Tech Watch: Liquid Printed Seats

BMW, MIT Self-Assembly Lab envision a future where air capacity is the only barrier to more comfortable seating.

If you love your car but hate the settings on your seats and their pitiful lumbar support, there’s not a lot you can do—short of picking up an orthopedic back pillow. BMW and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Self-Assembly Lab envision a future where air capacity is the only barrier to more comfortable seating. 

The organizations have come up with a liquid printed inflatable material that can be customized to just about size or shape depending on the amount of air pressure applied. Its pneumatic controls allow the printed structure to transform into a variety of shapes, functions or stiffness characteristics. 

The material is the product of two years’ study between BMW and MIT and is showcased at the U.K.’s Victoria and Albert Museum as part of the exhibition “The Future Starts Here,” which explores the power of design. 

The technology has seven independent air compartments and has a “robotic-like” transformation, notes Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision and BMW Brand Design at BMW Group. 

“This adaptive material technology points toward a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance,” Starke says. “There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape. Interiors could even take on malleable, 
modular uses.”

Starke says the material forecasts a time when the vehicle’s “front” and “back” seats are no longer binary options.