4D Printing is Here

By Anupum Pant

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We had just started getting comfortable with printing objects in 3D, and 4D printing is already here. Early this year, in the month of April, Skylar Tibbits, an architect, designer and computer scientist at MIT, gave a revolutionary demonstration explaining their advances in the field of 4D printing at a TED conference. This was an initial proposal and it got things moving at a rapid pace.

Side note: In the world of 3D printing:

What is 4D printing?

At first 4D printing sounds like a catch phrase, it isn’t really just that. 4D printing is actually 1D better than 3D printing and it aims at making objects out of a 3D printer, that can reconfigure themselves into useful shapes, on their own. For instance, think of a non-living stick changing itself into a 3D cube as time passes. In short, 4D printing will enable us to create living objects without any living cells, micro-processors, chips or batteries involved. Sounds simple enough, but the promises are nothing less than extraordinary.

In the TED talk attached below, Skylar explains how a string of plastic placed in water can turn itself into the letters MIT. But, this was something that happened back in April. Things have moved further.

A few days back, Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder revealed a successful test of their 4D printing technology. They were able to print out flat objects using normal plastic combined with a smart material which was able to turn into a cube on its own. Cubes are just the start.

According to scientists, in the future, 4D printing will probably churn out smart car bodies that would heal automatically, smart soldier uniforms and advanced building materials. Imagine a camouflage material that changes to match the surroundings, that could be the future. Or a pipe that contracts and expands to move water without pumps. Or a building material that builds itself into a structure. 4D printing could probably best suited for building in an extremely hostile environment like space. The possibilities are endless.

But, let us not get ahead of ourselves. It is almost impossible to predict what we’ll actually see in the future. Things have just started to happen in the field of 4D printing. But, it sure looks amazing. What will you build?

Harnessing The Power of Nature – Biological Data Storage

by Anupum Pant

The present storage technology

Storage technology has come long way from the year 1956 when IBM, the massive corporation started pushing this technology. Its journey started with data storage densities of orders as low as 40 bits per square inch in 1956 (RAMAC 350). This effort from their side indeed brought in great results and IBM could set a record of density record of 14.3 billion bits per inch, by the year 2000.

Today, in the year 2013, most HDDs (Hard Disks Drives) are able to store with densities of around 500 Billion bits per square inch; technology at this level has brought Terabyte sized HDDs to our computers. The research being done on increasing density of data is still a bustling area. As a result, we often see news breaking in with breath-taking new storage technologies almost every month.

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Just a few months back, using a technique called nanopatterning a team from Singapore was able to show 3300 billion bits per square inch. That is almost 6 times the density of a normal HDD. It means that a 1TB HDD of present size could hold 6TB if this could come to manufacturing units.

Seagate, in another story, promised data densities of the order 1TB per square inch (8000 billion bits per square inch) within the next decade. Which would enable hard drives of up to 60 TB in capacity.

A similar thing has happened to compact disks. From CDs to DVDs to Dual Layer DVDs to BluRays and several other storages that didn’t last – from zip drives to holographic storage. The data storage densities have improved dramatically.

Is it enough?

Although, our present ability to store a lot of data in small physical spaces is enough for now, to meet the future demands we will need to keep progressing with an unbelievable rate. The fact – physical storage is reaching its limit gradually, could bottleneck our progress in the future.

Biological Storage Devices

The exact storage concept used in amazing natural systems like the human brain and DNA has remained elusive for decades now. To keep up with the rapid pace of development it is important that we step up our work in this area. I think, the answer to our demands lies with the nature.

A brain, for instance, is estimated to be able to store something closer to 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). The sad part, we don’t exactly know how it stores. Moreover, we don’t even know how we could precisely calculate their storage limits. These estimates are just a theoretical calculation. We still have a long way to go.

The greatest storage device

Recent successful experiments with storage and retrieval of data in the human DNA has come with a new hope for the future. Teams at the EU Bioinformatics Institute and Harvard University have successfully stored famous speeches, photos, and entire books, and then retrieved them with 99.99% accuracy.

Being able to store data in the DNA will confer upon us three advantages. Firstly, it will be fast (very), yes, faster than the flash drive. Secondly, it won’t age with repeated storage cycles (around 10,000 years), at least not like HDDs which have moving parts. Finally, DNA will enable us to reach data densities of unimaginable levels. Imagine being able to store of half a million DVD disks in a single gram of DNA!  Technically that would amount to 700 terabits per gram (measuring in area is difficult for an entity like this). Others have reached to densities as much as 2.2 petabytes per gram.

Bring DNA drives to our PCs I say!