MIT is working on a system for 3D printing items that are designed to be inflated. The functions range from dynamic furniture to exoskeletons!
Via MIT Media Lab:
Printflatables is a design and fabrication system for human- scale, functional and dynamic inflatable objects. We use in- extensible thermoplastic fabric as the raw material with the key principle of introducing folds and thermal sealing. Upon inflation, the sealed object takes the expected three dimen- sional shape. The workflow begins with the user specifying an intended 3D model which is decomposed to two dimensional fabrication geometry. This forms the input for a numerically controlled thermal contact iron that seals layers of thermoplas- tic fabric. In this paper, we discuss the system design in detail, the pneumatic primitives that this technique enables and merits of being able to make large, functional and dynamic pneumatic artifacts. We demonstrate the design output through multiple objects which could motivate fabrication of inflatable media and pressure-based interfaces.
We presented techniques to transform 2D rest shape objects to 3D forms through shape tranformation. Our fabrication platform creates folds along the length of the thermoplastic fabric using thermal welding. The user designs or inputs the three dimensional model through a custom Grasshopper plugin to get fabrication geometry and inflation simulation. The fabricated objects can be of human-scale and demonstrate high force actuation. To validate this, applications around pop- up architecture and body augmentation with soft wearables were shown.