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3D-printed hair leads to fuzzy machines and sticky blocks

Cilllia hair looks creepy, but it can do a lot.

A while back, MIT researchers found a way to easily create 3D-printed hair: smart software can create thousands of tiny polymer strands (smaller than 100 microns, if you want) that give objects a fuzzy texture. Now, however, they're finding practical uses for those natural-feeling surfaces. If you specify the right angles, density, height and thickness, you can make the hair do surprising things. On a basic level, you can create blocks that only stick to each other under certain conditions, or paint brushes that produce very specific effects. However, it really gets interesting when you vibrate the hairs -- you can create motors and sensors that are as baffling as they are clever.

You can have objects slide along a fixed path, like the metal disc you see above. It's also possible to produce hairy motors, such as a 'windmill' that kicks in when your phone rings. And the hair is surprisingly useful for sensors. Attach a microphone and you can detect a finger brushing along the hair's surface, including its swiping speed.

These are still experiments, and it could take a long time before you see products in stores. However, MIT's explorations show that this isn't just a novelty. There's a real chance that some of your future gadgets will use this. You could have toy pets that react when you pet them, or wall hooks that don't rely quite so much on adhesives to stay put.

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