If you follow high tech news in the media, you might have noticed a lot of articles about 3D printing. A 3D printer isn’t your trusty old ink jet printer. It’s really a different beast.
You could even compare a 3D printer to a machine that creates duplicates. After an item is scanned by a 3D scanner, the blueprint or all the information required to create the item is recorded and stored. The blueprint can be sent electronically to anyone with the proper 3D printer. An exact duplicate can be created on demand.
Currently this technology is being used to create dental work. A patient is measured at the dentist’s office for dental work but the dental work is created at the dentist’s office. The patient doesn’t have to wait weeks for the dental work to be manufactured at a dental work manufacturing shop. When I asked a few dentists about this technology, I was told that it isn’t ready for prime time but it might be ready someday.
Imagine prosthetic limbs that can be manufactured by 3D printers. One high school student inventor has designed a simple prosthetic hand that can be manufactured by a 3D printer. Devices with moving parts complicate the build process but the components can be created with the 3D printer and the components can be assembled to create a finished product.
When a South African woodworker, Richard Van As, lost four fingers to a skill saw, he researched prosthetic replacements but was unable to afford the $10,000 per finger cost. He eventually happened upon a youtube video of a mechanical hand that was originally intended only to be a costume. Ivan Owen of Washington state, programmer and automation technician, had showcased a prototype mechanical hand. Richard and Ivan were able to conduct a long distance collaboration using 3D technology.
Check out http://3dprintingindustry.com/2013/02/01/across-the-miles-3d-printing-lends-a-helping-hand/. You can see how Richard was able to pick up things with his bionic hand. It also contains a video of another benefactor of the Owen and Richard’s quest to build a bionic hand. Liam was born without fingers on his right hand. He is able to pickup coins and play ball with his new fingers.
Another really interesting thing about this project is that anyone with a 3D printer is able to download the blueprint and build a bionic hand. This is just one example of how 3D print technology can be used to solve problems.
In the not too distant future, consider an expedition to another planet. Everything that the future colony needs could be sent as blueprints. The raw materials could be harvested and 3D printers could build equipment necessary to support the colony. Think about the possibilities.