These days, it may seem as if 3-D printers can spit out just about anything, from a full-sized sports car, to edible food, to human skin. But some things have defied the technology, including hair, fur, and other dense arrays of extremely fine features, which require a huge amount of computational time and power to first design, then print.
Now researchers in MIT’s Media Lab have found a way to bypass a major design step in 3-D printing, to quickly and efficiently model and print thousands of hair-like structures. Instead of using conventional computer-aided design (CAD) software to draw thousands of individual hairs on a computer — a step that would take hours to compute — the team built a new software platform, called “Cilllia,” that lets users define the angle, thickness, density, and height of thousands of hairs, in just a few minutes.
Using the new software, the researchers designed arrays of hair-like structures with a resolution of 50 microns — about the width of a human hair. Playing with various dimensions, they designed and then printed arrays ranging from coarse bristles to fine fur, onto flat and also curved surfaces, using a conventional 3-D printer.