First printed inflatable material by BMW and MIT's Self-Assembly Lab

May 2018

At The Future Starts Here, V&A Museum, London



BMW and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Self-Assembly Lab have been collaborating to develop printed inflatable material technologies. The result of this – Liquid Printed Pneumatics – is one of the 100 projects selected for The Future Starts Here at the V&A in London. Opening last month, the exhibition explores the power of design and technology in helping to shape the world of our tomorrow’s everyday lives. Posing ethical and speculative questions, it draws upon pioneering international research and technologies and designs in development, in many cases ‘live experiments’ from a diverse range of companies, universities, laboratories, expert teams and individuals.

BMW and MIT's cross-disciplinary study started some two years ago with the mutual ambition to push the boundaries of material technologies. As a result, we now have the first example of a fully printed inflatable that can be customised to any size or shape. The silicone printed object can change shape depending on the amount of air pressure in the system.

With this technology they can produce complex channels and pockets that self-transform. Skylar Tibbits, founder of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, explains that they ‘brought together a number of recent technologies such as Rapid Liquid Printing and techniques from soft robotics to achieve this adaptive material structure. In the past, scenarios like these have often required error-prone and complex electromechanical devices or complex moulding/tooling to produce inflatables. Now we’re able to print complex inflatable structures with custom actuation and tuneable stiffness.’

‘The outcome of this collaboration manifests that a new material future is imminent,’ concludes Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision and BMW Brand Design at BMW Group. ‘This adaptive material technology points towards a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance. The Liquid Printed Pneumatics project is a perfect example for a fruitful cross-disciplinary collaboration we’ll see more and more over the coming years, especially at BMW.’

The Future Starts Here, V&A Museum, Sainsbury Gallery, London, until 4 November 2018, vam.ac.uk 



Liquid Printed Pneumatics, the first example of a fully printed inflatable that can be customised to any size or shape
Skylar Tibbits, the founder of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab and Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision and BMW Brand Design at BMW Group