Space & Innovation

Programmable, 3D-Printed Hair Goes To Great Lengths

MIT Media Lab's 3D-printed hair can be used as passive actuators, adhesives, and touch sensors.


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.

3D-Printed Instruments Rock Out

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.

Artists Discover 3-D Printing

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.

L'Oreal To Begin 3D-Printing Skin

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:

Cilllia opens up wild possibilities for 3-D printing and human-computer interactions. Personally, I got excited about the 3D-printed hair part for toys -- especially in a retro sense.

Stunning Petal Dress 3D-Printed Just for You

I know of at least one Jem doll that never recovered from an overzealous haircut in the 1980s. Perhaps with Cilllia, new pink hair could be programmed to light up her earrings when touched. Synergy!

This isn't your father's chamber ensemble. An inspired mashup of music, technology and design, the sonic art project known as


features five 3D-printed instruments along with a sonic wall that serves as band shell and instrument rack. Above, the one-string electric travel bass guitar, or monobaribasitar.

The MULTI project is a collaboration between designers at Florida architecture and design house

MONAD Studios

and musician/luthier Scott F. Hall. The design of each instrument, required three to six months, including this two-string piezoelectric violin. In case you're wondering, piezoelectric is standard in electric guitar pickups. It's the tech that translates the vibrations of the strings into music.

Each instrument was designed by Hall in the spirit of formal minimalism, but also built to produce sounds that closely resemble those made by each respective source instrument. Above, the one-string piezoelectric monovioloncello.

The Hornucopian Dronepipe is the larger of two instruments based on the didgeridoo, a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians more than 1,000 years ago.

The MULTI sonic art installation debuted at Javits Center in New York City during this year's NYC Design Week. The wall behind the performers serves as band shell and instrument rack, and also produces its own droning sonic environment.

While some of MONAD's wind instruments are 100 percent 3D-printed, most require off-the-shelf components like strings, bridges and tuning gears.

Design for each of the instruments in the MULTI project was inspired in part by native plant life around MORAD Studios' Miami, Florida, headquarters. The violin took about 10 days to print.

In an earlier interactive installation, called Abyecto, designers 3D-printed a sonic mural and a 3D-printed guitar (an earlier version of the monobaribasitar) that fits into the wall like a puzzle piece into a puzzle. While the musician plays, handheld transducers activate the mural, turning it into a speaker.