrication tools and technologies aiming to enhance the relation between natural and man-made environments,” according to their Web site — created a large fibrous framework on which they proceeded to deposit 6,500 live silkworms. Over time, the worms covered the entire framework with silk, resulting in a Silk Pavilion that hung in a building’s lobby. Furthermore, the worms were still viable after construction was completed: “They actually pupate into moths…[that] can produce 1.5 million eggs. That’s enough to theoretically supply what the worms need to create another 250 pavilions.”

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What’s the Big Idea?

3D printing in its current form is pretty basic: A static machine deposits layers of material to create a shape that is then removed and used for some purpose. The Silk Pavilion project takes the technology in a new, dynamic, organic direction. Mediated Matters director Neri Oxman envisions an automated version of the silkworm builders: “[I]magine a swarm of small-scale printing units collaborating to ‘print’ something bigger than themselves…Future research aims to unite 3-D Printing with Artificial Intelligence to generate printing swarms operating in architectural scales depositing structural materials.”

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at FastCompany/Co.Design


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