4D Printing: self-folding of complex objects

Using components made from smart shape-memory materials with slightly different responses to heat, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have demonstrated a four-dimensional printing technology that allowed creation of complex self-folding structures.

It could be used to create 3-D structures that sequentially fold themselves from components that had been flat or rolled into a tube for shipment. The components could respond to stimuli such as temperature, moisture or light in a way that is precisely timed to create space structures, deployable medical devices, robots, toys and range of other structures.

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This Singapore device turns your home into an urban farm

Creator Brian Ong hopes his device will help people grow and eat more fresh, wholesome food

The late founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, rolled out a plan in 1967 to transform the republic into a “garden city”; today, parks and gardens green spaces adorn the city’s urban landscape amidst the ever-growing high-rise developments.

Even in HDB flats, many Singaporeans are fond of keeping potted plants along the dreary-looking corridors.

But the problem with urban life is that time constraints create unhealthy gardening habits. So unless it’s cactus or a similarly resilient plant, many plants die from the neglect and lack of water.

Brian Ong, a Masters of Architecture graduate from the Singapore University of Technology (SUTD), has created a device that helps urban farmers/botanists automate plant care.

There is no team behind Hydra. Ong as a one-man inventor, and was spurred to embark on this project because of his own pain point.

“This project started off when I was in university. As my schedule got busier, my plants began to suffer as a result. As I could not find any suitable watering solutions for the indoor garden (the systems I came across on the market had various shortcomings), I decided to design one for myself,” says Ong, in an interview with e27.

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Another factor was the growing trend of urban farming, In a nutshell, the concept revolves around urban dwellers growing high-quality produce within confined spaces, in a sustainable fashion.

“More people are striving to grow their own mini edible gardens to provide a small but steady stream of herbs and vegetables to their kitchen,” he says.

Ong took to taking apart and scrutinised the shortcomings of current indoor watering systems on the market.

“Some systems are difficult to install in existing indoor setups – for example, drip systems that require a connection to a tap,” he says.

“Other systems are not very discreet – for example, capillary action solutions (water channelling) that have one bottle per pot or gravity solutions that require the water source to be placed above the pots. Some systems also run on battery power, which is not good for everyday use,” adds Ong.

The solution

Thus, the findings came to one clear-cut conclusion – Hydra needs to be a simple plug and play device.

Hydra essentially acts as a hub and “is designed to be simple to install in any existing indoor/balcony garden setup and easy to maintain. It draws water from a bucket on the ground and distributes it to up to 10 plants via tubes once a day,” says Ong.

“Each output’s watering volume can also be adjusted independently of one another, so the needs of different plants can be catered to,” he adds.

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For those who seek to build a mini indoor farm, Ong says it is also possible to water more than 10 plants if the pots are set up in a way that allows water to be drained from one pot to the next. Water can also be pumped up to a 2.25 metres height.

The user also can plug in multiple sources of water, so it’s possible to water plants for weeks without refilling the water source(s). And once the system has been properly rigged up, the user can start calibrating the sequence.

First, the current time and water dispensing time have to be set. Then comes dispensing volumes, which can be set in three different ways: visual dispensing (see a rough gauge of much will be dispensed), preset volumes, and volumetric dispensing (meaning specific user set volumes).

It’s not smart

One surprising thing about Hydra is that — despite the trend of IoT devices such as this — it is not smart.

Ong opted for the low-tech route because “a smart watering system would have incorporated soil moisture sensors in each pot, which would have increased costs and led to a whole bunch of wires running around the place.”

The goal, Ong emphasises, is to create a simple automated watering machine without bells and whistles.


Hydra has been in development for close to 11 months. The initial funding for the prototype and samples for various parts amounted to around S$2,000 (US$1,470).

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Ong is seeking to raise capital via Kickstarter. Currently, it has raised nearly half of its S$55,000 (US$40,400).

So if you would like to go on a long holiday without fretting about your plants withering away, Hydra might be a good fit for the home.

Just remember to cover the water source(s) or your home will be ground zero for a Zika mosquito breeding spot.

Image Credit: Hydra

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