So I watch TED talks fairly often and there was one that came out fairly recently about 4D printing. If you’re wondering how you can print in the 4th dimension (time), I would ask what if you considered self-assembling materials? Think of the ability to print out materials that are able to independently shape themselves and self-assemble over time. There is a huge market for such a technology.
Look at construction and manufacturing for example. There is so much money, time, and effort spent building and maintaining our constructs. If we just look at the simple concept of plumbing and piping that brings water to a community, we are looking at pipes with a fix flow rate and a fix capacity. Also these pipes are buried under the ground so if anything needs fixing we have to dig up the pipes to fix or change anything. But what if there was a way to create pipes that could change their capacity based on demand, or move water quicker with a peristalsis like motion that we have in our esophagus. Personally I find that this has an awesome future in not just everyday construction, but in extreme environments.
Environments where it could be too costly, dangerous, or even impossible to build up any sort of infrastructure by conventional means would become more accessible with 4D technology. Space is a great example of this where using programmable materials that can self-assemble would be invaluable. The only requirement would be the input of random energy into the system to assemble the infrastructure needed or even wanted by space goers. So far this is just wishful thinking but the technology is able to assemble furniture sized objects.
It seems amazing how materials can be simply programmed to form whatever object we want. Since all that’s required to use this technology is energy, the correct geometry, and of course the materials being assembled. Right now I think the only thing that can hold progress back is imagination.
For more information, take a look at the TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/skylar_tibbits_the_emergence_of_4d_printing.html