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3D Printing – The (ab)uses are limitless

Science fiction can be spot-on sometimes. Sometimes it can be miles off too.

The issue isn't exactly that sci-fi writers actually fail to predict the technology we'll be using in the future, but they do tend to miss the many ways we humans will apply their bright new future to our rather twisted lives.

The mobile phone is not so far off the com-badge in Star Trek, but who predicted Kirk being reluctant to call Scotty because interplanetary roaming charges would be so prohibitive? The version of Spanish spoken in Cuba actually has a specific verb for the act of calling someone's mobile, then hanging up before they answer (in the hopes that they'll call back and hence foot the bill). Similarly, sci-fi writers predicted the internet, but not that it would result in so much porn and dross. All this technology, and we use it for circulating videos of kittens falling over. Mobile, global telephony in our pockets, but we use it for text messages as stilted and clumsy as 1920s telegrams.

Sometimes it's better that way. In the ever-raging debate on intellectual property rights, techdirts constantly state the opinion that, since the technology exists to change things (distributing content without permission, for example), the old ways and the laws which protect them must be abolished. Fine, except by that logic, the art of debate would have died with the invention of the handgun. Humans adapt technology to themselves, not vice-versa.

Lord only knows how the office comedian will adapt the uses of a 3-D printer that can produce facsimiles of objects in chocolate….

Personal electronics' next revolution: Home printers that make 3-D objects

Just imagine: Instead of sending Grandma a holiday photo of the family for her fridge, you call up the image on your computer monitor, click "print," and your printer produces a three-dimensional plastic model ready for hanging on the holiday tree. Scenes like that — in which homes have 3-D printers that build solid objects on demand – are fast approaching reality, according to the cover story in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News, the American Chemical Society's weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN Associate Editor Lauren K. Wolf explains that 3-D printers are on the verge of a personal revolution akin to the one that began in the 1970s and transformed computers from room-size machines to devices that fit on tables and now in pockets. A similar transformation is taking place in the world of 3-D printing, where machines are shrinking and the ability to create detailed objects from a variety of materials is growing. Engineers are now able to create objects out of a number of plastics, metals, ceramics and even foods like chocolate, sometimes with details as fine as a human hair.

The technology promises to foster revolutions in venues ranging from kitchens to hospital operating rooms. Some surgeons, for instance, envision printing bone grafts or replacement blood vessels with embedded proteins and cells that will help them fuse naturally. Chefs could print designer chocolates and gourmet meals with unique textures and tastes. "In 20 years, many people will have a 3-D printer in their kitchen for printing designer foods and other products," the article quotes one scientist as saying.

Source: American Chemical Society acs.org


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