Keeping ahead of the curve in any field implies working on innovative new solutions. BMW and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Self-Assembly Lab announced today the unveiling of a new type of material, the first of its kind, which should help in the future in a variety of fields. According to the two companies, this is the first printed inflatable material, a technology that self-transforms, adapts and morpsh from one state to another.

This visionary commission is showcased at the V&A and for the first time on display during their exhibition The Future Starts Here, which explores the power of design in shaping the world of tomorrow. The BMW Design Department and MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory have started their cross-disciplinary study two years back with the mutual ambition to push the boundaries of material technologies.

This collaboration resulted in the first example of a fully printed inflatable that can be customized to any size or shape. The silicone printed object can change shape depending on the amount of air pressure in the system. The pneumatic controls in the system allow the printed structure to transform into a variety of shapes, functions or stiffness characteristics. After testing various directions on how a visionary interior could take shape, the experts at the Self-Assembly Lab achieved a breakthrough when they managed to liquid print air and water-tight inflatable geometries, like customized printable balloons.

“The outcome of this collaboration manifests that a new material future is imminent“, says Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision and BMW Brand Design at BMW Group. Together with the Self-Assembly Laboratory at MIT, Starke was eager to move away from our current understanding of car interiors as the forces reshaping the nature of transportation are eventually shifting toward a kind of vehicle that defies conventions like front and back seats.

“There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape. Interiors could even take on malleable, modular uses”, she explains further. This is why the study is fully focusing on technological dimensions and material properties at this stage. Skylar Tibbits, founder of the Self-Assembly Lab explains: “We then 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.”

On display at the V&A is a three dimensional object which is highly dynamic, morphing its form and function. This meter-scale object exhibits robotic-like transformation from a pneumatic system with seven independent chambers to create different movement patterns. “This adaptive material technology points towards a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance”, says Martina Starke.

The Future Starts Here brings together ground-breaking technologies and designs currently in development in studios and laboratories around the world. Drawing upon international research, and working closely with a range of companies, universities, practitioners and advisors, the exhibition explores over 100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow. “We are proud to be one of the contributors to show our achievements”, concludes Martina Starke, „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.“