Design Engineering

BMW, MIT design first inflatable additive material

By DE Staff   

Additive Manufacturing Automotive

Car-maker sees liquid-printed pneumatic material as potentially transformative for automotive interiors.

(Photo credit: BMW Group)

The BMW Design Department, in collaboration with MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory, have developed an inflatable additive material that can be customized to any size or shape and transforms depending on the amount of air pressure in the system. The system’s pneumatic controls allow the silicone printed object to transform into a variety of shapes, functions or stiffness characteristics, the company says.

“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. “There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape. Interiors could even take on malleable, modular uses.”

After two years of testing, researchers at the Self-Assembly Lab achieved a breakthrough when they managed to liquid print air- and water-tight inflatable geometries, like customized printable balloons. With this technology, the researchers say they can produce complex channels and pockets that self-transform.

“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 electro-mechanical devices or complex moulding/tooling to produce inflatables. Now we’re able to print complex inflatable structures with custom actuation and tuneable stiffness.”


“This adaptive material technology,” Starke adds, “points towards a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance.”


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