Kinematics is the branch of science that describes the motion of objects, but designers at Nervous System have created a whole new meaning for the word.

They developed a series of 3D printed geometric shapes that combine to create a flexible material that, when linked together, can form everything from additive manufactured lampshades to wearable dresses.

"Kinematics is a system for 4D printing that creates complex, foldable forms composed of articulated modules," Nervous System Chief Science Officer Jess Jesse Louis-Rosenberg said. "The system provides a way to turn any three-dimensional shape into a flexible structure using 3D printing. Kinematics combines computational geometry techniques with rigid body physics and customization. Practically, Kinematics allows us to take large objects and compress them down for 3D printing through simulation. It also enables the production of intricately patterned wearables that conform flexibly to the body."

The designers at Nervous System were asked by Motorola's Advanced Technology and Projects Group to create "aesthetic generators" for their modular phone prototype, the MotoX.

But there was a catch. These things had to be able to be 3D printed in under an hour on equipment being lugged around the country in the MAKEwithMOTO publicity van.

"Despite what you may have been told, 3D printing is not a particularly fast process," Louis-Rosenberg said. "In fact, the more three dimensional an object is, the slower it prints. One hour is a very challenging print time to meet for an object of any significant size.

So the nervous system team got creative.

Structures made with the Kinematic system can range from just a few interlocking pieces to thousands of them. Though made of many distinct pieces, these designs require no assembly. Instead the hinge mechanisms are 3D printed in-place and work straight out of the machine.

The designers asked themselves how they could we create something that was nearly flat, but still took advantage of the possibilities in 3D printing.

The solution was to print a flat design that could be folded into other shapes after printing.

The individual geometric pieces attached to each other with hinged joints. The designers spent a lot of time tweaking the tolerances to get the hinge tight enough to not fall apart but loose enough to not fuse together during printing. The end result was the Kinematic system.

They fired up a Makerbot Replicator and got on Thingiverse to do some research, and shortly after that they made their first bracelet.

"From the beginning, this project was focused on making the most of the limitations of low-cost 3D printers," Louis-Rosenberg said. "Unlike most of our work, which occurs almost entirely digitally before we see a real object, this required extensive physical prototyping."

Once done with the Motorola project, the Nervous System team switched from an extrusion printing process to selective laser sintering (SLS). That allowed the creation of larger, more complex objects, like women's dresses.

The software is a browser-based WebGL application, which means the code does not rely on any frameworks.

The company is releasing two web-based applications: Kinematics and a simplified version called Kinematics @ Home which is completely free to use.

The Kinematics app allows for the creation of necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Users can sculpt the shape of their jewelry and control the density of the pattern. Designs created with Kinematics can be ordered in polished 3D-printed nylon in a variety of colors.