Latest in 3D Printing: Invisibility Cloaks and Mind-Controlled Printers

anti-grav3d3-D printing continues to grow by leaps and bounds, being used to generate anything from components and models to complex machines and living tissues. And as the technology improves, the applications continue to grow and coalesce with developments made in other fields of scientific research. And in the last month alone, there have been a number of announcements that have both scared and impressed.

The first came from Duke University, where engineers have made yet another breakthrough. Seven years ago, they demonstrated their first “invisibility cloak” in a laboratory. Now, thanks to 3D printing, the fabrication process is a lot more accessible. And while invisibility might be a bit of a misnomer, that’s precisely what this object does as far as microwave radiation is concerned.

3dprinted_invisibilityThe object, which resembles a frisbee, has a large hole in the center, with seemingly random holes in the disc. The size, shape, and placement of these holes have actually been determined to disguise any object placed in the center hole from microwave beams, making it appear as though the object isn’t there. At present, the invention is limited in terms of practical use, but the design team believes this object has great potential.

According to Yaroslav Urzhumov, an assistant research professor in electrical and computer engineering at Duke, the technology could be used to create a polymer-based cloaking layer just 1 inch thick, wrapped around a much larger object. From this, they hope to eventually be able to create a material that will operate in higher wavelengths, including the visible light spectrum.

INVISIBILITY-CLOAKMeanwhile, the team’s creation of the disc using a 3-D printer means the technology is now much more accessible. Urzhumov went as far to say the he believes that anyone with access to a 3D printer will have the ability to create something similar at home. In time, this could mean anyone would have the ability to create a full-spectrum invisibility cloak at home too. Good news for anyone looking to hide from surveillance drones or cameras!

The second bit of news is even more impressive, and potentially frightening. It comes to us from Santiago Makerspace, a technology and design studio located in the heart of the Chilean capital where a designer created a 3D printed object using only their thoughts. The designer in question was George Laskowsky, Chief Technical Officer of Thinker Thing, a Chilean start-up that is developing a mind-controlled 3D printing system.

3dprinted_thought1The purpose behind Laskowsky’s work is simplification: while 3D printing has been growing and making design and fabrication easier and more accessible. However, mastering the design software is still a difficult challenge, especially for young children. That’s where Tinker Thing comes in, which seeks to develop the means to help children unleash their inner creativity.

Bryan Salt, CEO of Thinker Thing, expands on this, stating that there has not been enough work done on adapting the software for popular use. His company is looking to make it open and accessible so that it can be used to create items for one the largest markets for consumer products – children’s toys:

What is the point of these printers if my son cannot design his own toy? I realised that while there were a lot of people talking about the hardware of the printer no-one really seemed to be talking about how to actually use it.

3dprinted_toys1The software that makes this possible – Emotional Evolutionary Design (EED) – works by interpreting its users’ thoughts to make fantastical designs for toys and other objects. As part of the Monster Dreamer Project, Chilean children will get the first opportunity to try it out during tour of schools in the country at the end of this month.

Combined with Emotiv EPOCH (an EEG headset), a computer and a 3D printer, the children running Monster Dreamer will be presented with a series of different body shapes in bubbles. These will mutate randomly, with built-in rules preventing them from becoming too abstract. As different brain states such as excitement or boredom generate specific patterns of brain activity, the computer can identify the shapes associated with positive emotional responses.

3dprinted_toysThe favored shapes will grow bigger on the screen, while the others shrink. The biggest shapes are combined to generate a body part, and the process is repeated for different body parts until the monster is complete. The final result should be a unique 3D model that is ready for printing as a solid object. In essence, a child will create a tailor-made toy based solely on their emotional reactions to what they see.

Amazing the direction things are taking, isn’t it? One of the greatest appeals of 3D printing is the way which it is making technology and industry far more accessible and open to people.What began with items that would only interest engineers and design firms is now expanding to include just about any type of consumer product we can imagine, and comes with the ability to tailor make them at home, giving the average consumer immense control over the process.

future-city3Though an individual printer may still cost more than the average person is willing to spend, in time, they will likely come down in price and become like any other computer accessory – i.e. printers, faxes, modems, wireless routers. What’s more, we are likely to see a situation where communal labs, such as those found in a university or internet cafe, come equipped with one in the next few years.

