Cube 3D Printer
Shut Up and Take My Money is a weekly feature about coveting the coolest, if not the most practical, gadgets and designs on the web--the kind that make you throw caution to the wind and reach for your wallet before that pesky self-control can kick in.
Cube 3D Printer
While regular 2D printers are still drawing the ire of office workers the world over--cue Office Space copier demolition scene--the capabilities of their futuristic 3D counterparts are captivating the science community. From prosthetic enhancements to beef steaks, these new-age printing jobs are delivering much more than spooling errors and paper jams.
1. Prosthetic Enhancements
New medical applications for 3D printers are invented daily, but this is a particularly heartening one. Bespoke Innovations, a San Francisco start-up, uses 3D printers to outfit amputees with a personalized covering for their prosthetic limbs. The company captures the shape, curve and balance of the patient's "sound side" with a digital scanner and then creates a customizable computer model of the mirrored limb. After applying the design choices, the unique result is printed in a flexible, lightweight polymer. Finally, the fairing is mounted on the existing prosthetic, returning symmetrical contour and a sense of aesthetic agency to the user.
3D printers have even helped our more feathery friends feel more like themselves again. Beauty the Bald Eagle had her beak shot off by a poacher in 2005, rendering her incapable of feeding and surviving in the wild. After being taken in by Birds of Prey Northwest, the eagle received a prosthetic replacement, printed to perfectly fill the jagged edges of the injury.
2. Auto Parts
Automotive hobbyists, rejoice! With the help of a Next Engine 3D scanner and a Dimension 3D printer, your antique cars can run forever. Together the two machines can produce a plastic replica of any obsolete or broken part. Next Engine's lasers measure millions of points on any object, transferring the data into a digital model that notes every nook and cranny. The Dimension prints out this model by layering heated, wire-thin plastic filaments. The repairman can test the plastic version's compatibility with the automobile. If it fits, the part can be recast in the appropriate metal. Talk show host and automobile collector Jay Leno has heartily endorsed making precursory copies this way, instead of blowing money on trial-and-error rebuilding process with a machinist.
3. Fashion Accessories
Even those without a multi-million dollar garage to tend to can enjoy the magic of "additive manufacturing." Companies like Cubify make 3D printers suitable for home use. Simplified and minimized, the $1,299 Cube can turn any digitally-drawn whimsy into a solid object within the 5.5'' by 5.5'' by 5.5'' print space. The 3D ink is actually vibrantly colored plastic thread, sold in $50 spools. The contraption also comes with 25 complimentary object blueprints. Besides the requisite pegs, cogs and toys, designs for layered necklaces, porous bracelets and even wedge sandals are included. The mono-color execution of these accessories may not fit everyone's style, but the ability to print your own shoes is pretty darn exciting.
4. Steak and Leather
Currently 3D printers use metallic, resin and synthetic fibers to flesh out all kinds of technological marvels. In five years, Modern Meadow hopes to print flesh itself. The company is researching tissue engineering, so one day animal products can be comfortably grown in a lab, side-stepping the environmentally devastating effects of the livestock industry. The envisioned bio-printer would assemble the tissue pattern of an animal's skin or muscle into a 3D structure using specialty DNA "thread". The cells of the "thread" are then given time to link up and grow, eventually taking on the shape of the final product. Modern Meadow is primarily focusing on printing leather, since animal skin is less complex on a cellular level and consumers haven't shown much enthusiasm for petri-dish hamburgers. At least for now. In a decade, we might be gladly xeroxing our steaks for seconds.