The Future is Here: Laser 3D Printing

pegasus-touch3D printing has really come into is own in recent years, with the range of applications constantly increasing. However, not all 3D printers or printing methods are the same, ranging from ones that use layered melted plastic to ones that print layers of metal dust, then fuse them with microwave radiation. This range in difference also means that some printers are faster, more accurate, and more expensive than others.

Take the Pegasus Touch as an example. Built by a Las Vegas-based company Full Spectrum Laser (FSL), this desktop 3D printer uses lasers to create objects faster and in finer detail than most other printers in its price range. Available for as little as US$2,000 via a Kickstarter campaign, its performance is claimed to be comparable to machines costing 50 times more.


pegasus-touch-8Instead of building up an object by melting plastic filaments and depositing the liquid like ink from a nozzle, the Pegasus touch uses what’s called laser-based stereolithography (SLA). This consists of using a series of 500 kHz ultraviolet lasers moving at 3,000 mm/sec to solidify curable photopolymer resin. As the object rises out of a vat of resin, the laser focuses on the surface, building up layer after layer with high precision.

To be fair, the technology has been around for many years. What is different with the Pegasus Touch is that FSL has shrunk the printer down and made it more economical. Normally, SLA machines are huge and cost in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Pegasus Touch, on other hand, measures just 28 x 36 x 57 cm (11 x 14 x 22.5 inches) and costs only a few thousand dollars.

pegasus-touch-4This affordability is due in part to the wide availability of Bluray players has made UC laser diodes much more affordable. In addition, FSL is already adept at making laser cutting and engraving machines, which has allowed the company to base the Pegasus Touch on modelling software and electronics already developed for these machines. This allows the device to operate at tolerances equivalent to a $100,000 machine.

The device also has an on-board 1GHz Linux computer with 512 MB memory that can do much of the 3D processing computation itself, making a connected PC all but unnecessary. There’s also an internet-connected 4.3-in color touchscreen, which allows the user to access open-source models that are printer-ready, plus the machine comes with multi-touch-capable desktop software.

pegasus-touch-3It also has a relatively large build area of approximately 18 x 18 x 23 cm (7 x 7 x 9 inch), which is one of the largest in the consumer 3D printer market. The company also says that the Pegasus Touch is 10 times faster than a filament deposition modelling (FDM) printer, has finer control, and up to six times faster than other SLA printers, and can produces a better and more detailed finish.

The Pegasus Touch’s Kickstarter campaign wrapped up earlier this month and raised a total of $819,535, putting them well above their original goal of $100,000. For those who pledged $2000 or more, the printer was made available for pre-order. When and if it goes on sale, the asking price will be $3,499. Given time, I imagine the technology will improve to use metal and other materials instead of resin.

And of course, there’s a promotional video, showcasing the device at work:


Powered by the Sun: Microbead Solar Cells

solar3Despite how far solar cells have come in recent years, issues like production and installation costs have remained an ongoing obstacle to their full scale adoption. But as they say, obstacles are meant to be overcome, and can often produce very interesting solutions. For example, peel and stick solar panels that can be manufactured by a 3D printer are one option. Another is the recent creation of a solar cell as thin as a strand of hair. And as it happens, a third has just been unveiled.

This latest one comes to us from the University of Oslo, where researchers have come up with a way to produce silicon solar cells that are twenty times thinner than commercial solar cells. Typically, solar cells are fashioned out of 200-micrometer-thick (0.2mm) wafers of silicon, which given their average rate of power generation works out to about five grams of silicon per watt of solar power. Combined with all the silicon wasted in the production process, this makes for a very inefficient process.

Solar-Wafer-Solar-CellsOne way around this is to reduce the thickness of solar wafers, but this presents its own problems. As the wafer gets thinner, more light passes straight through the silicon, dramatically reducing the amount of electricity produced by the photovoltaic effect. Blue light, which has a short wavelength, can be absorbed by a very thin solar cell; but red light, which has longer wavelengths, can only be captured by thicker wafers.

