3D breakthrough: Now anyone can print an interactive model of the brain
A new method developed by researchers at the University of Copenhagen allows anyone to print interactive 3D objects. These might include models of the brain, to be used as educational tools.
Slowly but surely, pretty much everything is being printed on 3-D printers. Eyeglasses, buildings, hearing aids – even new hip bones – can now be created using a few materials that, once connected to a 3D printer, are layered into a desired object. It almost seems like magic.
Now, even more stardust has been sprinkled upon this fantastic technology. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Computer Science have developed an easy to use technique for making 3D printed objects interactive.
"The wild thing about our technique is that, in principle, anyone can use it to print objects and make them interactive – i.e. store information for specific parts of an object. For example, you can print a model of the brain, a bone or a cell for educators to use," states Carlos Eduardo Tejada, a PhD student and one of the researchers behind the study at UCPH’s Department of Computer Science.
From static object to interactive educational tool
Being able to print a model of the brain at home might sound crazy. But if you can draw it in 3D, you can print it too – and that's true across the board, explains Carlos Eduardo Tejada. The discovery that an air compressor and pneumatic sensors can be used to make otherwise static objects interactive is entirely new.
"We refer to our technique as AirTouch. Here, we blow air into 3D printed objects by way of tiny hoses with small openings that inject air and sense external pressure using a computer," says Carlos Eduardo Tejada.
In the future, Tejada envisions the technique being used as an educational tool. It could be used in a biology class, where students sit with their own models of a brain and learn by pressing on individual lobes to retrieve information about a specific function, via a computer.
Other than being used as a teaching tool, Carlos Eduardo Tejada also hopes that the technique can help people with vision impairments:
"One might imagine the usefulness for someone who is blind, sitting with an object, uncertain about what is what. Here, we have the ability to store information within the object and have it read out loud, 'this is the nose' and 'this is the ear’," he says.
Access for all, not just experts
Another unique aspect of the AirTouch technique is that, in principle, it can be used by anyone.
"It doesn't take more than 10 seconds - or perhaps a few minutes - to connect the hoses into your 3D printed object, blow air into it, and detect what you are pressing," he says.
The only things required are a 3D printer, costing between DKK 1,500 and DKK 15,000 (€200-€2000), an air compressor and a pressure sensor.
"You don't need any training or much knowledge beforehand. Simply watching our video of the technique allows anyone to get started," explains Carlos Eduardo Tejada.
The next phase of the study, which will serve as a contribution to the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, is to develop a technique that increases the number of pressure points on 3D printed objects. Currently, pressure measurements can be taken from 12 separate points on an object.
How a 3D printer works
- Using a 3D drawing programme, draw an object that you would like to print. Save the file to an SD card that can then be inserted into a 3D printer.
- Go online to purchase a material, such as plastic, that is specifically manufactured for 3D printers.
- Turn on the printer. Heat up the material. This could take hours.
- When the printer is ready, it will begin to 'draw' your product, layer by layer. A bit like a glue gun, the printer finely sprays hot plastic onto a plate while moving back and forth, and around and around, until your product is completed.
The evolution of 3D printers in Denmark
- The Danish Institute of Technology bought its first 3D printer in 1989.
- In the 30 years since 3D printers were introduced to Denmark, the technology has evolved significantly. Today, almost anything can be printed: buildings, clothes, organs and pizzas.
- According to a 2018 report by the Danish AM Hub and the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), 25 percent of Danish manufacturing companies, including paint producers, electronics companies and toy manufacturers use 3D printers.