Something from Almost Nothing

In one of my favourite sci-fi novels, The Diamond Age, people use devices called matter compilers to create almost anything they want. The popular sci-fi series Star Trek took the idea one step further with its fictitious replicator, a device which could create something from nothing. We aren’t close to that type of technology yet, but with 3D printing we may soon make many different things from plastic, powder or paper.

The term printing may be a little confusing. We usually think of a printer as making a mark on paper. 3D printing or additive manufacture as it is also known, involves adding layers of material piece by piece by following a computer design. In the past, 3D design was used to produce prototypes. Now as the technology has gotten better, people are making many different items, sometimes with their own personal printers.

The new technology means you don’t have to go to the shops for the latest designs. Infinite Sisu is one example of how the technology allows for a combination of look and practicality. 3D technology means you can create something intricate which can also be useful.

A boon is a benefit or bonus. ‘The beautiful weather was a boon to our honeymoon.’
A setback is something that slows or delays the progress of something.

Because 3D printing allows people to produce complex shapes, it is a boon for medical science. Bones and even organs could potentially be made for transplant surgery. I say potentially because although the technology is quite advanced, it is not yet able to be commercially viable. Also the ‘resolution’ – the number of cells applied at each moment – is not small enough to copy the cellular level detail of organic material. Despite the setbacks, medical 3D printing, also known as bioprinting, has gotten some incredible results and may be the closest to science fiction we’ve seen so far from this technology.

Not all applications of 3D printing have been popular. One controversial use is the printing of guns. On a technological level, the ability to print something which also has moving parts is an achievement. But there are other problems. Do we really want guns to become even easier to get? An article in Forbes was unconcerned about the guns because of technological reasons. The author believed the materials and how the guns are made would make them less interesting than guns made in a factory. Australian police are concerned and believe 3D guns to be dangerous.

All these issues show the double-sided nature of new technology. 3D technology will help or hurt depending on how we use it. Sadly, the speed of change will probably be faster than our ability to answer these questions.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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In one of my favourite sci-fi books, people use devices called matter compilers to create almost anything they want. With 3D printing, we may soon make many different things from plastic, powder or paper.

The term printing may be confusing. We usually think of a printer as making an image or words on paper. 3D printing involves adding layers of material piece by piece by following a computer design. In the past, 3D design was used to produce prototypes. Now as the technology has gotten better, people are making many different items, sometimes with their own personal printers.

A boon is a benefit or bonus. ‘The beautiful weather was a boon to our honeymoon.’
A setback is something that slows or delays the progress of something.

Because 3D printing allows people to produce complex shapes, it is a boon for medical science. Bones and even organs could potentially be made for transplant surgery. Even though the technology is advanced, it is not yet able to be commercially viable. Also the ‘resolution’ – the number of cells applied at each moment – is not small enough. Despite the setbacks, medical 3D printing has gotten some incredible results. It may be the closest to science fiction we’ve seen from this technology.

Not all applications of 3D printing have been popular. One controversial use is the printing of guns. On a technological level, the ability to print something which also has moving parts is an achievement. But there are other problems. Do we really want guns to become even easier to get?

All these issues show the double-sided nature of new technology. 3D technology will help or hurt depending on how we use it. Sadly, the speed of change will probably be faster than our ability to answer these questions.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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To create or make something ‘from thin air’ means to do it with almost nothing, either real or imagined. ‘Shirley is able to create a party from thin air – she is a clever cook and always knows the right people to invite.’

In one of my favorite sci-fi novels, The Diamond Age, people use devices called matter compilers to create through nanotechnology almost anything they want. The popular sci-fi series Star Trek took the idea of creating something from nothing one step further with its fictitious replicator, a device which could seemingly create any material from thin air. While we are nowhere near that type of technology, 3D printing appears to be moving us in the direction of creating a great range of objects from plastic, powder or paper.

The term printing may be a bit confusing. We usually think of a printer as making a mark on paper. 3D printing or additive manufacture as it is also known, involves incrementally adding layers or droplets of material by following a computer design. In the past, 3D design was used to produce prototypes. Now as the technology has progressed, people are making an increasing array of items, sometimes with their own personal printers.

The new technology means you don’t have to go to the shops for the latest designs as tablet stands, figurines and shoes have all been produced in this fashion. Infinite Sisu is one example of how the technology allows for a blending of aesthetics and practicality. Apart from supporting your devices, the stand embodies the Finnish concept of Sisu, which is roughly translated as ‘determination’. 3D technology allows for the creation of something intricate which has the structural integrity to be useful. However, at over 3000 CZK it’s understandable that people might look for simpler desk top ornaments.

A boon is a benefit or bonus. ‘The beautiful weather was a boon to our honeymoon.’

Because 3D printing allows people to produce complex shapes, it is a boon for medical science. Bones and even organs could potentially be made for transplant surgery. I say potentially because although the technology is quite advanced, it is not yet operating at a pace to be commercially viable, nor is the ‘resolution’ – the number of cells applied at each moment – small enough to mimic the smooth cellular level detail of organic material. Despite the setbacks, medical 3D printing, also known as bioprinting, has achieved some incredible results and may be the closest to science fiction we’ve seen so far from this technology. Organs and body parts are created as picoliters of cells and are added to each other, following the design of the organ. The cells used are called ‘bio-ink’ which in the words of tech website WiseGeek is a ‘slurry’ of cells. This ‘ink’ is then loaded into a cartridge and the body part – um – printed. Who knows? Maybe in the near future replacing body parts will be a matter of ordering the required bit online and waiting for the printer to create it.

3D printing has also been embraced by space exploration. NASA revealed earlier last month that they successfully created a rocket injector with this technology. The space agency, working with Aerojet Rocketdyne of West Palm Beach, Florida, created the part from melting metallic powder with a precisely aimed laser beam. The successful ‘printing’ of this part not only showed the potential for the technology, but NASA claimed the process was also both faster and cheaper – two features which will perhaps keep space travel a reality.

Not all applications of 3D printing have been embraced. One quite controversial use is the printing of guns. On a technological level, the ability to print something which also has moving parts is an achievement. But there are other implications. Do we really want guns to become even more readily available? Maybe this question is purely academic in the US where laws are famously relaxed. An article in Forbes was dismissive of the guns on technological grounds. The author believed the materials and the nature of production would make these guns less appealing than their factory made counterparts. Australian police still appear concerned and believe 3D guns to be dangerous to both the user and the intended target.

All these issues highlight the double-sided nature of new technology. 3D technology will benefit or harm depending on how we apply it. Sadly, the pace of change will no doubt rush past our ability to answer all these questions.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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