Enter into this the breakthrough created by the Oslo researchers. Using a revolutionary technique involving microbeads – tiny plastic spheres that create an almost perfect periodic pattern on the silicon. Apparently, these beads force the sunlight to “move sideways,” ensuring a more uniform and powerful rate of absorption. Another trick is to dot the backs of each cell with asymmetric microindentations,which can trap even more solar energy.

solar_beadsUsing these techniques, silicon wafers can be created that measure a mere 10 micrometers in thickness but can do the job of a 200 micrometer cell. By using 95% less silicon, the cost of production drops considerably, which will reduce the cost of solar power installations and – more importantly – increase profits. With current production methods and costs, the profit margin associated with solar power is pretty negligible.

This latter aspect is especially important as far as commercial production comes into play. If we are to expect industries to adopt solar power for their energy needs, it has to be worth their while. At the moment, the Oslo researchers are in talks with industrial partners to investigate whether these methods can be scaled up to industrial production. But given the nature of their work, they seem quite confident that their technology could come to the market within five to seven years.

Stay tuned for more installments in the PBTS series!


The Future is Here: The 3D Doodler

3d_doodler_home3D printing technology has been making some serious waves in the scientific, engineering and biomedical community. It seems that every day, more and more possibilities and applications are being discovered for this revolutionary new process. However, cost remains an obvious issue. With an individual printers being large, expensive and trying to maintain, most people can’t exactly afford to put one in their home and go town with it.

Enter the 3D Doodler, the world’s first 3-dimensional printing pen that allows you to draw in the air. Much like a standard 3D printer, it employs heated ABS plastic which then cools the moment it is excreted from the devices, instantly cooling and taking shape. And much like a pen or pencil, it is compact, hand-held, and allows people to literally draw designs into being! It also requires no software or computers, making it inexpensive and easy to use.

3D_doodlerAnd the range of what one can create is pretty much limitless. Using stencils, one can create 3D models for architecture, design specs, and proposed prototypes. Or, if you should so choose, just put the pen to any surface and begin composing shapes, designs and words out of thin air. Art is also an obvious application, since it give the user the ability to create an endless array of abstract or realistic designs. And of course, modeling, as shown in the video, could become a very popular (and competitive) outlet for its use.


And in another ultra-modern twist, the designers of the 3D Doodler are using their website to elicit funds to help them crowd-fund their idea and make it commercially viable. No trouble there! Of the $30,000 needed to get the prototype off the ground, they have managed to illicit a total of $2,106,977 as of this article’s publication. Guess people really do want to see these things getting onto the shelf. Look for it at your local hardware or art supply store!

And while you’re waiting, check out the video below to see the pen in action and what things it can make.

3D Printer Uses Drag and Drop DNA for Cancer Drugs

brain-scan_530It seems that Parabon NanoLabs may have opened up a new front in the ongoing war against the terrible disease known as glioblastoma multiforme – aka. Brain Cancer. And the culprit in this new offensive is 3D printing technology, which is being used to print a new brand of medication, molecule for molecule, using a DNA self-assembly technique. But what is even more impressive is the fact that the DNA itself was custom designed with a drag-and-drop computer program.

The new technology, which was in part funded by the National Science Foundation, is called the Parabon Essemblix Drug Development Platform, and it combines computer-aided design (CAD) software with nanoscale fabrication technology. In an official release made by the National Science Foundation, lead investigator Steven Armentrout stated: “What differentiates our nanotechnology from others is our ability to rapidly, and precisely, specify the placement of every atom in a compound that we design.”

dna_selfassemblyIn essence, this breakthrough will not only drastically reduce the time it takes to both create and test medications, it will also open the door to completely new drug designs. The computer software used allowed the scientists to design molecular pieces with specific, functional components, and to optimize their designs using a cloud supercomputing platform called the Parabon Computation Grid that searches for sets of DNA sequences.

