The Nervous System studio was founded in 2007. Since then their exploration of generative design, often drawing on 3D printing technology, has made the work of founders Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg a regular appearance on this site.
Projects from the Somerville, Massachusetts studio include the 4D printing Kinematics system and working with New Balance to develop 3D printed mid-soles for sports shoes. Nervous System was an early adopter of Body Labs’ Blue API – a software tool for modelling the human body that was recently acquired by Amazon.
Generative design for 3D printing
The most recent project to be showcased by Nervous System looks at using 3D printing to make self-forming structures. The work is detailed in a recent the blog post, An exploration into 3D printing on pre-stretched fabric by Gabe Fields. Studying for a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with a Minor in Design at MIT Gabe describes himself as a “programmer/artist/designer”. Gabe spent January 2018 as an intern at Nervous System where he conducted the work.
Writing on the Nervous System blog Gabe explains the project:
The main idea here is that we can make fabric take a specific 3-dimensional shape by printing different patterns of plastic onto it while stretched. The printed plastic inhibits the contraction of the surface, guiding it to take a shape upon release. With a material that is infinitely stretchable, and 3D printers that can print infinitely small details, this would hopefully allow us to make a flat piece of fabric take any shape we want.
Programmable materials, computational design and self assembly
Working with an Ultimaker 3D printer, a 0.3 millimeter-thick pattern is deposited by the FDM system onto a piece of fabric covering the build plate. The fabric is secured, and stretched, by multiple clips. Once the 3D printing is completed and the clips removed a “a tug of war between the elasticity of the fabric and the rigidity of the printed plastic” takes place.
The result of the tug of war is a contraction of the fabric and the display of the geometric pattern. The regions of the fabric that are covered with 3D printed plastic will resist the contracting forces and this causes them to pop out, creating a self-assembling 3D shape. In order to determine the regions to 3D print on Gabe drew on work by Rohan Sawhney and Keenan Crane, specifically a boundary-first flattening algorithm.
Generative design is gaining traction in the 3D printing world, due in part to the elaborate structures created can often only be manufactured with additive technology. New York’s nTopology is developing what CEO Brad Rothenburg describes as the, “next paradigm” and is positioning his company to become “a major CAD player”. Elsewhere, Desktop Metal unveiled Live Parts during SOLIDWORKS World 2018. Live Parts is a software tool based upon morphogenetic principles and advanced simulation and can shape, “strong lightweight parts in minutes.”
Gabe’s other projects while at the MIT Media Lab are also well worth a look and include “The (Imaginary?) Power of Eye Contact” and the “Electrostatic Playground” a system uses the virtual reality environment of the HTC Vive and aids understanding electromagnetics.
Gabe has also trained, “a recurrent neural net to write episodes of Seinfeld.”
As Gabe notes in his detailed post explaining the process, the work builds on previous research efforts around programmable materials, computational design and self assembly. The projects include Programmable Materials and Active Shoes at MIT’s Self Assembly Lab, a computational design project by Bernhard Thomaszewski and others.
You can read more about the project on the Nervous System blog here.
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Featured image shows Self-forming structures made by 3D printing on stretched fabric. Photo via Nervous System.