In a way, it would not be a fevered dream to imagine that this could very well be the curtain raiser for a new age, an age when the means of production is literally in the hands of every person. If we are capable of printing food and buildings as well as toys and components, we would also be looking at an age when scarcity is a thing of the past and society is truly democratic and open. And all without the need for violence and forcible redistribution…

I can’t tell you how preferable it is to think about this stuff and not the current pace and effects of Climate Change. Sometimes, the only way to have hope for the future is to keep things positive and contemplate the happier possibilities. Here’s hoping smarter heads and brighter prospects prevail!


The Future is Here: Liver-Cells Made With 3D Printer

bioprinterOngoing developments in 3D printing have allowed for some amazing breakthroughs in recent years. From its humble beginnings, manufacturing everything from 3D models and drugs to jewelry, the technology is rapidly expanding into the realm of the biological. This began with efforts to create printed cartilage and skin, but quickly expanded into using stem cells to create specific types of living tissues. And as it happens, some of those efforts are bearing some serious fruit!

One such example comes to us from California, where the San Diego-based firm Organova announced that they were able to create samples of liver cells using 3D printing technology. The firm presented their findings at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston this past April. In a press release, the company said the following:

We have demonstrated the power of bioprinting to create functional human tissue that replicates human biology better than what has come before.

3dstemcellsThe company’s researchers used a gel and “bioink” to build three types of liver cells and arranged them into the same kind of three-dimensional cell architecture found in a human liver. Although not fully functional, the 3D cells were able to produce some of the same proteins as an actual liver does and interacted with each other and with compounds introduced into the tissue as they would in the body.

This latest breakthrough places Organovo, indeed all biomedical research firms, that much closer to the dream of being able to synthesize human organs and other complex organic tissues. And they are hardly alone in narrowing the gap, as doctor’s at the University of Michigan made a similar advancement last year when they used a 3D printer to build a synthetic trachea for a child with a birth defect that had collapsed her airway.

bioprinted heartAs scientists get more familiar with the technology and the process of building shaped, organic cells that are capable of doing the same job as their natural counterparts, we are likely to be seeing more and more examples of synthetic organic tissue. In addition, its likely to be just a few more years before fully-functional synthetic organs are available for purchase. This will be a boon for both those looking for a transplant, as well as a medical system that is currently plagued by shortages and waiting lists.

And be sure to check out this CBC video of Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, explaining the process of bioprinting:


3-D Printing Now Offering Cartiledge!

3-D cartilageSince it’s development as a viable technology, 3-D printing has presented us with some very interesting possibilities. In addition to objects made of plastic, metal, and possibly meat (a proposed idea still in development), printers may be used to create something else entirely: cartilage! Yes, in a recent announcement, scientists at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine claimed to have pioneered an approach to replace damaged cartilage.

The process combines two low-cost techniques – electronspinning and inkjet/bioprinting – to create the world’s first class of synthetic implantable biomaterial. The first is a method that that is used to create synthetic, polymer-based nanoscale-fibrous materials for implants and wound dressing, while the second is currently used to create tissue and organ material.

cartilage1Each process is viable, but comes with its own share of shortcomings. Electrospun materials typically don’t have the ability to promote cellular growth, nor do they have the flexibility needed for cartilage replacement. And inkjet printed materials lack the structure and strength needed to support the loads that cartilage carries. But by merging to two systems together, the researchers at Wake Forest to overcome these limitations and create something viable.

Their hybrid approach alternates microscopic layers of electrospun fiber and printed, living cartilage cells cultivated from rabbit ears, thus generating an artificial cartilage pad that is suitable for implanting. An eight-week study in mice showed that the implanted pads developed cellular structure similar to natural cartilage, while separate mechanical strength tests demonstrated that it was equivalent to the real thing.

For medical practitioners, the benefits of this breakthrough are obvious. Natural cartilage not only takes a long time to heal, it has almost no ability to regrow itself. At present, doctors rely on approach that combines removing small sections of damaged cartilage with microscopic grafts. However, neither of these methods are effective at restoring the cushioning, lubricating tissue that allows for full range of motion or impact on the limbs. What’s more, the long term effects of bone on bone contact can require eventual joint replacement.

Though the research is still in the early stages, the initial results have been quite positive. With time, and assuming the results continue to be as positive, we could be looking at a cheap and effective way to rehabilitate damaged limbs.