There has been a growing conversation in my household over when (not if) we’ll be buying a 3-D printer. My 8-year-old daughter has told me of her plans to add one to the top of her Christmas list this year, while my son is bewildered as to why we haven’t already run out and made the big purchase. To him, it’s a no-brainer. To me, it’s something out of “The Jetsons” that I find very difficult to imagine sitting anywhere in my home. Perhaps it’d go next to the VCR (yes, I still have a VCR) – the technological contrast may be too irresistible to avoid.
What exactly is this 3-D printing I’m going on and on about? Great question. Thank you for asking. CNN.com shares an interesting infographic that helps break this new technology down. Essentially, a 3-D printer deposits a material – such as plastic, metal, ceramics and even (gasp!) chocolate – layer by layer from the bottom up in order to form an object. That sounds insanely cool, right? But that’s not even the half of it. Let’s take a look at some of the unbelievable things that you can (or soon will be able to) create with a 3-D printer.
Figurines Based on Children’s Drawings
OK, let’s start small. This right here makes the 3-D printer worth its weight in gold to any sentimental parent. Crayon Creatures, a Barcelona-based company, will create a 3-D model of your child’s drawing for around $130 plus shipping. It’s a little on the pricey side, but the look on your child’s face as they see the fruits of their imagination take shape could be enough to make you forget the price tag. Not to mention that you’ll be the envy of all the parents in your neighborhood, which is just icing on the cake.
A Real Deal Home
One day, we may just live in a world where you can customize your dream home and then have it printed when you’ve worked out the last of the details. That must be one gigantic printer (or a really small house). Though it may be hard to comprehend, in Holland, it’s really happening. Architects there have created their own 3-D printer to accommodate pieces large enough to assemble into customizable housing. Don’t go looking for pictures just yet – they don’t expect to have the world’s first 3-D house completed until 2017.
While this perhaps sounds like the premise of a sci-fi movie at first, there are great advancements on the horizon in the medical field that have the potential to change the lives of millions of people globally. Technology is currently being developed that will allow amputees the world over to wear prosthetics without the fear of discomfort. Wired.com spoke with David Sengeh, a doctoral student at MIT Media Lab, who was inspired to use 3-D printing technology to improve upon prosthetics, because it allowed them more precision to better match and fit the human body. This will be a huge advancement in medical technology that Sengeh hopes will allow more comfort and better quality of life for amputees.
Researchers are currently working on using 3-D printing technology, or bioprinting, to create human organs. That’s right. HUMAN ORGANS. Forbes reports that Organovo, a 3-D biotechnology company, is one of two companies at the forefront of this technology. Their process is to “print tiny samples of tissue using human cells,” which then “interact, form and evolve.”
Medical breakthroughs with 3-D printing aren’t just something that will happen sometime in the future, however. Just recently doctors in the Netherlands announced that they’d replaced the top of a woman’s skull with a plastic, 3-D printed substitute. Last year, scientists at Princeton University created a bionic ear using 3-D printing. A bionic ear. Let that sink in for a moment. The future is now, people.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Have some ideas of your own? Stratasys, a company describing itself as “a world leader in 3-D printing – and its biggest fan,” manufactures the necessary systems and materials, ranging from desktop to advanced production systems. A quick search of the Internet will reveal even more options. Most consumer-grade 3-D printers start at around $1,000.
Maybe you’re looking for a space to make, buy or sell 3-D products. Shapeways.com is described as the “world’s leading 3D Printing marketplace and community.” They have products for sale from games, art and fashion to jewelry and gadgets. Then there’s a marketplace where you can make and sell your own products. Think of it as the Etsy of the 3-D printing world.
The list of possibilities goes on and on. What would you create if you had access to a 3-D printer? Share with us in the comments below!