As a kid, one of the most captivating toys were those "magic capsules" that, when placed in water, would slowly morph into the shape of an animal. Recently, Belgian designer Carl de Smet unveiled a concept for self-assembling furniture that’s just as cool to watch. Once removed from the box, his block of smart foam quickly unfolds and stretches into a perfectly useable chair.
The technology arrives at a dynamic moment in materials design. While 3-D printing is finally becoming affordable enough to use for more than just prototypes, other designers, entrepreneurs, and researchers are either reviving older techniques that the 3-D printing craze has overshadowed or introducing even newer concepts, like "4-D printing," another smart materials concept rolled out at TED last month.
According to the BBC, de Smet’s shape memory polyurethane can expand from being densely packed in a box into a full-size chair. "In 10 minutes, the seat will be ready," says de Smet, who contrasts his design with the typical hassle-filled experience of putting together furniture at home. "Here, the material is the mechanism, so finally the material is doing the work for you."
Unlike those animal capsules, the chair needs heat (via electricity) not water, to expand. And it’s even flexible enough for the owner to alter the design if she’s not happy with it.
The design was formally debuted at the Milan Design Week festival this week. Check out the BBC’s mini-documentary on de Smet here.