Discover how 4D printing can create intelligent aquatic plants

Discover how 4D printing can create intelligent aquatic plants

Posted By on Nov 6, 2018 |

New 3D printing innovations are allowing to develop new applications in various sectors such as aeronautics, medical or architecture. Now, the technology is even going further with 4D printing. This new technology arouses everybody’s curiosity and could lead to amazing innovations. Today we are going to tell you about a project initiated by Nicole Hone: 4D printed intelligent aquatic plants.

How an industrial designer decided to print these plants and why? What are Hydrophytes and why this experiment could be important for the development of 4D printing? All you need to know about 4D printed intelligent aquatic plants is in this blog post!


4D printing: What can we do with this technology?


4D printed parts are created with the same process as 3D printed objects. The main difference is that, in order to get 4D printed objects, advanced materials are needed. These smart materials are reacting to external stimulations, like hot water, light or heat, making these non-living objects change their shapes and behaviors over time!

These 4D printed parts are not static structures. If you want to know more about 4D printing, check out our previous blog post, 4D printing, a technology coming from the future.  

Would you imagine 3D printed parts with their own behaviors? It could lead to incredible new applications and experimentations in the upcoming years.

This technology could actually lead to the creation of intelligent parts or devices. Today, we are going to focus on one project: 4D printed intelligent aquatic plants. What it is? How could it allow to innovate?


4D printing intelligent aquatic plants

What is this project?


Nicole Hone is an industrial designer from New Zealand. She decided to use new possibilities offered by the 4D printing technology to create an outstanding project: a series of Hydrophytes sculptures. The intelligent aquatic plants are actually looking like tentacles, corals polyps, colorful sea creatures, etc. Indeed, as we just saw, 4D printed elements can react to external conditions. These plants are moving, and actually looking like living plants.

What was her goal? Put art, nature and technology together in one project, in order to create movements using 4D printing. By using a technology creating parts able to change over time This technology is allowing to imitate life, and the movements of aquatic life forms.

Nicole Hone

Nicole Hone

Nicole Hone explains: “These Computer-Generated Objects (CGO) take advantage of both the digital world, with its versatility and efficiency in form-making, and the physical world, where objects can respond to the environment, humans and other printed objects.  This balance between controlled design and uncontrolled natural interaction leads to the creation of compelling organic performances.


The creation of the 4D printed plants


This project has been made possible thanks to the use of 3D modeling software, which helped to create the whole shape textures and internal structures of the plants. Then, Nicole Hone started the 3D printing process of this project at Victoria University of Wellington.

These creations are made using a UV light sensitive smart material reacting to external forces, made of flexible and rigid resins. This new experimentation offers new possibilities, these intelligent plants could be useful and bring new functionalities into the aquatic space.

In order to make such accurate, flexible and thin parts, supports were needed and then removed using a toothpick.

The plants are triggered by air pumped into and through their parts. Check out the video below to see how these plants are moving and reacting:

Hydrophytes – 4D Printing from Nicole Hone on Vimeo.

This project is not only an art project: it shows new possibilities of additive manufacturing which could totally be used by designers and engineers. This project offers a great immersive underwater experience for the viewers.


These Hydrophytes could be useful in the future

Functions of these plants

Thanks to pneumatic inflation, these plants actually look like living elements, and this feeling is reinforced by the effect of water. Inspired by botany and marine life, Nicole Hone wanted to reproduce the moves of sea creatures and corals.

The functions of these plants described in the little film made by Nicole Hone are actually inspired by the effects of climate change on marine species. One of Hone’s Hydrophytes is the Nomadic Cleaner. This 3D printed plant could, for example, be able to clean pests algae off coral skeletons. There is also the Imp Root, which could be able to hunt invasive species, as it is reacting to external attacks.

Nomadic cleaner - Nicole Hone

Nomadic cleaner – Nicole Hone

These are only sculptures for the moment, but, they could, one day, help us to create smart devices.


Is there a future for these intelligent aquatic plants?


You are maybe wondering: Will there be a development of these futuristic aquatic plants in the future? This project is an interesting example of how art and experimentations could totally help to give life to new innovations, give new ideas and bring technology even further.


Indeed, with the help of bioengineers, these kinds of projects could continue to grow and become totally functional in the upcoming years. This project is a great start to help to create new smart systems to save our aqua life.


The fascination we have for nature can be used to create a lot of new devices or projects. Indeed, it even has a name: biomimicry. We can observe nature, learn from it, and use it. And yes, it is possible to make nature inspired 3D prints.

One thing is sure, it is that 3D printed pneumatic systems have a promising future. We already talked about 3D printed inflatable structures, used by BMW and how these shape-changing devices could be used, check it out!


We hope that you liked this amazing 3D printing project. You can now see what 4D printing can create and bring us in the future. Do you want to know more about these kinds of projects? Don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

If you have an additive manufacturing project, you can upload your 3D files on our online 3D printing service, choose your material, technology and finishing, and get your 3D printed parts in a few days. Do you have any questions? Feel free to contact our sales team!

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