Yesterday we had record numbers at #3D Dojo at the University of Ulster. There were kids designing game objects, real-world objects and expressing their imagination. The future for this is preparing children for a world where they will be interacting equally with virtual objects as real-world objects.
The 3D Printing revolution is literally on the cusp. I predict that 3D printers will be on the Christmas lists of many kids in 2014 and I would be surprised and shocked if Microsoft doesn’t produce a 3D Print Kit for the XBox One, complete with a Kinect-based scanner, a controller-based modelling tool, an asset library and a 3D printer that only works with the XBox, Windows, Surface and Windows Phone. In fact, they should do this because Apple won’t.
Some people wonder what the attraction of 3D printing is – I’ve often joked that it’s because we can never get enough of small pieces of brightly coloured plastic crap but it’s much more than that. It’s beyond the production of tiny toys that would previously have come out of breakfast cereal boxes. It’s further along that, perhaps revolutionising the Kinder Surprise (currently illegal in the US due to a choking hazard – but heck, print your own Surprise!). It’s even further than allowing a few specialist applications such as printing your own camera-mount gromit for your telephoto lens.
But it’s really the transformation of bits, the transfer of information, into atoms, into physical objects. We call it 3D Printing but we could also call it Cyber Manufacture – this is a revolution as big as the printing press. This is infinitely bigger than the desktop publishing revolution.
3D printing isn’t about printing someone else’s plastic crap, it’s about printing plastic crap that is specialised to you. That has your unique signature.
- You receive a hearing aid that you print the housing for, fitted perfectly for your ear without the cost being borne by the health service.
- Your dentist is able to 3D print dentures or implants while you’re still under the numbness of an injection reducing the number of visits and shipping of parts.
- Fitting of prostheses becomes incredibly personalised and you might be able to bring your own designs home for printing and colour-matching. Your false hand can match your evening wear.
- But remember that we’re not limited to plastic in the future. Why can’t a 3D printer layer in porcelain or bone to match your bone injury.
- Why not print in cartilage or a bio-inert structure and then layer in epithelial cells. That’s an ear or nose replacement. Or even a non-human prosthesis. Cat ears? A tail?
- Through research in Stem cells, the limits for personal body parts – organs, blood vessels, skin – becomes unlimited.
- Why can’t a 3D printer lace circuitry through a piece of plastic crap? Laying the pathways for electronic components. That would result in a lot of really cool Iron Man costumes with blinking lights.
- We’re not limited to one type of plastic, or one material in the same printer. The limitations are really in size. How big is the printer and will the structure self-support?
Teaching competency and comfort in 3D is one further way that our country can differentiate itself. Folk like Greg Maguire and Greg O’Hanlon (both at the University of Ulster) are doing stuff right now. 3D printing might end up bigger than the Internet, it will certainly be bigger than ship-building.