3D printers: new or latest threat?

The new technology is only as good as its application, says Salma Awwad

At first glance, 3D printing machines seem like a novel idea that will add convenience and efficiency to our everyday life. Today it was reported students from Changsha in China have used new 3D printing techniques to build a racing car and the team hope the car will win October’s Formula Student China race. Commentators claim that the use breakthrough of 3D printing, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material, could herald a whole new future for the car manufacturing.

However, the potential for the new technology is not limited to the automotive sector as demonstrated by Marcelo Coelho and Skylar Tibbits, two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who have developed a new method called Hyperform. It works by rendering your design in a 2D line and, after it’s printed, you fold it into place to create your object, almost like origami.

Even miniature human organs can be made by 3D printing, which enables better drug testing. That futuristic idea has become a new bio-printing project backed by $24 million from the US Department of Defence. Miniature livers, hearts, lungs and vascular structures are being printed in the anticipation of saving millions of lives.

But there is a dark side to all this hyper charged technology. 3D printers are capable whatever the user wants and this can include live weapons and usable guns. A three week workshop held at Pratt Institute's Digital Arts and Humanities Research Center showed that students can learn how to achieve this in less than a week’s time. Texan Law student Cody Wilson sparked headlines and intense debate recently over his company, Defence Distributed, that creates designs for guns and gun components that can be downloaded by anyone anywhere in the world in an unregulated fashion and printed out on a 3D printer.

So the big question is: Does 3D printing really provide the answers to all our woes and is the way forward into an opulent future or can it easily back fire if it falls into the wrong hands?

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Posted by: Ali Ayash

As with any new technology, there are two ways of looking at it. While a fully functional 3D printed weapon was tested back in May, the industry is in no way heading in that direction. A few attempts were made just to show that it can be made (i.e. the 100% 3D printed gun and the other guy who printed a rifle's lower receiver). Far from practical as some are huge while others aren't that stable, they were simply a proof that it can be done.

3D printing can be used for prototyping, drug testing and recently food printing! IMO and from my experience with 3D Printing they provide an amazing fertile ground for new developers, creatives and shouldn't be looked at the same way we look at weapons. They are far from that.

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