Let’s skip the “next big thing” talk and jump right into it: three-dimensional printing is officially here and people are already using the technology to change the world. 3D printing has been used in the aerospace and automotive industries for more than 25 years already, but has recently made the move to people’s offices and living rooms as they’ve gotten smaller and cheaper.
In short, the way 3D objects are printed is in one layer at a time where the computer directs the 3D printer to add each new layer as a precise cross-section of the final object. It’s a pretty unbelievable tool and just may change just about every industry you can think of.
We’ve searched around for some of the most bizarre, interesting and inventive 3D objects printed so far:
1. Musical instruments
A drum set, electric guitar, bass and keyboard have been 3D printed. And they’re not just for looks, either. A New Zealand design engineer and professor helped build the instruments’ bodies using 3D technology before attaching things like tuning pegs, bridges, controls and other necessary features. Finally, the 3D printed instruments were played in a live band in Germany. There’s no sign of music stores being put out of business yet, but could it be in the future?
2. Synthetic food
Honestly, “synthetic food” doesn’t sound super appetizing (though we may be eating it today through various fast food joints). But believe it or not, 3D printers have started delving into printing actual meals. NASA has funded an initiative to print food that astronauts can consume in space, and food scientists have been working with the U.S. military to prepare ready-to-eat meals. Also, 3D chocolate, veggie patties and meats have been fashioned. The verdict on the quality of the food’s taste is still out, but if 3D printed pizza and pasta can cut it for military and astronauts, you have to wonder how long it will be until we’ll start printing food at home.
Yes, you’re reading this right. A 3D-printed firearm was created by a “high tech” gun company called Defense Distributed. The “Liberator,” as the gun is called, is made up of 16 different parts, all plastic. The gun’s body and barrel only take a few hours to print, and the only non-printed portion of the gun is a nail, “used as a firing pin.” The US government has already expressed concerns about the idea of homemade firearms, but no laws have been passed thus far.
When we say “organs,”We’re not talking about the pipe instrument you see at church. We’re talking actual human body organs—and that includes ears, bones and even skin. 3D printing has been used to produce these organs before, and the medical field has already experimented with printing liver tissue and embryonic stem cells using “bioprinters” and what is called a “cell gel.”
5. Prosthetic limbs
Healthcare professionals may find convenient the ability to 3D print synthetic legs, arms, hands and even jaw bones. These artificial limbs have reportedly been made and used cheaply often for victims of the Syrian civil war. The girl in the picture above had a prosthetic 3D printed arm made for her for only $200.
6. Ball gowns
Last year, celebrity Dita Von Teese wore a black ball gown that hugged her in all the right places and was produced by a 3D printer. Now, we’re not saying it was pretty—or that it looks comfortable in the least, but the model for 3D fashion printing could be improved with time and practice. Bikinis, shoes, purses and eyeglass frames have also gone through this digitized form of printing.
Pretty soon, you might be able to skip the bike store and put a 3D printer in your garage. Introducing the Empire 3D-printed titanium trail bike. Built in the UK, the nine-component bike may be the future of bicycle manufacturing.
So it hasn’t been done quite yet, but according to Best Computer Science Schools, the University of Southern California “has a large 3D printer that has the capability to build a 2500 square foot home in 24 hours.” No more months-long construction projects in new housing developments—just 24 hours for an average-sized home. Sounds efficient, but may not leave much room for creative design.
It’s not clear yet whether 3D printing will change the world as we know it, but the possibilities are huge. Given the speed at which other technologies, like mobile connectivity and artificial intelligence have taken off, it’s not out of the question to expect 3D printing to become increasingly part of our daily lives.