3D printing has been around for a while, but until recently it was used mostly for prototyping and research. Now, with technological advancements, it seems like everyone is using 3D printers, from crime scene investigators to garage hobbyists and hackers. Below are some of the most innovative uses people have come up with so far.
A German hacker by the name of "Ray" used a 3D printer to make keys that unlock handcuffs—and they work! Using keys he bought on eBay, Ray created computer-aided design (CAD) models so that the keys could be replicated.
Real handcuffs used by police can't be bought by the public, so these keys will only open the kind they use on airline passengers, but since they're made of plastic, they could still cause some problems for the TSA.
Don't plan on being handcuffed anytime soon? You can also duplicate your house keys if you wanted.
Last year, clothing company Continuum Fashion created the world's first 3D printed, wearable bikini. Now, they're working on a web-based collection where you can design your own clothing and they'll make it for you.
The project is called CONSTRVCT and is currently live on Kickstarter. When you design something on the site, they "make your design with digital textile printing and sew it in your size," and you can even upload your own photo and turn it into a fashion masterpiece. The clothes you order are made the old fashioned way, but Continuum also has 3D printed earrings and shoes for sale.
A company called Choc Edge is designing "the world's first commercial 3D chocolate printer," the Choc Creator. It uses a syringe to dispense chocolate into any pattern you please, and you can use as many different types of chocolate as you want. The printer retails for a little over $3,500, so most of us will probably never own one, but it's still pretty cool.
MIT is also working on a few much more complicated, gourmet versions of this concept. The program is called Cornucopia and so far has designed four prototypes for 3D food printers. The Digital Chocolatier lets you design your own candies and even has a "carousel" of ingredients, and the Digital Fabricator takes your favorite ingredients and turns them into "flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques."
You can read more about these and several other concept designs the Cornucopia team has developed on their website.
No, not the kind you use to play Toccata and Fugue, the ones in your body. Organovo has developed a bioprinting platform that can synthesize human tissues from any cell, and other platforms have been incredibly useful in dentistry and orthodontics. Right now, bioprinters are mostly used in research, but Organovo's NovoGen can create human skin and researchers at Columbia and several other universities are working on a method that will eventually be able to 3D print living human organs.
These are only a few things that are being done with 3D printers. Due to financial restraints, it will most likely be a while before the average person owns one, but with technological advancements, it's hard to tell what we'll be printing in a decade or two.
What would you make with a 3D printer?