Cilllia: 3D-Printing Pipeline for Programmable Hair

Cilia–the microscopic basic hair-like structure that covers all mammalian cells–has numerous functions. As a natural interface between a living organism and its environment, hair provides warmth and adhesion; it senses vibration and touch, and it’s responsive in terms of navigation and movement. Plus, hair has aesthetic properties.

Now, inspired by Nature, Cilllia is a new computational method for designing and 3D-printing artificial cilia by using a streamlined technology that bypasses existing CAD model techniques, which are time-consuming and unwieldy. The new technology can be customized: It allows a user to digitally design and fabricate ultra-fine hair geometries, and assign various functionalities to the “hair.” The fabrication process includes a software platform that lets users quickly define the hair angle, thickness, density, and height. And, by directly generating bitmaps, Cilllia enables 3D printing of the hair-like structures on both flat and curved surfaces.

Cilllia–which is an ideographic spelled with three “Ls” to visually represent hair–could transform interaction design. The ability to fabricate customized hair-like structures not only expands the library of 3D-printable shapes, but it also enables us to design and quickly prototype passive actuators and swipe sensors for use in everyday interactive objects. A 3D-printed object can translate vibration into a controlled motion based on the hair geometry, and printed objects can now sense human touch direction and velocity.

This new technology is more than biomimicry: it holds potential for application in many industries, such as technology, health care, fashion, and art.

Learn more: View the site, read the research paper and watch the video.

Excerpts from an interview recorded in the Tangible Media group with the group’s director Hiroshi Ishii and Jifei Ou, lead researcher on the Cilllia project.

Listen: Jifei Ou, PhD student in the TMG and lead researcher on the Cilllia project, explains what inspired him
[Transcription] “Hair is one of the most common structures we encounter every day. It actually provides a lot of different functionality, mechanical functionality, optical functionality. And that’s one of the most interesting things I found attractive. On the other side, if we look into the fabrication world, the fabrication technology, we can see now – with the advance of the technology – we have more and more machines that can help us designers engineer to create things at smaller scale, yet we’re not fully utilizing that. That’s how I see the two – one is in the natural world, one is in the man-made world – can be merged together.”

Listen: Hiroshi Ishii, Director of the Tangible Media Group (TMG), says the “meta message” of Cilllia is important
[Transcription] “People know that hair protects the body. Also, Velcro is very popular so the adhesive is something that’s very easy to imagine. But he (Jifei Ou) made two jumps: one is for actuation, and even for sensing. That made people say, “Wow.” So, it’s not the biomimicry but he went beyond that. We can learn from Nature, of course, but also we can make a quantum leap beyond that. My group is really keen on three things: envision, embody, and inspire. The work has to be beautiful, the work has to have a profound message to make people think in a new, different kind of future.”

Media coverage

MIT News
ZME Science
International Business Times UK
Boing Boing
Fast Co. Design
Dezeen Magazine

Image Credit: 
Tangible Media group