The true potential of 3D printing is only beginning to be realized, as new processes and materials are developed on a regular basis. The same holds true for that sci-fi subset of 3D printing known as bioprinting. Today, only a handful of bioprinting processes exist and we’re still far from a day in which patient-specific, bioficial organs can actually be implanted into humans. With that in mind, we’re likely to see even more bioprinting technologies emerge, particularly over the next couple of years. A San Francisco startup called Aether claims to be a pioneer in this space, announcing the development of “the most advanced and affordable 3D bioprinter ever created”, the Aether 1.
Their claim is definitely a bold one and, as the startup begins donating beta units to “selected schools, researchers, universities, chefs, and artists beginning in May 2016”, we will begin to get a better understanding of just how valid this claim is. The basis for this claim, however, is the fact that the sub-$9,000 Aether 1 combines twelve different fabrication technologies into a single machine. These processes are enabled by ten extruders on a single printhead, including eight pneumatic syringe extruders and a dual bowden FF extruder. The other technologies consist of a heated glass syringe extruder, a UV curing LED, CNC milling, laser engraving, laser assisted bioprinting (LAB), universal tool mounts, and 4,000 Hz droplet jetting.
All of this adds up, the startup claims, to a machine that outperforms the $250,000 industrial bioprinters on the market, which would suggest that it also outperforms the low-cost bioprinters on the market like the INKCREDIBLE, the BioBots 1, and even the Ourobotics system, which, though it has the ability to print 10 materials at once, does not have all of the added technologies of the Aether 1. In addition to these fabrication processes, Aether also says that their system features automatic air pressure calibration, automatic stage leveling, dual automatic nozzle cleaning stations, and a microscope + machine vision.
Outside of bioprinting, Aether suggests that the machine can be used for traditional 3D printing, fabricating art, and printing food. This can be performed within the Aether 1’s build volume of 315 x 228 x 132 mm with 50 micron layer thickness. Wi-fi enabled, the Aether is controlled through a 7″, 480p touchscreen display. And, with the launch of a file sharing site, users of the Aether 1 should have plenty to start printing.
CEO of Aether, Ryan Franks, said of the system, “Aether 1 is the most versatile tool ever created. There’s never been anything like this before. Aether 1 is over 10 years ahead of what other companies are developing, but we’re selling it at an extremely low price to get it into the hands of as many innovators as possible. We think what the early innovators are going to make with Aether 1 is going to be absolutely incredible. Imagine a single machine that can make beautiful art in entirely new ways, turn photos into paintings and sculptures, even turn food into a work of art, that can also be used to save lives, conduct critical research, and pursue the integration of biology and electronics. People will use this to do big things.”
The price of the machine has yet to be disclosed, but the company believes that it will be sold for less than $9,000. How they can pack all of that technology into a single machine is a bit unbelievable, but I’d love to see their claims validated. If they are, Aether may be able to achieve their goal, which is “to build the most capable and easiest to use bioprinter ever created, and instead of treating this incredible technology as ‘business as usual,’ selling it for the highest possible price…we would sell it for the lowest possible price.” I’m sure that, if Aether truly believes in this mission, it will be making its product open source as well.