“Scientists at Harvard, Pittsburgh and Illinois are developing materials that will “exhibit behavior that changes over time,” writes Quartz.

At the most basic level, the objects simply change shape over time, as outlined by MIT’s Skylar Tibbits. Along with Stratasys, a leading maker of 3D printers, he is experimenting with materials that can assemble themselves once they’re printed out. All it takes is some energy-providing external stimulus such as water, heat or movement.

In the future, that could mean water pipes that don’t break in the winter, self-repairing machines or even furniture that assembles itself.

Here’s Skylar Tibbits giving a TED talk on 4D printing. (Runs 8:23)

And here’s architect Xavier De Kestelier talking about designing self-assembling buildings for space.

How will we live elsewhere in the galaxy? On Earth, natural resources for creating structures are abundant, but sending these materials up with us to the Moon or Mars is clunky and cost-prohibitive. Enter architect Xavier De Kestelier, who has a radical plan to use robots and space dust to 3D print our interplanetary homes. Learn more about the emerging field of space architecture with this fascinating talk about the (potentially) not-too-distant future.