Continued from Part 1...
People are pretty spectacular. There are those who set out to save the world, and there are those who inspire the world. Art has played its own part in advancing the human intellect throughout centuries, and 3D printing is offering yet another medium for artists to express themselves—and some of the results are absolutely mind-blowing.
The sculpture pictured to the left was made by Sophie Kahn, a photographer and sculptor who was initially attracted to 3D printing as a “post-photographic process”—a way to get yet another layer of creativity out of a photo. Sophie Khan is making a splash in the art world, but there are already hundreds of other people who have turned to 3D printing as a creative outlet. It doesn’t hurt that, for a struggling artist, the materials are much cheaper than traditional art supplies.
In 2011, Richard Van As lost four of his fingers in a carpentry accident. Faced with a hefty sum of around $10,000 for a mechanical prosthetic, Richard decided to build his own instead. And he did this at home—with a 3D printer.
His prototype, called the Robohand, has five fingers that close when he bends his wrist. After he built the hand, he uploaded the blueprint to the internet so that anybody could do the same thing. But then he went a step further: Richard and his partner are now building prosthetic hands for South African children with missing fingers, like this five-year-old boy who was born with amniotic band syndrome, a disorder that caused him to be born fingerless.
The exciting thing is that Richard’s work is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2009, a man named Eric Moger had a tumor removed from his face, leaving a hole the size of a tennis ball in his left cheek. Doctors printed a prosthetic that mirrors the right side of Eric’s face. The prosthetic has the flexibility of normal skin and looks almost startlingly realistic. And earlier this year, a man in the United States had a prosthetic implanted in his skull which covered nearly a quarter of the skull’s entire surface.
3. Body Parts
We aren’t going to re-grow lost arms and legs with lizard-like efficiency anytime soon, but we’re heading in that direction. For example, engineers at Cornell University printed a working ear using cells pulled from a patient’s rib. The cells were mixed into a gel material that the 3D printer could use to build a model—and after three months, the ear actually began growing its own cartilage.
Once again, it gets better. A few months ago, we briefly mentioned 3D printers in a list, and prophesied that sometime in the future we might be able to print human organs. Well, that actually happened about a month after the list was published. San Diego research company Organovo announced in April that they had successfully printed human liver tissue capable of performing all the functions required of a liver. They don’t have a full liver yet, but the horizon is getting closer. This is definitely the first step towards printing replacement organs on demand—potentially saving many thousands of lives every year.
We seem to have an almost religious fascination with the idea of breathing a semblance of life into another creature. But perhaps that’s because robots are awesome.
In any case, there are already quite a few research groups who have begun prototyping robots with 3D printers. In Germany, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has developed an eight-legged spider robot, printed so easily that one researcher compared it to a “disposable rubber glove”—in the sense that after you’ve used it once, it’s easier just to print a new one.
A joint project from MIT and Harvard has also developed a 3D printed robot—which, incredibly, can assemble itself. The bot is made with “shape memory polymers,” which allow it to fold itself into the appropriate shape once it’s been printed.
Finally, there’s this robot, a voice-activated android that will respond to verbal commands in an appropriately creepy fashion. The plans are available for free online, so anybody can build one and play their part in constructing a robot army.
1. 3D Printers
Typically, someone has already designed a 3D printer that can print other 3D printers. Called RepRap, the printer uses open-source design plans, and all its pieces can be printed out via another printer (except a few of the metal nuts and bolts). In 2008, the machine was tested at the University of Bath in the U.K., where it successfully made a “child” copy of itself. Just over three minutes later, that child had finished printing the first part for the next child down the robo-geneological line.
Since all of the plans for the printer are freely available online, a community of sorts has formed around it, evolving the design to make it more efficient. For example, one person can download all the blueprints, tweak them, and then upload the modified blueprints. It’s probably the first true example of hardware crowd-sourcing in history, and there’s no telling where it will go in the future.
Andrew Handley is a freelance writer and the owner of HandleyNation Content Service.
This article originally appeared at http://listverse.com/2013/06/02/10-incredible-things-you-can-make-with-3d-printers