3D Printing

Hod Lipson: The Present and Future of 3D Printing (Betascape 2012 Keynote)

Hod Lipson, a robotics engineer, the director of Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab and the creator of MacArthur grant awarded Fab@Home gave a brilliant keynote speech in Betascape 2012.

Lipson started his speech by considering the present moment, where we are with 3D printing — materials and sizes, and some of the key applications. It is really amazing how widespread the technology is in various fields: from food to fashion to medical and education.

Even more interestingly he went on to consider the future and how we are now closing the end of “Episode I” of the technology, where we have control over shape and form. This “2nd Industrial revolution” as Lipson calls it, stems from the fact that complexity is becoming (almost) free, which leads to new designs and new designers, who are only limited by their imagination (and the development of CAD design tools!).

So what is “Episode II”? Control over composition, where we can create new materials by combining different materials on a macro scale level. Combining materials of different hardness results in various material behaviour, which we are only beginning to explore. The way the materials are combined through patterns also makes a significant impact on the end results, which are have just recently started to be tested.

Wait, there’s even more: “Episode III” will bring ‘Programmable matter’, according to Lipson, which will take 3D printing to a whole new level, moving beyond creating passive objects, to creating interactive robotic systems. But before you get too excited, it is important to stress we are not there, yet. 3D printing a robot body is already possible, but there are many limitations that continue to be explored with 3D printers, however, for now, it still makes more sense to build robots in traditional way.

“Episode IV” was titled ‘Digital Matter’ and is the final step in Lipson’s presentation and really the movement from analog to digital, which would make the capabilities of the 3D printed products substantially higher. Different digitally created voxel types (tiny little building blocks) would enable capabilities that would depend on what kind of voxels we would be using. Small varieties of voxels combined differently would allow a great number of different capabilities for various applications, such as tiny computer chips.

Thinking about all of the technologies that have been through a transition from analog to digital, how it has changed the way those technologies work, it is fascinating to consider what this would mean for 3D printing — one can only imgine.

Watch the full speech: