Nowadays, it seems like everything that was once made by hand is now made better by computers. Nothing settles this argument better than 3D printers. They use computer-aided design to spray tiny layers of material, be it plastics, porcelain, clay, rubber, or powdered titanium, and then uses heat to fuse them together, layer by layer. It sounds awesome, but it’s nowhere near as cool as it looks:
As if we needed any more clarification that we are indeed living in the bastardized future foretold by The Jetsons yet fulfilled by Demolition Man, 3D printers have existed for thirty years and seem to be about ten years away from being the magic food-generating boxes seen in Star Trek. However, in recent years, the methods for creating these wonders of technology have been made much more cost-effective, and as a result, more and more aspiring engineers (or mad scientists) have been able to create things that truly benefit humanity (or enslave it using 3D-printed robot monkeys).
The range of things that are possible to create with a 3D printer is astonishing, but in order to truly grasp how far it’s gone mainstream, you only have to search Amazon for 3D printers and take a look at the 231 3D printers available for purchase.
Then take a look at some of the stuff you’ll need. If you think you’ll need some spare parts later, go ahead and stock up: Amazon has over 1,000 different bells and whistles to keep your new investment in tip-top shape. Where normal papers take paper, 3D printers take coils of plastic wire. Take your time, because Amazon has over 4,000 different choices in their section.
Now, remember that time you signed up for Amazon Prime in college and kept renewing it because your books got there in days instead of weeks? It was awesome, right? Well, now you're buying a thing that makes other things, and that's all it does. Period. You can go online, spend about $1,000, and have it delivered to you the next damn day.
Awesome, right? Just wait until you see these insane things you can make with them:
10 This Awesome Guitar
Crafted out of selective laser sintered nylon powder, this ax was developed by 3D printer/musician Olaf Diegel and can be yours for just $3500. A smaller, semi-flying V version he engineered is available from 3D printer vendor and community cubify.com for $3000, which Diegel says is inspired by the idea of the ultimate heavy metal instrument.
I can get with that. It’s black with red detailing, covered in spiders, and sounds amazing. That price might turn some players off, but it’s just about as much as someone would have to plunk down for other high end guitars from Gibson, whose body this guitar is based on. And really, have you ever seen a shredder like this that actually has 3D-printed spiders living in it? Eat your heart out, Les Paul.
9 The Earth’s Crust
Well, a little bit of it, at least. Phys.org reported about a team of soil scientists at Albertay University who are using 3D printing to discover the intricacies of the world below us. They have been using 3D scanning for some time, and while using what amounts to computer-aided designed models of the ground is very insightful, 3D printing is taking it one step further. These models can be uploaded into a 3D printer and given depth. With an actual model that they can put their hands on, they were able to insert bacteria and other microorganisms to study how they move, find food, and do whatever it is bacteria that live in the ground do.
8 Crime Scenes
If any of you are avid players of the CSI Facebook game like I was back in college, you know that having a crime scene that never changes when you leave it from time to time is invaluable toward your case getting solved. Now, I don’t even know if that game even exists anymore, but the little box that I used to spray cyber-luminol in is now becoming reality.
Police departments around the country are becoming more and more tech-savvy, and it seems only fitting that Roswell, New Mexico kicked off this year by purchasing the nerdiest crime-solving device ever. It’s a network of 3D scanners which, when placed around a crime scene, form an intricately detailed model of the entire area. The picture is accurate to within, as claimed by the Roswell PD, “a couple millimeters,” so it’s feasible that a smaller scale model could be printed and brought to court to make the case against some jerk who would have gotten away with murder otherwise.
7 Medical Models
As it stands right now, if medical students want to study bone structure and how they sit in the human body, they need to go through a process akin to making an expensive doll or that dog model from Mythbusters that they crushed with a frozen turkey. First, a model of the bones themselves must be mixed, poured, and dried. Then the whole thing needs to get coated with some form of gel to simulate skin. 3D printing simplifies this process a bit, but it takes a lot of the preliminary work out in the process. No molds are required, just a 3D model of the bones. As well, it doesn't have to be just any random bones - with a 3D scanner, it’s possible to create bone structure for any current patient, to give their physicians insight as to what’s really going on inside them.
You know, for science and stuff.
Don’t give me that look.
