3-D printing seems like science fiction but is a reality that could have a profound effect on our lives.
It is essentially the process of creating real-life three dimensional objects from a digital file on a computer.
There is a long history of movie technology ‘predicting’ the future, such as the tablet computers in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or the gesture-based UI’s in Minority Report (2002).
If you saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol recently, amongst the gadgets the IMF team used was a 3D printer in order to create masks.
Fantasy? Well, Japanese company REAL-f have actually developed a 3-D printer that can make a detailed replica of your face.
This is handy if you want to go to a Halloween party as yourself, but it also illuminates how digital technologies have the potential to literally shape our physical world.
In the same way that the development of the printing press and moveable type galvanised seismic human epochs like the Renaissance and Enlightenment, this has the potential to do the same for our age.
But how exactly does it work?
Lisa Harouni is the co-founder and CEO of Digital Forming, a company that creates the digital software used to run 3D printing processes.
She gave a TED talk explaining how it all works:
Another video that covers this area is Klaus Stadlmann‘s TED talk on how he built the world’s smallest 3D printer.
Technology is often characterised in the mainstream media as ‘geeky’ or the province of nerds.
But the example he uses of the hearing aid is actually a practical example of technology benefitting the ‘real world’.
To use a narrow example from the film industry, could prop companies reduce their costs by using 3D printers and building physical things? (Are there any that already do?)
But aside from the myriad of manufacturing possibilities, 3D printing could solve urgent medical problems.
Surgeon Anthony Atala is involved in a field known as ‘regenerative medicine’ and shows how human organs can physically be created using a 3D printer.
Essentially, the concept is that the printer uses living cells to output transplantable organs.
With people living longer this could have profound implications for the organ-donor problem.
Although a ‘printed’ kidney is years away from medical use, just wait for the end of the video for a moving demonstration of how science and technology can solve human problems.
> Find out more about 3D printing at Wikipedia