4D is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. But what does it mean and what do cinemas and printing have in common? (Answer: not much.)
What is a 4DX cinema?
4DX is the cinema industry’s attempt to woo punters back to the picture palace, by offering an experience that you (can’t yet) get at home.
A 4DX cinema is one where film goers are thrown into the experience of a movie, by using seats that move and add atmospheric effects like fog, wind, water and even smell, to make you feel like you’re actually in the action. If you’re watching a car chase taking place in a storm, your seats will rumble, you’ll smell burning rubber and you’ll probably get soaked, too.
Unless your sitting room looks like something from MadMax, you’re unlikely to get that kind of atmosphere at home.
The UK’s first 4DX cinema is at Cineworld in Milton Keynes. While the idea might seem terribly futuristic, it was actually invented about 60s miles away in 1950s Kilburn. Maaaybe.
In the 1957 comedy The Smallest Show on Earth, a newlywed couple inherits a dilapidated cinema that sits next to a railway track and has a temperamental central heating system.
In one scene, a group of kids at a Saturday matinee are watching a western when the heating gets stuck to ‘on’ and a train goes overhead. In the movie this manifests as the baking desert sun (cue everyone buying ice cream and soft drinks) and the thunderous rumble of group of cowboys riding into battle. Naturally, word of this immersive experience gets out and the business becomes a roaring success.
While only a cinema can offer a 4DX experience for the moment, soon we’ll have our own ‘Smallest Shows’ at home. Companies such as Sony and Facebook are investing in consumer-level Virtual Reality kits for videogames and other experiences.
What is 4D printing?
In 3D printing, the printer produces many thin layers of material, the ‘ink’, which it builds up into an object. Think of it like printing a book; instead of doing all the pages loosely, gathering them up and then binding them together, you print them on top of each other, one-by-one.
In 4Dprinting, a 3D printer squirts out loads of layers creating an object. But it prints using materials that can change shape. Here’s 4D pioneer Skylar Tibbits explaining it all.
When you start to think about this, you can immediately see ways in which these kinds of materials can have quite profound effects on our lives and shopping habits. Take a simple one: buying a cot for your new baby.
You go to your favourite Swedish furniture store, pick up a sheet of this material marked Magisk Babysäng, take it home and watch it assemble itself. While you might get a sense of accomplishment by building a bed for your child, you’ll probably get more pleasure by sitting back and having a cup of tea. (Just make sure you pick the right bottle of milk in the fridge.)
While a self-building bed sounds amazing for flat-pack furniture fans, it’s even better for the company that sells it. Depending on how thin one could get the material, the firm could fit more ‘cots’ into shipping containers, saving on transport costs and fuel. And because it just needs to make one sheet of material, it can get rid of industrial machinery that it previously needed to make individual parts of the furniture.
What’s more, as 4D printing advances, you have products that take multiple forms over their lifetime. When your baby grows into a teenager, you can turn the cot into a single bed. When they’re preparing to move into their own flat, that single becomes a double.
(And when the kid leaves home, his father turns the family saloon back into the two-seater his wife and he enjoyed when they were younger.)
What kind of 4D future would you want? Is there a particular product that you’d love to see change over time, or a film that needs the 4DX treatment? Let us know in the comments.
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