3D printers are all the rage, but unlike most fad technologies, there's good reason to think this one is here to stay. First, the ability to 3D print virtually any item, part, or device has the potential to greatly decentralize the manufacturing industry, which can reduce carbon emissions associated with shipping and the waste that occurs at the industrial level. Second, it gives people a relatively affordable way to create things they need. Instead of rushing out to a big box store, or putting up with market prices, individuals can simply design and 3D print those items for themselves. We could go on and on about all the different ways 3D printing is changing the world for the better, but instead, we'll let the early adopters do the talking. Keep reading for some of the coolest, most innovative 3D-printed designs we've seen.
3D-Printed Haptic Feedback Shifter
A Ford engineer by the name of Zac Nelson recently took the guts from an Xbox 360 controller, stuffed them into a 3D-printed shift knob casing, and used open-source technology to transform it into a vibrating driving instructor for those of us who never learned how to operate a manual transmission vehicle.
3D-Printed Levitating LED Lamp
Early 3D-printed objects were rather rigid and plain, but advances in 3D printers have allowed the industry to become far more aesthetically pleasing. Margot Krasojevic’s ethereal Orbital Levitation Lamp hovers above a semi-conducting base and rotates in thin air when gently pushed. The light can also be hung like a static ceiling pendant.
3D-Printed Artificial Bone
No, you didn’t read that wrong. Scientists at MIT have figured out a way to produce a 3D-printed artificial bone material that is just as lightweight and durable as the real thing. “By analyzing the structural patterns found in natural bone and mother of pearl, the team has produced a 3D-printed material that mimics the structure and performance actual bones,” writes Inhabitat’s Lori Zimmer.
Don’t think 3D-printed bone material is that impressive? Well, how about an entire hand? In early 2013, two ingenious innovators announced that they were putting the finishing touches on their finger-replacement design, called Robohand. Thanks to generous donations from the internet community and MakerBot, they decided 5 year-old Liam (who was born without any fingers on his right hand) would receive the first 3D printed hand prosthesis. Now, they’ve perfected the plans and made them available for free for anyone on the internet to access and emulate.
NASA recently provided a $125,000 grant to a young engineer who is working on a 3D printer that will produce edible food. The talented designer is Anjan Contractor and the idea is a prototype 3D printer that could automate food creation in space, and eventually, here on Earth as well. The first meal Contractor hopes to print out with the machine? Pizza, of course.
3D-Printed Hermit Crab Shells
And now for something completely different. All of the designs featured so far have been somewhat practical, even if it’s in a futuristic sense. These gorgeous artificial hermit crab shells created by artist and designer Aki Inomata may not be practical from a human standpoint, but their intricacy and unique beauty are a testament to the true potential of 3D printing technology. “First, Inomata CT scanned unoccupied shells abandoned by the hermit crabs to gain insight in their interior shape,” writes Inhabitat’s Lori Zimmer. “The files were then manipulated with 3D modeling software, and combined with architectural shapes, including Tokyo-style buildings, French apartments, casinos and even delicate flowers. The designs were 3D printed in clear plastic to lend them a jewel-like aesthetic that displays the colors of the crabs inside.”