There is something completely mesmerizing about watching a 3D print being made. The machine hums, the extruder head moves with possessed purpose and layer by infinitesimal layer a shape emerges. The journey from conceptual to physical is a miracle every time, no matter how mundane the object may be.
Maybe one day it won’t seem so magical. I keep a old print of a NASA photo of Saturn stashed in my drawer to remind me of past wonders. It was printed during a visit to a friend who lived on small farm in the rolling hills of southern Indiana—the middle of beautiful nowhere. Yet we could see Saturn, up close, in all its ringful glory. A spec in the night sky was beamed into a big old desktop computer, printed out on a color printer—itself a marvel—and presented as a souvenir.
And now I have a Buddha in my phone. As part of an Intro to 3D Printing workshop, I walked around a two foot sculpture, snapping 37 iPhone pictures, which were then stitched together using a free app called 123D Catch. I can twirl my digital Buddha in every direction, view him from every angle, and, once he’s cleaned up, make prints. I can make Buddhas for everybody. Inifinity and beyond, indeed. As a bonus, my smartphone seems to have found a new inner peace and now says, “oooooohhhhmmmm" when it rings.
Four more stories for the files:
“In a way, we’re automating Kinko’s,” says Will Devno, one of a team of three Berkeley students who prototyped a Makerbot-powered vending machine called the Dreambox for $10,000. The first one was installed on campus last March as and has apparently been doing quite a business.
Customers upload printing files on the 3Dreambox.com website and pay via PayPal. The next day, a text is sent out with a code to unlock a drawer in the vending machine where the finished prints await pick up. Most prints cost about $15.00.
Once all the glitches are fixed, the plan is for a national roll out, installing Dreamboxes in shopping malls and stores. Who knows? Maybe Kinko’s will buy them…
- 3D printing on demand, delivered via vending machine / Techhive
- New vending machine aims to democratize 3D printing / CNET
• The Silk Pavilion
Across the country at MIT’s Media Lab, the printers are silkworms. Sixty-five hundred silk worms, to be exact, that collaborated in the creation of an ethereal dome structure in the building’s foyer.
A project of Neri Oxman's Mediated Matter Lab, the Silk Pavilion explores a new paradigm for additive manufacturing, one that breaks free of the traditional CNC-style gantry framework.
After careful observation of how silkworms create webs (not the cocoons which are harvested for silk), a steel and silk framework was constructed and the worms—actually caterpillars—set loose to finish the piece. This “swarm approach” to 3D printing has all kinds of implications.
“…(I)magine a swarm of small-scale printing units collaborating to ‘print’ something bigger than themselves,” Oxman writes. “Future research aims to unite 3-D Printing with Artificial Intelligence to generate printing swarms operating in architectural scales depositing structural materials.”
The caterpillars eventually turn into moths, which can produce an estimated 1.5 million eggs. That’s enough worms to weave another 250 pavilions. Additive manufacturing meets Malthusian logistics. Just make sure you have plenty of mulberry leaves.
- How MIT Is Hacking Thousands Of Worms To Print Buildings / Fast Company
- Mediated Matter Lab / Silk Pavilion (website)
• The Ancient Archer
Meanwhile, at Swansea University in Wales, researchers have been reconstructing the past.
In 1545, Henry the VIII’s favorite warship, the “Mary Rose,” sank near the Isle of Wight. Five hundred men and, apparently, some sea dogs, went down with the ship. Thirty years ago, the ship was raised and about 90 skeletons retrieved. Ten were sent to Swansea.
Now, with the aid of 3D printing and some very clever facial reconstruction artistry, we know what one of the soldiers—presumed to be an elite archer based on artifacts found on near his body—looked like.
"…What’s so exciting is that we can reveal the face of a man who has been hidden from history. We wouldn’t have portraits of him, as we do for wealthy and powerful people from the past – for example we’d already seen the face of Richard III on paintings before his remains were discovered.
This is a face of an ordinary man, albeit in a crack regiment, and he hasn’t been seen for almost 500 years. Thanks to 21st century technology and expertise, we can bring him vividly back to life, and understand more about his world…”
• The X Cube
Nearly four decades ago, Hungarian Erno Rubik unleashed his eponymous Cube unto the world, fascinating and frustrating millions of people for billions of hours. One of them was an American seventh-grader named Dane Christianson, who spent countless hours on the bus rides to and from school mastering its quirks. Two years later, as a freshman in high school, he created his own riff on the puzzle, turning it into a rectangle, then made a video.
Recently, Christianson, now a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, posted the video on Reddit where it racked up 1.5 million hits in a little over a week.
So Christianson went back to the drawing board—and 3D printer—to create yet another puzzle: the X-Cube. Since Erno neglected to take out a U.S. patent on the Rubik’s Cube, the X-Cube is going commercial with a Kickstarter to raise funds.
Notably, Christianson is not taking out a patent:
"…I would rather spend my time sharing the puzzle than suing people over it. A patent is for keeping something out of someone’s hands, which runs opposite to the spirit of the puzzle.
Knock-offs happen. It’s inevitable with any product in today’s world. But knock-offs can reach markets that I cannot! I just want to get the X-Cube out to the world. I’m sure it will be successful whether or not it is patented…”
He is also making the 3D files open source, so anyone can print an X-Cube if they would like, rather than buy one.
But that takes away precious time from getting to the fun part, which is why, with almost three weeks still to go, Christianson's Kickstarter is now 25% above his funding target. Couple that with interest from puzzle and game retailer Marbles, and the X-Cube may be the “it” toy for Christmas 2013.
"The X-Cube has 52 moving parts, 102 stickers, and 125 decillion possible permutations.
That’s 125,486,757,308,950,508,983,252,156,416,000,000 (1.254x10^35) permutations! That’s over 2 quadrillion times more permutations than the original 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube for all you cube geeks, over 208 billion moles of permutations for all you chemistry geeks, and all you math geeks can check my math.”
Oh dear. Where’s my Buddha?
— J. A. Ginsburg / @TrackerNews