30 years ago, printing a 3D object seemed like an idea from science fiction, but today it’s pretty mainstream. But imagine printing a 3D object that is capable of changing its shape or color. Sound like something from the future? Well, it might not take so long thanks to researchers at Dartmouth College who have developed a smart ink that allows 3D printed structures to do just that.

The new smart ink allows 3D printed materials to change shape when provided with chemical fuel, and color when exposed to light. The new technique could be a low-cost alternative to printing precision parts for areas from bio-medicine to the energy industry.

"This process can use a $1,000 printer to print what used to require a $100,000 printer," said Chenfeng Ke, an assistant professor at Dartmouth.

To create the smart inks, researchers integrated intelligent molecular systems into printing gel which allows for the transformation of their functions from the nano scale to the macro scale. Which means we can actually see the changes with our eyes as described by Ke.

"This is something we've never seen before. Not only can we 3D print objects, we can tell the molecules in those objects to rearrange themselves at a level that is viewable by the naked eye after printing. This development could unleash the great potential for the development of smart materials."

While current uses for this technology aren’t very exciting, the future could hold intelligent 3D systems that can change their configuration dynamically. Researchers say that’s still pretty far off, but I hope not too far, because I want a car that does its own repairs!