Think 3D printers and, because of all the recent press attention, you probably think of guns. Yet, this technology really could change the world for the better.
Whenever NASA invests in technology there are often benefits for us mere Earth-bound mortals. News of NASA investing in a firm is developing a 3D printer capable of printing pizzas for the International Space Station. The awarded company, Systems & Materials Research Cooperation, is task to design a 3D printer capable of taking 30-year shelf stable foodstuffs and making pizza. The Texas-based firm has previously printed chocolate.
While we’re still a long way from printing complicated three course meals, but the potential applications for simple, nutritious food are vast. Even though 3D printers alone are unlikely to end world hunger, printing nutritionally enhanced food with the correct balance of sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein and key vitamins, could potentially help curb famine and certain malnutrition-related diseases.
Using 3D printing, doctors can now ‘print’ a precisely engineered body part to replace a faulty organ or a missing part of a human body. Additionally, 3D printing can help prepare doctors to the most difficult operations such as surgeries on heart abnormalities by printing a fairly accurate replica of the patient’s heart layer by layer. Such a practice can increase the success of any high risk surgeries. There are an abundant possibilities in the medical field.
In late 2010, scientists discovered an ancient whale graveyard in Chile’s Atacama desert. What had driven the whales half a mile inland from the Pacific Coast was a mystery and this is where scientists faced a problem. To properly study the fossils, they would have to remove the fossils from the site and potentially damage or destroy some of their much-needed evidence. In so doing, they could lose vital clues about the fossils.
However, with 3D printing, scientists are able to print a replica of the fossil by mapping the whale skeletons and surrounding area with a number of laser scanners. By doing this, they were able to document every facet of the skeletons, including their peculiarities, and then generate scale models of the 20-foot whales for examination. This meant that they could begin to unlock the fossils’ secrets and, even after having to remove the fossils from the ground, continue to examine them as if they were still at the site.
In the future we may even see fossils rendered to scale as 3D printing becomes more sophisticated and more readily available, meaning the general public will have more opportunities to see accurate representations of past organisms, objects and even people.
So what’s the take away from this?
It’s certain that 3D printing, if it lives up to all it could be, will pose significant challenges for nations across the globe in terms of the manufacturing of illicit items, drugs and weapons.
At the same time, it stands to offer us an opportunity at revolutionizing industry and, some analysts predict, ending world hunger, poverty and possibly even climate change issues.