(Photo : Disney Research)
You might have heard a thing or two about it, but 3D printing is here - and it looks like the technology has evolved to the point where it can create optical displays. The folks over at Disney, yes Disney, have recently published a paper labeled "Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices."
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The story comes via TheVerge, and a video demonstrating the technology shows a young girl interacting with a doll that responds via optical outputs from its eyes that were made via 3D printing. It then goes on to show a chess set where all the pieces display their current position through LED-like displays.
"3D printing is becoming increasingly capable and affordable. We envision a future world where interactive devices can be printed rather than assembled; a world where a device with active components is created as a single object, rather than a case enclosing circuit boards and individually assembled parts," reads the paper published by Disney Research.
The implications are enormous. Imagine hitting the proverbial Ctrl+P and ending up with an object that can have an interactive optical display. The problem with optical displays is that they have to be custom made for each scenario and they require unique machinery. It would be much easier if there were schematics one could simply load into a 3D printer and have the machine do the rest.
"Custom optical elements have traditionally been expensive and impractical to produce due to the manufacturing precision and ﬁnishing required. Recent developments in 3D printing technology have enabled the fabrication of high resolution transparent plastics with similar optical properties to plexiglas," says Disney Research.
3D printing will be playing a far greater role in the future as the industry becomes more and more regulated. Intellectual Ventures recently put into place a digital rights management (DRM) system for 3D schematics that will make sure that 3D printers only recognize schematics that are legal (see Wiki Weapon), and as time goes on the standard will hopefully foster an environment where 3D printing is a more efficient manufacturing process. Who knows, in the future when you're at Disney Land or Disney World, some of displays you see around you could be the result of 3D printing.