Anyway, this next item is - wait, what does that say?
Oh my God.
Okay, let it go for now, you have an article to get through.
So, in order to ensure that your child will never have a moment of privacy from day (minus) one, some 3D printing companies are taking 3D and 4D ultrasounds from giddy expectant parents and giving them a way to post even more baby pictures on Facebook. This 3D model of their fetus is offered by a company called 3D Babies, and comes in a variety of sizes and prices, from a tiny 2-inch model for a mere $200, to the “Lifesize” 8-inch baby for $800.
Babies are apparently bought and sold by the inch over there, just like laptops and hot dogs.
I’m sure that the child the model comes from will take solace in the fact that he, like all babies, once looked like Smeagol from The Lord of the Rings. I’m also certain he will never want that thing burned for all of the times his mother decided to pull it out to show his new friends what he looked like as a baby. This is sarcasm, for all the mothers out there.
5 Prosthetic Everything
Well, you knew this was going to be on this list somewhere. If 3D printing isn't famous for making guns, it’s famous for making new parts for us to shoot back off. However, with more and more sophisticated techniques coming to light, some truly incredible things are being replaced.
Prosthetic arms are becoming more and more commonplace thanks to how affordable the process makes creating prosthetic limbs, but things like replacing an entire human being’s skull isn't science fiction anymore. Scientists have even created a bionic ear using plastic and silver nanoparticles that hears better than regular ears. No efforts as yet have been taken to attach them to someone, but that has to be the plan sometime in the future.
Keep in mind,we’re not just helping humans here - 3D printing has enabled ducks to waddle once more for our amusement.
4 Microscopic Race Cars
Apparently, scale is not a problem when it comes to 3D printing. Researchers as the Vienna University of Technology decided that they were bored with creating things using printing technology that could only produce things on a general scale of ridiculous accuracy. So they devised a new kind of 3D printer that is not only leaves other 3D printers in the dust, but it also can create amazingly detailed things on a miniscule scale. So to show off, what did they use to demonstrate the power of the new machine they had wrought?
They made a tiny HD model of a race car accurate to the nanometer. Science.
Speaking of tiny science...
3 Stem Cells
The subject of stem cells was something that caused a bunch of controversy a few years ago, and could still be a touchy subject for strangers to talk about. Basically, a stem cell is a cell with a blank slate and unlimited possibility - it can develop into any cell found in the human body, from armpit hair-grower to brain cell.
In Scotland, home of Dolly the cloned sheep, researchers have made a cell printer that can print viable stem cells. The process involves a two-part mixture called “bioink” consisting of nutrient-rich fluid called cell medium and stem cells. The team’s main goal is to create whole organs from this process, but even creating bodily tissue would be a great boon.
We all know the struggle. Meat prices are constantly on the rise, environmentalists constantly preach on the inefficiencies in the modern cattle industry, and you just want a damn steak without having to pay an arm and a leg.
Well, several companies out there are working on creating synthetically-printed meat, and having a good amount of success. In 2012, a company called Modern Meadows was granted $350,000 to further their efforts, and more recently in Germany, a company called Biozoon has created product they call “Smoothfood” for elderly people with trouble eating. The future is now people. It is now, and it is edible.
1 Houses (on the Moon)
So, we've all wanted a little place we can call our own. A place where we can settle down, plant some roots, and live out a happy and carefree life. It’s living the dream.
Well, what if you could do it on the moon?
The biggest drawback of trying to build something on the moon is that we kind of need to bring all of our stuff to build it too. It’s not like there’s a forest up there or something. However, there are a lot of rocks and dirt. The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to collaborate with architects to figure out the feasibility of using a 3D printer to mix materials found on the moon into a viable building substance used to build moon houses. MOON HOUSES.
So to recap:
Upsides of 3D printing on the moon:
- Actually being able to build man-made structures on the moon without having to ship building materials from earth.- A possible way to manufacture buildings capable of sustaining human life on any planet humans are able to reach.
Downsides of 3D printing on the moon:
- The sad notion that Fed Ex will not purchase spacecraft, thus further diminishing my hopes for a situation like Futurama to occur in my lifetime that I could exploit and sell to Matt Groening.
Ugh. I guess I’ll take the unlimited potential for space colonization, then...