This year has flown by, and, with it, has gone a flurry of technological and creative advances in 3D printing. With such an abundance of news and ideas to keep up with, I thought I might share the 5 advances that seemed most impressive to me. So, in no particular order:
1.) JuicyPrint (aka: The Orange Juice & Bacteria 3D Printer)
That’s right, an orange juice and bacteria 3D printer…but it doesn’t print orange juice…or bacteria, it prints cellulose. You know, the stuff that lumber and paper are made of. The idea is to use a specially modified bacteria AS the printer to produce 3D objects by feeding them orange juice. You can read the details on the London Biohackspace website. So simple, and yet so adaptable for so many uses. Imagine the scalable possibilities, if this goes global!
2.) The 3D Printed Car
If your mother was honest with you, she would have told you that size does matter. The gloss has just about worn off on desktop printed cute, but otherwise useless, plastic toys that end up collecting dust on a shelf. Local Motors changed that with the Strati, (one of) the world’s first 3D printed car(s)…and nobody could argue it is a useless toy. By scaling up 3D printing, in a publically visible way, the Strati has helped 3D printing really go mainstream. See the entire Local Motors concept, including their “microfactory” idea at: https://localmotors.com/3d-printed-car/.
3.) Child Prosthetics
If there is one thing everyone can agree on, it is that the life of a child should be a happy time. But for quite a few children, due to birth defects, accidents, or disease, their childhoods are filled with challenges and adversity due to a missing limb. And don’t get me wrong, technology is great, but unless it is useful…who really cares? Here 3D printing and the better part of the human spirit have come together to really make technology useful.
The E-nabling the Future project started with two guys who wanted to 3D print an artificial hand for one child…and then spun wonderfully out of control. Now people from all walks of life, from all over the world, are giving their time, talent, and 3D printers to help make the world a little better place. “That’s great,” you might say, “helping those poor 3rd world kids.” And you would be correct…many of the kids who have and will be helped are form 3rd world nations…but many are from 1st world countries too. You see children who are missing a limb can have a really difficult time getting an artificial one made even in the United States. Why? Because traditionally manufactured artificial limbs are expensive, and children grow so darn fast…most insurance companies don’t want to pay for them. With low cost 3D printed ones…no problem, and the kid can even help with the design to suit their individual tastes. See the E-nabling the Future project at: http://enablingthefuture.org/
4.) Touchable Yearbook for Visually Impaired Students
I know, another heart-string pulling kid story…but, hey, lighten up scrooge. You probably take your high school yearbook for granted, but imagine if “standard” books were of no value to you because you lacked vision. You still have the same mental and emotional desires and needs of any other kid, so why should you go without? Well, a small Korean company called 3D TEK set out to fix this discrepancy. They teamed up with the Seoul National School for the Blind to print out a three-dimensional “yearbook” of the students’ faces, along with integrated braille name tags. While it isn’t a “book” in any real sense, rather a collection of 3D printed busts, it’s a yearbook all the same. And one that these students can visit and revisit again and again, just like you. See the YouTube video (in English) here:
5.) World’s Smallest Sculptures
Then there is the story of Jonty Hurwitz’s 3D printed nano sculptures. A tale of epic emotional highs at their creation and the inevitable crash when someone suddenly noticed they were missing. Kind of reminds me of the panic felt when my mom would (occasionally) say, “nobody move, I’ve lost my contact.” Why is this story amazing? Because Mr. Hurwitz created fairly detailed 3D sculptures of people that were about the same size as a human sperm. Wrap your head around the irony there. These sculptures were so small that you needed a scanning electron microscope to view them. As anyone involved with 3D printing knows, resolutionis the key to precision and here we saw both. Now, that it has been done, it can be replicated, but this time maybe into those long-awaited nanobots we’ve all heard so much about. See Mr. Hurwitz’s work at: http://www.jontyhurwitz.com/nano/
Well, that’s it. Okay, okay, so it’s not, but I had to choose ONLY five, so those are the ones I selected. Thanks goodness there are so many of us in this community that we can all keep a sharp eye out for the next amazing story. Feel free to post your favorite one below. And Happy New Year!