When I first saw this video, I had no idea what I was watching, yet I was completely captivated. I had to find out the story behind the video. Here is what I discovered.
The video shows the computational growth process used to create pieces for an art exhibit called “Wanderers: An Astrobiological Exploration” (recently on display at the EuroMold conference in Frankfurt, Germany) by MIT Professor Neri Oxman in collaboration with Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb. The idea behind the project was to use these growth processes to develop wearables—futuristic wearables, made to assist humans in exploring, or even habitating, other (hostile) planets. The collection is described on Oxman’s website:
“The series represents the classical elements understood by the ancients to sustain life (earth, water, air and fire), and offers their biological counterpart in the form of microorganisms engineered to produce life-sustaining elements. The wearables are designed to interact with a specific environment characteristic of their destination and generate sufficient quantities of biomass, water, air and light necessary for sustaining life: some photosynthesize converting daylight into energy, others bio-mineralize to strengthen and augment human bone, and some fluoresce to light the way in pitch darkness. Each wearable is designed for a specific extreme environment where it transforms elements that are found in the atmosphere to one of the classical elements supporting life: oxygen for breathing, photons for seeing, biomass for eating, biofuels for moving, and calcium for building.”
For the work shown in this video, the team designed a biologically inspired computational growth process in which an initial seed grows, continuously refining its shape as it adapts to its environment. “Due to the generative nature of the algorithm it was possible to create a wide range of wearables that adapt to the human body for pre-visualization and design iteration,” explains Christoph Bader on his website. All of the design concepts were actually produced as well, using the Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Production System (Stratasys). According to Bader, this is the first time that volumetric color and transparency gradients have been achieved using 3D printers. For example, check out the designs and their corresponding prototypes below (all images and descriptions taken from Oxman’s website):
Professor Oxman leads the Mediated Matter group (a pretty darn good-looking group of scientists, by the way), out of the MIT Media Lab, whose proclaimed goal is to “create biologically inspired and engineered design fabrication tools and technologies and structures aiming to enchain the relation between natural and man-made environments.” Oxman is also an exhibiting artist whose works have been shown in the MoMA, the Smithsonian, and the Pompidou, to name a few.