These 4D printed aquatic plants create an immersive organic experience (Video)

Nicole Hone
© Nicole Hone

We've been reporting on the wonderful and not-so-wonderful world of 3D printing for some time now, placing it under the umbrella of "downloadable design" during those early days more than a decade ago. Now, we're seeing the technology being used all over the place -- from printing buildings, to affordable housing, to prosthetics and potential colonies on Mars.

Artists are having fun with 3D printing too. New Zealand industrial designer Nicole Hone synthesizes art, technology and nature in her Hydrophytes series of sculptures, which use a multi-material 4D printing (where the fourth dimension is time) process to create nature-inspired forms that react to external forces. Watch:


Hydrophytes - 4D Printing from Nicole Hone on Vimeo.

The premise behind Hone's works is fascinating: what if we could design and engineer "intelligent plants" that adapt to perform new functions in our changing climate? For instance, one of Hone's Hydrophytes is the Nomadic Cleaner, which can clean pests off of corals. Then there's the Imp Root, which can hunt invasive species.

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

Her aim was to look forward to the future, and to bring viewers into the watery world of aquatic life, says Hone:

I have always been fascinated with nature; it inspires my design ideas and aesthetic. For this project, I became particularly interested in botany and marine life. I was amazed by the way sea creatures and corals moved and wanted to reflect similar qualities in my designs. During the early stages of test prints, I found that the materials performed smoother and more organically in water as fragile parts were supported better. At the beginning of my master’s project, I also discovered that there were plans to redesign the National Aquarium of New Zealand. I thought - wouldn’t it be really cool to have a future-focussed exhibition with moving models that visitors could interact with? This idea, combined with my personal interests and discoveries from the testing phase lead to the concept of futuristic aquatic plants - Hydrophytes.

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

Hone created these sculptures using computer-aided design tools, which were then printed at the Victoria University of Wellington. Different software programs were used to 3D model the shape, surface texture and internal structures of each sculpture, and printed as one seamless object using a variety of UV light-cured materials on a multi-material 3D printer.

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

The jelly-like support material that encases the sculptures were then painstakingly removed by soaking it in water and cleaning it out with a toothpick -- sometimes taking hours to complete. The internal tubes inside these artworks were then 'flushed' out with water, and then immersed in water and 'animated' with the use of pneumatic air jets and LED lights. The result is an immersive experience for the viewer, looking at seemingly organically moving lifeforms.

Nicole Hone© Nicole Hone

While these are hypothetical works, they point to a possible future where life may be indeed need to be bioengineered on some level to cope with the unsettling changes in climate that our planet is already undergoing. As Hone notes, the possibility of incorporating sensors, and 3D printing with 'smart' or even living materials can further make the technology even more useful in fields like filmmaking, robotics, architecture and medicine. To see more, visit Nicole Hone and Victoria University of Wellington.

These 4D printed aquatic plants create an immersive organic experience (Video)
This industrial designer's 3D/4D printed, life-like forms ask the question of whether we can design and engineer "intelligent" plants that can adapt to environmental changes.

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