A collaboration between BMW and MIT's Self-Assembly Laboratory has produced a 3D-printed inflatable material that can change its shape and stiffness on command. It could be used in designing highly customizable and multifunctional car interiors.

If the car of the future really is autonomous, then we may be about to witness a radical shift in the form and function of their interiors. Without the need for wheels, pedals and front-facing seats, we could be heading toward seats and compartments that morph into different shapes to meet different needs at the touch of a button.

After a two-year collaboration, BMW and MIT have recently presented a new printed inflatable material that might just do the trick. It combines technologies like rapid liquid printing and soft robotics to create objects akin to printable balloons that can change their shape and stiffness in a matter of seconds.

Building inflatable materials of this kind would previously require complex electromechanical devices or advanced moulding techniques, but these "liquid-printed pneumatics" can be manufactured by simple 3D printing in silicone.

According to the researchers, the sample inflatable objects pictured above can be customized to any size or shape by manipulating air pressure in any one of their seven independent chambers.

"There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape. Interiors could even take on malleable, modular uses," says Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision. "This adaptive material technology points towards a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance."

The material is on display at the exhibition The Future Starts Here in London.

Source: BMW

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