The future is so bright, you might want to 3D-print yourself some shades.
Amid worries about what untraceable, printable firearms mean for the future of our society, don’t be fooled into thinking this is all the world of 3D printing has to offer. In fact, thanks to a community focused on open-source design, and the collaborative powers of the internet, 3D printers have already begun to change our world for the better.
Richard van As is a carpenter who tragically lost two fingers in a woodworking accident. When he began searching for a prosthetic replacement that would restore the use of his hand, he was shocked to learn that the only market options started at $10,000. Determined to find a more affordable alternative, van As took to the internet, where he soon encountered Ivan Owen–a DIY enthusiast who posted a YouTube video about a mechanical hand he’d made for fun. A few Skype conversations later, the two became a team. The pair used their Makerbot 3D printers to send ideas back and forth. Within a year, they had a working protype they called “Robohand.” To celebrate the fruit of their collaboration, the pair donated the first 3D printed Robohand to Liam, a five year-old boy who was born without any fingers on his right hand. The design plans for Robohand are available on the internet for anyone to use, and many other disabled children have already benefited.
If there’s one thing our culture loves, it’s customization. We want our name, face, and personality infused into everything–including food. A recent report from TechNewsDaily asserted that creating customized novelty food will be one of the main reasons for a crossover into 3D printed edibles. Last year, designer Ralf Holleis unveiled a 3D-printer that can be used to whip up a batch of intricately-designed, perfectly-shaped sweet snacks in a jiffy (pictured above). But not all 3D printed foods would be novelties. NASA recently invested $125,000 for the development of a 3D printer that could automate food creation in space, and eventually, here on Earth as well. The device will use cartridges of sugars, complex carbohydrates, and protein to assemble a nutritionally acceptable meals that never spoil.
Cleaner, More Self-Sufficient Cities
Transportation–of ourselves and the goods we need to survive–is a major source of planet-killing pollution. The interdependence caused by a global economy can backfire when a natural disaster or war interrupts the normal flow of things. In order for future cities to become more self-sufficient, we’ve got to restore the ability to make things around the corner from where they’re sold, something that 3D printing makes possible for just about anyone.
“3D printing creates its final product in one process – unlike conventional manufacturing which often demands extensive casting, forming and molding and assembling up to thousands of parts, some from distant locations,” writes Neal Pierce for the Washington Post Writers Group.
“This could spell big cutbacks in massive container ships and their ports, together with fuel-guzzling truck rigs crisscrossing continents,” Pierce adds. “The United States’ heavy reliance on overseas manufacturing, especially from China, could be cut back dramatically. The carbon footprint of today’s manufacturing and transport could be reduced substantially. 3D involves dramatically reduced waste and use of toxic materials in manufacturing and can ease the demand for such nonrenewable resources as rare earth minerals.”