At a time when just about everything imaginable is coming out of a 3-D printer, hair seemed inevitable.
But the new hair produced by MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group doesn't just add a soft touch to plastic tchotchkes. This material can be programmed to work for a bunch of unexpected applications.
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The novel project, called Cilllia (yes, with three Ls), was inspired by real hair in nature, which goes beyond ornamentation to also provide warmth and helps with the sense of touch. The Tangible Media Group built a special software program that allowed them to rapidly define the angle, thickness, density, and height of the hair.
Then, from the software, they were able to fabricate hair-like structures at a 50-micron resolution on flat and curved surfaces. After that, things truly got wiggy.
"The ability to 3D print hair-like structures opens up new possibilities for personal fabrication and interaction," the team wrote in a recent paper (PDF) describing Cilllia. No kidding.
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The group produced several toys, including a furry bunny containing an LED that changed color when petted. Tiny ballet dancers with printed hair on their feet rotated at specific velocities around a custom speaker-dancing table depending on the hair angle.
Blocks covered in short hair could be stuck together and pulled apart. Since the hair is programmable, the team could make panels that had glue-like bonds. The group also printed several customized brushes and proceeded to paint with them.
Programmable hair enabled the researchers to build finger swipe sensors and passive actuators. They put hair in the middle of a small windmill that responded to vibration. Attaching the windmill figure to a vibrating smartphone made the blades spin. Using a dedicated app, the windmill could be programmed to rotate in response to actual wind blowing outside.
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The Tangible Media Group recently presented Cilllia at the CHI 2016 conference for human-computer interaction in San Jose. Check out the cool applications here: