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Example of a 3D printed photograph (via Amanda Ghassaei)


With all of the bad press that has darkened the spotlight on 3D printing (weapon manufacturing), it is a refreshing change of pace to see that the emerging technology can be adapted yet again for something less controversial: photography. Actually, photography is just about as controversial as guns are depending on what picture was taken but in this case, it is an update on a relatively old art form. While there are indeed 3D photographs (think stereoscopic imaging), the concept of using a 3D printer essentially turns photos into something more akin to a relief map. Amanda Ghassaei (from Instructables) devised a way to turn any photograph into a 3D representation of the original. To get the photos to look as though they have texture and depth Amanda used an Objet Connex500 printer with a transparent white filament to turn the photos into black and white images. To get them to have a 3D-like relief image Amanda varied the thickness of areas that are normally dark in the original photos (using greyscale and assigning a thickness to each individual pixel) which when lit by backlight creates the illusion of depth and texture. To transfer the image from a photo to the printer she created a special algorithm using Processing through the ModelBuilder library, which she then saved in STL file format (this allows for a watertight mesh that can then be 3D printed). Amanda offers the algorithm she created on Instructables for anyone interested at no charge. Sounds like the old adage is true in that even today ‘artists’ are still ‘starving.’



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The Buccaneer, getting poised for kickstarter soon... (via pirate3d)


As engineers, we have all had a moment when we wish we could make just the right tool for the task-- no matter how small the task may be. Our wishes may soon be turning to physical objects in our living rooms as 3D printers are being commercialized at more affordable prices, and with consumer-friendly designs. A printer that will undoubtedly help the 3D printing revolution unfold will be the Buccaneer by Pirate 3D. The specs for the printer are those of a solid commercial printer like the Replicator, but at a fraction of the price. A 15 x 10 x 12 cm print volume, resolution of 100 microns, and Wi-Fi capabilities rank the Buccaneer up with top-notch printers (although it is not meant to be a high-precision printer).


The team is really looking to start a movement with this machine. They designed to keep the printer as functional and consumer friendly as possible, with a refillable filament cartridge that also feeds the filament at 50 mm per second. They use stamped steel plates for the main body, which measures 25 x 25 x 35 cm. The printer head nozzle is 0.4mm in diameter and only uses 1.75mm PLA filament due it is renewable nature (they say ABS smells too toxic). The aluminum build platform is accompanied by a brushed aluminum cover. The team also included simplicity in their design of a linear rail system to move the printer head in three dimensions.


The Buccaneer is Wi-Fi enabled so printing can be done directly from the cloud. It also comes with a design platform called Smart Objects along with a Smart Objects API so users can design their own “physibles” (compatible with 5 yet undisclosed platforms) and customized applications. The printer can also connect to Wi-Fi enabled cell mobile devices. The Buccaneer will be able to print any standard .stl files after being feed through the Pirate3D slicer.


The chief of design and user experience Tsang You Jun said, “We build our product along the design principles of Apple, only what is absolutely necessary is there; there are no unnecessary buttons nor wires.” There is a single LED indicator light and no buttons on the machine.


Pirate 3D’s Brendan Goh continues, “We want to make this technology affordable for everyone. We have been using 3D printers for a couple of years, and now find them indispensable; like how a computer or cell phone is to you. Everyone should have access to such an essential piece of technology.” As part of this accessibility the Pirate 3D team wants to unfold something called the Pirate –Distribution –Network or PDN where users can access files to print all sorts of physical objects.


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Spool on top. With a printed example. (via pirate3d)


What holds most potential for the Buccaneer is its price. The Pirate 3D team has managed to include all of these features and hardware for only $347, which makes it the most affordable price. This price and the pirate distribution network hold a lot of potential, not only for accessibility to physical tools but allowing the opportunity for new businesses that use 3D printing in innovative ways.


For example, the company 3D Systems is making good business printing peoples faces into Star Trek themed figurines. Customers send in two pictures of their face, front and side profiles, (along with $70) and after a few weeks you get a 3in doll of you embodied as one of the Star Trek crew. The doll is printed with a *slightly* more sophisticated Project 66opro and finished in full color.


The Buccaneer is geared towards prototyping or creating artwork. The best part is it will be available for $347, which makes it the one of the most affordable for the size and specs. Its not clear if there will be any added fees for using the PDN or any other Pirate 3D service. Look out for a Buccaneer kickstarter in the next few weeks. 



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The self-manufactured potential of 3D printing in the medical industry is making more news now that scientists have successfully created biological replicas with the technology. By using “live ink,” Cornell University recently created artificial human ears seeded with cells derived from cows. Though the research is early in its development, Professor Larry Bonassar points out that the shape of the ear justifies 3D printing for creating complex replacement implants in the near future. Sure enough, a few recent studies have led to the development of miniaturized livers and hearts that hope to one day be suitable enough for implants.


The livers were printed at Organovo in San Diego, CA - a firm dedicated to creating functional human tissues with bioprinting technology. Their most recent concoction, the lab-grown mini-livers, were inked up using well placed layers of hepatocytes, stellate, and blood vessel lining cells to form the organ’s delicate structure. The cells were derived from leftover biopsy and surgery tissues, capable of sustaining the mini-livers for up to five days. As of now, their work is being used to study the adverse effects of substances on the liver though the eventual goal is to scale them for full size use in the near future.


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3D printed heart concept (via Children's National Medical Center & Amanda Voisard)


Drs. Krieger and Olivieri from the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC have also accomplished a rather remarkable feat - using state-of-the-art 3D echocardiography and image segmentation technology, the doctors created 3D structural models of the human heart. These model hearts, though not quite as functional as the aforementioned ears and livers, will in fact provide assistance to surgeons by allowing them to practice complex operations on accurate patient heart replicas before the scalpel comes out. The hospital is also working on implementing their own bioprinting technology to make 3D models with real tissue sometime soon.


It is quite clear-cut that 3D printing technology is revolutionizing the way humans manufacture goods, and that affect is now even extending to the way humans can re-manufacture their own physical bodies. More is sure to come as this technology continues to spread and become a cost effective option for makers of all levels - the $250,000 printer used to create the heart replicas will have to come down in price a bit before the masses can even consider printing their own body parts at home, as strange as that sounds.



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Inchworm bot in hand... (via IEEE)


A collaboration between Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a flat 3D-printable robot that folds into shape using shape memory polymers. The team, being lead by Samuel Felton, Michael Thomas, Robert Wood, Cagdas Onal and Daniela Rus, demonstrated the robot at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Germany.


The robot’s self-assembly concept is impressive but the capabilities of the mechanism itself are very simple and rudimentary. The bot is composed of two rectangular halves joined in the middle by an elbow joint that gives the robot the ability to move like an inchworm.


The bot manages to fold itself by applying 2 amps of current into individual hinges that have shape memory polymer lines on both sides. When heat is generated from the current, the polymer material shrinks and causes the hinges to bend. The material, which is actually shrinky dinks, can be printed with a 3D printer along with pieces of the inchworm’s body. Adding number on polymers on the hinge controls how much bend occurs.


The entire building process is still pretty slow and manual. Once built, a human must connect wires to the hinges to supply the current needed to generate heat. The folding process is sequential and takes about 8 minutes. The creator must switch the wires to a new hinge in order to heat it and fold it. The inchworm bot has a battery supply and motor that must also be hand soldered on. After all the parts are interlocked and the user has also places some joint screws, the end result is a bot that performs locomotion at a speed of 2mm per second.


The future work on the project includes making a robot that is more complex and can put itself together more autonomously before it takes off to complete some pre-programmed task. The team also wants to create a system for mass-producing these robots fast and robotically with the help of a 3D printer and pick-and-place machines. These could potentially included pre-integrated motors and batteries and other hardware specific to different functions.




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Are you a fan of music that is accompanied by a captivating light show? Then you’re in luck - 3D printing does it again! This time, a pair of engineers from AutoDesk teamed up with the LED technology expert start-up LumiGeek to create a pair of LED geared audio reactive speakers. Check out the video below for a glimpse of the speakers in action.



The project began with Arthur Harsuvanakit and Evan Atherton teaming up to research digital design and fabrication methods using 3D printing technology. Maurice Conti, Director of Strategic Innovation at AutoDesk, had his eyes set on directing the project to demonstrate the capability of 3D printing to rapidly manufacture finished products as opposed to its more popular use of rapid prototyping. Evan and Arthur then created a list of goals to accomplish that would result in a unique and useful end-product using an Objet Connex 500 printer capable of seamlessly printing two different materials. After settling on the materials - a hard, crystal-like plastic and a black, flexible rubber - Conti suggested their sound dampening properties would make for great speakers. The rest was history.


After several prototypes, the first of which was featured in an AutoDesk University 2012 session, the final spherical design was created. Evan utilized AutoDesk’s new 3DS Max Design 2013 software for its powerful Topology toolbox to create the complex shape and patterns in the final design. Teaming up with LumiGeek, a start-up focused on enabling LED-powered art creation, provided the finishing touches.


The LED strips lighting up the speakers outer shell are driven by LumiGeek’s Arduino compatible microcontroller that gives users the ability to define video, and hence light output, with respect to incoming audio. Each LED essentially serves as a pixel in a super-low resolution video stream. The result: super-cool looking audio reactive speakers. LumiGeek’s microcontroller is not yet available to the public, however, plans are in place to Kickstart the device in May.


Although the project’s purpose was not just to make wicked looking (and sounding) audio reactive speakers, both LumiGeek and AutoDesk successfully demonstrated the use of 3D printing to rapidly manufacture a finished product. Of course, the printer used in the design is on the expensive side - AutoDesk is a little more privileged than the average maker. However, as Conti points out, once more people have access to such powerful rapid manufacturing tools, the true essence of 3D printing will have arrived.



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(via &


The 3D printing phenomena has unquestionably had an impact toward technological and art centric innovation since the time of its inception. Primarily prevalent in the online maker and designer community, the question about the mainstream and retail availability of 3D printing technology comes about as its incredible potential to foster in-home manufacturing becomes more widely known. Well it seems like those questions are now being addressed as iMakr and Staples both recently announced their entry into the 3D printing retail markets.


iMakr, the online 3D printing store, will be opening the world’s largest 3D printing store in Central London - located at 79 Clerkenwell Road, near the heart of London’s designer district. The 3rd Gen Solidoodle 3D printer will be part of its lineup of available 3D printers, which already includes the well-known Makerbot Replicator 2.


In addition to selling 3D printers, scanners, filaments, finishing solutions, and 3D printed objects by renowned designer - the iMakr store will also provide training, classes, workshops, and demos for those interested in learning more about the novel technology. A “3D scan yourself” service will also be available to wrap up the locations 2,500 sq. ft of 3D printing retail magic.


Staples, having already partnered with Mcor Technologies to launch a 3D printing service to select stores, has also stepped into the 3D printing retail fray. Now available for online purchase, The Cube 3D Printer from 3D Systems can be found on for $1299.99USD. No word from Staples on the availability of additional 3D printing devices as of yet, though Staples has announced that The Cube will begin hitting a limited number of US retail locations by the end of June.


3D System’s Cube is available for purchase in five different colors: white, silver, blue, green, and pink. It is capable of printing 5.5”x5.5”x5.5” volumes of recyclable ABS or compostable PLA plastic in 16 different colors - all refill cartridges are available through Staples. Additional accessories, including the Cubify Invent design software, can also be purchased online.


iMakr and Staples recent news can only bode well for 3D printing technology. By creating a new retail pathway for consumers, 3D printer price may soon begin to dwindle as more and more locations begin to make the devices readily available. Soon, 3D printers may be commonplace in most homes.



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