It’s been a busy day in the world of 3D printing. Below is a roundup of the latest developments, all announced in the last 24 hours or so. 3D printing is one of those trends that has been visible for a long time, is just beginning to have a real impact, and in the long run could transform many aspects of our lives.
Different issues are raised by each of these stories, showing the breadth of the impact of 3D printing. I have made brief comments under each story.
Anyone looking at the future must keep abreast of the growing scope of capabilities of 3D printing and what it could mean for industries and society.
First completely 3D-printed gun shown
From Forbes (includes pictures):
Early next week, Wilson, a 25-year University of Texas law student and founder of the non-profit group Defense Distributed, plans to release the 3D-printable CAD files for a gun he calls “the Liberator.”
All sixteen pieces of the Liberator prototype were printed in ABS plastic with a Dimension SST printer from 3D printing company Stratasys, with the exception of a single nail that’s used as a firing pin. The gun is designed to fire standard handgun rounds, using interchangeable barrels for different calibers of ammunition.
Technically, Defense Distributed’s gun has one other non-printed component: the group added a six ounce chunk of steel into the body to make it detectable by metal detectors in order to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act. In March, the group also obtained a federal firearms license, making it a legal gun manufacturer.
Of course, Defcad’s users may not adhere to so many rules. Once the file is online, anyone will be able to download and print the gun in the privacy of their garage, legally or not, with no serial number, background check, or other regulatory hurdles. “You can print a lethal device,” Wilson told me last summer. “It’s kind of scary, but that’s what we’re aiming to show.”
3D printing of guns is, among other things, part of a broader trend of lack of control of technology and weapons. How far this goes could have a massive impact on our future safety.
Australian 3D printers on track to print body parts
Australian scientists say they have found a way to grow human body parts using 3D printing technology.
The University of Wollongong’s Centre for Electromaterials Science is opening a research unit at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital where 3D printing will be used to reproduce tissue material.
The bio-fabrication unit scientists have already begun animal trials to reproduce skin, cartilage, arteries and heart valves.
“It’s possible to print devices and structures that can be implanted in human bodies, and these devices can have cells grown on them so that bodily functions can be replicated on these very tiny devices,” he said.
“In the future, these sorts of devices will be able to recreate parts of people’s joints and bones, conceivably, in the future, even organs.”
There is a long way to go on this, however it appears highly feasible that we will be able to print out individualized body organs, potentially substantially increasing average life span.
Printable bionic ear that hears radio as well as audio frequencies
Scientists at Princeton University used off-the-shelf printing tools to create a functional ear that can “hear” radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability.
The researchers’ primary purpose was to explore an efficient and versatile means to merge electronics with tissue. The scientists used 3D printing of cells and nanoparticles followed by cell culture to combine a small coil antenna with cartilage, creating what they term a bionic ear.
Ear reconstruction “remains one of the most difficult problems in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery,” they wrote.
To solve the problem, the team turned to a manufacturing approach called 3D printing. These printers use computer-assisted design to conceive of objects as arrays of thin slices. The printer then deposits layers of a variety of materials – ranging from plastic to cells – to build up a finished product. Proponents say additive manufacturing promises to revolutionize home industries by allowing small teams or individuals to create work that could previously only be done by factories.
Creating organs using 3D printers is a recent advance; several groups have reported using the technology for this purpose in the past few months. But this is the first time that researchers have demonstrated that 3D printing is a convenient strategy to interweave tissue with electronics.
As we are able to manufacture body organs we will readily be able to both incorporate and extend human capabilities, making the first cyborgs transplant recipients who choose to upgrade.
Now You Can Buy 3D Printers From Staples
Staples just became a little more cutting edge.
The office supply chain announced Friday that it is now selling 3D printers through its website and will start selling 3D printers in select stores by the end of next month. Staples is touting itself as the first “major U.S. retailer” to sell the product.
Staples, which announced in November that it planned to bring the devices to its European stores, will be selling the Cube 3D Printer from 3D Systems for $1,299. The printer has built-in WiFi and comes with more than two dozen 3D design templates, with more available to download online. Staples will also sell accessories for the 3D printers like plastic cartridge refills.
This move makes 3D printing on the verge of mainstream. It is still too expensive for most people, yet if we track the cost of home printers over the last couple of decades, we can readily envisage 3D printers in many and then most homes over the next decade and a bit.