3D printers can be used to crank out miniature, glow-in-the-dark Yoda heads, and I have my own collection of tiny Buddhist rabbits, ready to be placed anywhere that people might have forgotten to maintain their calm. There is no denying the fun that can be had with a 3D printer and, frankly, no reason to deny it. It is, however, important to remember that these machines are not all for play. Anybody who pays any attention already knows this; headlines are filled with stories of 3D printers’ contributions to life-saving operations, life-changing prosthetics, and life-affirming artistic creations.
In that same vein, a collaboration between Singularity University (SU) and Amnesty International is yet another effort to turn the products of 3D printing toward a higher cause. The first stage of their collaboration is focused on virtual reality as a means to engage the public and inspire action in the pursuit of the advancement of human rights. On the horizon is work to integrate other cutting-edge technologies in the fight against injustice. The CEO and associate founder of SU, Rob Nail, discussed the connections he hopes will be made:
“Core to Singularity University is our mission to ensure basic needs are met for all people, sustain and improve quality of life and mitigate future risks. Today, we are at a pivotal moment where technology has the power to significantly impact this mission, as demonstrated by Amnesty International’s ability to leverage virtual reality to help with its social justice campaigns. We look forward to future collaborations and the opportunity to explore with them other powerful tools ranging from 3D printing to robotics.”
There has been, as of yet, no announcement of specific 3D printing projects to be undertaken, but rather the understanding of the ways in which 3D printing can contribute to promoting human rights is in and of itself the focus of the collaboration. Reassurance that this is an appropriate path to take comes from the successful deployment of virtual reality in the advancement of their cause.
“Many human rights challenges arising from conflicts, persecution and inequality can seem daunting and unsolvable. In addressing them, we must combine investigations with activism and practical solutions. With innovative uses of technology, we can develop new ways of raising awareness of human rights issues, engage more people and find practical solutions for human rights problems.”
None of this will be as simple as determining the geometry of an object to be produced. In fact, the products themselves may not be what this partnership needs to work to develop. Perhaps instead the answer will lie in creating systems to be utilized or a means by which greater access to 3D printing can be given to those who need it. In other words, rather than assuming there is some ‘thing’ that needs to be developed in order for 3D printing to become part of the solution, maybe it is the process itself that provides hope.
After all, one of the great hallmarks of 3D printing has been the democratization of creation that it grants. Somewhere in this productive democratization may lie the key to unlocking an out of the way, off the beaten path solution that provides a pattern for allowing other solutions to emerge. Discuss your thoughts on this subject in the Harnessing 3D Printing for Human Rights forum over at 3DPB.com.