And to hasten the drug production process, the researches took their new sequences and chemically synthesized trillions of identical copies of the designed molecules. So, in a matter of weeks — and in some cases, days — the developers were able to produce their drugs. The technique is considerably faster than traditional drug discovery techniques, many of which simply utilize trial-and-error screening.

As for what lies ahead, Parabon is hoping to use the same technique to develop synthetic vaccines and gene therapies that can target a person’s genetic diseases. In addition, the technology could be used beyond the field of medicine, embracing nanotechnology, biotechnology and even computing. As always, exciting developments in one field are likely to trigger movements in others.


3D Meat, On the Way

According to a series of articles in your local science periodicals, a billionaire by the name of Peter Thiel has donated a small fortune to a series of biotechnology startups, one of which is researching ways to “print” 3D meat. The name of the company is Modern Meadow, a Missouri-based startup that believes 3D printing could be the answer to meeting (I swear, no pun!) the world’s high demand for meat.

The process involves the careful layering of mixed cells in a specific structure, thus rendering an in-vitro meat product. Thanks to Thiel’s donation of 350,000 dollars, they hope to create a prototype very soon – which will consist of a sliver of meat that measures two centimeters by one centimeter and is less than half a millimeter thick. Not the biggest slice of meat you ever saw, but as they say, start small!

If feasible, this concept will be a boon for food production and green initiatives. For decades now, vegetarians and environmentalists have been toying with the idea of artificially produced meat for a number of reasons. For the former, the benefits include a source of protein that doesn’t involve animal cruelty. For the latter, it means providing for Earth’s voracious appetite for meat – roughly 240 billion kilograms a year – without the need to clear rainforests for pasture land or the dangers of producing new and deadly diseases. Within the last thirty years, the world has seen outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease, Hoof in Mouth Disease, and Avian Bird Flu, all due to globalization and increased demands for meat.

Modern Meadow explained these advantages in a recent submission to the United States Department of Agriculture:

“The technology has several advantages in comparison to earlier attempts to engineer meat in vitro. The bio-ink particles can be reproducibly prepared with mixtures of cells of different type. Printing ensures consistent shape, while post-printing structure formation and maturation in the bioreactor facilitates conditioning.”

As for the rest of us, there’s just the question of what it would mean to actually eat this stuff. Are we comfortable with meat created by a machine? The company admits that this is one of the biggest challenges facing them and the development of this process. In a separate statement they claimed:

“The consumer acceptance of such products may not be without challenges. We expect it will first appeal to culinary early-adopter consumers and the segment of the vegetarian community that rejects meat for ethical reasons. With reduction in price, it can reach the masses with religious restrictions on meat consumption (people restricted to Hindu, Kosher, Halal diets) and finally populations with limited access to safe meat production.”

I like the sound of that, especially the part where low cost means better access. And in truth, the process could be made incredibly affordable once all the components are perfected, tested and become regular items manufactured by components industries. Unlike a lot of the technologies that I’ve been hearing about of late, this is not one that will appeal only to the super-rich and powerful. And there’s an upside to the planet and it’s developing nations, ones which are forced to destroy their environments for the sake of providing cheap sources of meat and poultry.

Still, not sure how I’d feel about this stuff if and when it shows up on the shelf at the local grocery store. Then again, if it meets all the right safety and health standards and the price is right, I’ll give it a shot!

The Future is Here!: Dream Vendor 3D Printer

Just came across this in and Futurist Foresight. Apparently, it’s a 3D printer that an engineering grad student and her peers came up with over at Virginia Tech. The name itself inspires a lot of mental imagery, doesn’t it? Well, its quite simple. You use a computer to generate an image of a 3D image or model. You store the image on a flash drive or data storage device, then you plug it into the printer. Press print, et voila! The printing device constructs the object by placing layer after layer of plastic together until the object is finished.

I had heard of this technology before the video surfaced, in that case it involved a gun maker who would create weapon’s cases using the same technology. And a simple internet seach will show that there are already commercial models available for sale, starting at about 20 grand! However, the concept is quite new and is making waves all over. Just think of the applications, especially if 3D printers can utilize materials other than plastic!