Research @ MIT Media Lab | 2016

Throughout nature, hair-like structures can be found on animals and plants at many different scales. Beyond ornamentation, warmth and a sense of touch, hair is also a natural responsive material that interfaces between the living organism and its environment. Inspired by how hair achieves those properties with its unique high aspect ratio structure, this project presents a voxel-based approach to 3D print dense hair structure.


FABRICATE (To appear)| Cilllia – Method of 3D Printing Micro-Pillar Structure on Surfaces | Ou, J., Dublon, G., Cheng, C., Willis, K., and Ishii, H. | Invited Paper

CHI2016| Cilllia: 3D Printed Micro-Pillar Structures for Surface Texture, Actuation and Sensing | Ou, J., Dublon, G., Cheng, C., Heibeck, F., Willis, K., and Ishii, H.



These days, it seems as if 3-D printers can spit out just about anything, from a full-size 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 design and print. Cilllia is a way we developed to quickly and efficiently model and print thousands of hair-like structures. Using conventional computer-aided design software would mean drawing thousands of individual hairs on a computer, translating each hair’s contours into a mesh of tiny triangles, and then turning cross sections of that mesh into layer-by-layer pixelated instructions for the 3-D printer to follow, a process that would take hours. Cilllia bypassed all that with a new voxel-based printing software platform that lets users define the angle, thickness, density, and height of thousands of hairs by arranging the voxels, in just a few minutes. The printed hair can be used as an adhesive surface like Velcro; an actuated surface to move object in designed paths; or a sensing surface to sense user’s touch and swipe. We also present several applications that show how the 3D-printed hair can be used for designing everyday interactive objects.

The vision of this work is to rethink how material would be synthesized in the future. As the resolution of 3D printers are improving, designers would be able to manipulate voxels at a scale that they never imagined: It gives designers the ability to design functions as they are design shape. This would dramatically change the design paradigm from “form follows function” to “function follows form”. As high-resolution 3D printers become increasingly available and affordable, we envision a future where physical materials’ properties, whether optical or mechanical, electrical or biological, can be encoded and decoded in the material fabrication process directly by designers.