3D Printing and Programmable Matter

Purnendu
2 min readAug 18, 2023

The path to programmable matter will take a route of miniaturization of 3D Printers. 3D Printing is a manufacturing technique that transforms one form of matter (usually a solid filament, liquid, or powder) into another (over time using specialized machines) [1]. Programmable matter is a hypothetical mysterious form of matter that can transform from one form into another on its own [2]. In the realm of programmable matter, the material is the machine. Here, I would like to argue that 3D Printing using a fast-paced, miniaturized fabrication machine would be indistinguishable from shape-changing programmable matter.

3D Printing vs Programmable Matter

For an alternative understanding, I am loosely expressing this idea using the mathematical concept of ‘limit’. In the limit of the speed of the 3D printer becoming almost infinite and the size of a 3D printer becomes super small, 3D printing will be identical to programmable matter.

How can we visualize such a change? How can the miniaturization of 3D Printers progress towards programmable matter? Below is a conceptual schematic that shows the progression in the reduction of the size of 3D printing hardware.

Hypothetical size reduction of the 3D printing hardware. The blue part represents the “machine” while the red part represents the “material”

The current form of 3D printers in the form of desktop devices needs to be miniaturized into a mobile form factor and eventually into something like a computational skin for the materials.

[Content will be expanded over time. These are unpolished ideas published as a note to share with selected people. ]

References:

  1. Hull, Charles W. “Apparatus for production of three-dimensional objects by stereolithography.” United States Patent, Appl., №638905, Filed (1984).
  2. Toffoli, Tommaso, and Norman Margolus. “Programmable matter: concepts and realization.” Physica. D, Nonlinear phenomena 47.1–2 (1991): 263–272.

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Purnendu

Designer trained as Physicist | Currently @ Reality Labs Research at Meta | PhD student @cuatlas | Previously: IIT Roorkee, Co-founder @log9materials