An MIT PhD student’s latest research pushes the confines of 3-D printing by producing hair.  Thousands of microscopic strands of hair can be printed to create a new material he calls “cillia.” This hair-like substance not only expands how 3-D printing can create new materials, but it advances how interactive materials can increase the efficiency and responsiveness of inanimate objects.

3D printed hair smaller than 100 microns
3D printed hair or cillia (Source: MIT)

One of the most interesting properties of cilllia is the way it can respond to human touch, vibrations, and sensors to create movement and interaction.  The hair has more functionality than first thought. Because 3-D printing allows for control of the design, you can design each hair fiber to encourage different outcomes and levels of interactivity. According to the researcher, the angle and dimension of each hair can create mechanical adhesions. You can design a certain shape of hair to enable motion.

In experimenting with the weight and frequency of vibrations, this printed hair material can act as a conveyor, moving items across a landscape. For example, in a factory, the varying sensors and properties of hair could be used to separate tools from each other automatically.

The researcher, Jifei Ou, is now developing programming for 3-D printing that can use complex algorithms to create complicated structures. The typical CAD software used for 3-D printing cannot produce intricate structures like hair, which is smaller than 100 microns. Part of Ou’s research consisted of developing a software that allows you to generate the specific properties of this artificial hair while customizing it to interact.

>Read more by Tatiana Johnson, or watch a video, at Slice of MIT, June 14, 2016

3-D Printed Hair for Dynamic Interaction