Printing the Future

Think about the future. Think about it in relation to what you’ve seen in films or read in books, fictional or non. We’ve quickly evolved from our former lives as stone wielding hunters to transitioning into the modern world with the Industrial Revolution. Space and technology have been the ultimate frontier since before we met Captain Kirk or read the Martian Chronicles. We’ve replaced human beings with machines and collectively driven humanity to a certain dystopian society. Today’s revolution is a digital one and we don’t show signs of stopping.We’re so smart, aren’t we?

Well, we’re not done yet. That world where humans get replaced by machines, it’s coming. Some might even say it’s here. Right now, you might not think much about, say, eating bugs for breakfast. In the future it may be your morning routine, that is, if you live long enough to get to that future. Do not fret, because the future of  the future of technology could very well make it possible for you to live long enough to eat bugs for breakfast. How? The answer is 3-D printing.

It may have seemed like something out of a Sci-Fi film ten, even five years ago. Today, 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is hailed as revolutionary thanks to a man named Chuck Hull. Hull first coined the term stereolithography when he discovered he could use UV light to harden a material called “photopolymer” in 1983.  In short, a solid object is printed by laying material layer upon layer. This process uses a robot guided by a computer using a CAD file. It is possible to use this process to produce a list of things including foods, medical technologies, biotech, architecture, aerospace, engineering, fashion and so on.

Much like the internet, 3-D printing has and will revolutionize the world. Though there are currently no major markets for 3-D printing the industry is definitely budding. There are sites popping up online that are similar to Etsy but instead of DIY  it’s a 3-D printer marketplace. And researchers from various fields are also working on projects to bring forth this 3-D printing world to a daily reality. recently published this article about printing food made from crickets and dung beetles. The idea is that it is good for you and the environment. Hopes are that by mixing the bug paste, which is highly rich in protein, and printing it to look like something appealing, like a honeycomb, it will aid in the need for food. As the global population increases, speculation leads to the idea that a new source of food is also necessary.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, there is a 3-D printing iceberg. As the old adage goes, where one domino falls the rest will follow. Remember the Bionic Man? The idea that a man’s parts could all be replaced was pretty far fetched…back then, today not so much.

Human parts such as organs and cells are being extensively and microscopically studied. Scientists in China have been able to print living, breathing kidneys (yes, kidneys!). University of Cambridge researchers are working on a technology they hope will be able to print cells vital for repairing damaged eye tissue. Albeit, the kidneys were only alive for four months, this technology is still in its infancy with so much room to grow.

Housing and development also has a future in 3-D printing. While man has a limit to physical capabilities, a machine will work through the day and night. A 3-D printer can build a home in as little as 24 hours and building delays due to weather will be a thing of the past. The process includes a giant robot with a delivery nozzle that lays concrete layer by layer following the architect’s design. The home is built complete with wall contouring and the necessary space and gaps for plumbing and electric.

Guns and ammunition are no exception to 3-D printing. This, however, falls on the more dangerous side of 3-D printing. A controversial group called Defense Distributed, located in Texas, has developed a program that built a fully functional firearm. They hope to make it an “open source” type where blueprints for guns are available online to almost anyone. Not surprisingly,there are already anti-firearm groups and politicians working to ban this sort of program and regulate gun control further.

Most exciting, NASA also has taken up 3-D printing as a source for producing tools necessary for building and repairing spacecraft. In fact, NASA plans on flying a 3-D printer to the International Space Station (ISS) in October. Programs have already been developed to build prototypes of tools for future missions. NASA’s interest in this additive manufacturing is unique in that it changes the way technology can be used in zero gravity space. This could ultimately lead to building habitats on other planets like Mars.

While some of these programs are more developed than others, we are just at the threshold of a future that will bring about illimitable change in building and manufacturing (even so, perhaps government, military, politics, policing and citizenry). This beckons the idea that “machine” is better and faster than man. One man alone cannot produce the intelligence and technology that improves our world, it is derived upon collectively by many minds put together. One machine can be programmed to have the intelligence of all these minds put together. The implications of giving such important (perhaps, delicate?) responsibilities to machines are  innumerable. So, what is the future of these machines if not to improve them further? Even more, what is the future of man?

To do further reading on 3-D printing and currently ongoing projects: Chuck Hull, Chuck Hull Techcrunch,  3D printing for beginners,  Amsterdam Canal HouseMashable,  3D habitats MarsGraphene3D prosthetics


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