3D printed rabbit using the Guided Hand 3D printer.

3D printed rabbit using the Guided Hand 3D printer.

One of the cooler 3D printing gadgets to come along in the last few years is the handheld 3D printer pen that allows users to freehand 3D objects using plastic filament. Unfortunately, you really are going to need to be a little artistic in order to actually be able to print something that doesn’t look like a clump of melted plastic, which often makes the learning curve quite steep. While the manufacturers sell things like templates and how-to guides, it’s still tough to make anything worthwhile without a lot of practice and trial and error. The 3D printing pens are still a lot of fun to play around with, but ultimately they can be a little frustrating and seem more like a novelty than a useful tool.

While the actual point of the 3D printing pen is to be a freehand 3D printer, it couldn’t hurt to get a little bit of help while using it. And that is exactly what Yeliz Karadayi’s “Guided Hand” thesis project aims to do. The device is basically a 3D printing pen attached to one of those haptic interface robotic arms that will make sure that users 3D print recognizable shapes, while still offering the freehand feeling and look of a handheld 3D printing pen. But beyond that, the Guided Hand 3D printer actually gives users quite a few options of use that can take this from a novelty to a useful design tool.

The Guided Hand 3D printer.

The Guided Hand 3D printer.

The Geomagic Touch haptic device that Karadayi used for the Guided Hand 3D printer is essentially a robotic arm that is primarily used as a 3D design or sculpting tool. It has a variety of settings that allow it to be used quite differently depending on what the user is doing. It can provide resistance, as if the user was sculpting virtual clay, or allow for freehand 3D sketching. The Geomagic Touch is a great digital design tool, but when attached to a 3D printing pen it uses the same technology to become something quite different, and really kind of awesome.3dp_guidedhands_rabbit

While attached to a 3D printing pen, the haptic arm makes sure that users are printing within the lines, so to speak. The arm provides the user with resistance while printing a design, and offers several options to help create some truly unique 3D printed objects. Primarily it can be set to containment mode, which provides the user with an invisible set of boundaries that prevent the pen from moving outside of them. It can also be set to boundary exclusion mode, which prevents the inside of the model from being printed, while allowing the outside to be built up around it. There is also an attraction mode that will offer the users guided aid while tracing a design within 3D space.

Various filament textures.

Various filament textures.

The Guided Hand 3D printer also can be set to produce several different types of textures and effects. The pen can be set to vibrate so the plastic lines are more squiggly, or it can be set to help the user produce specific patterns, similar to a filagree or a beaded effect. The device can also be set to only provide a small amount of resistance so users aren’t completely restrained from changing the 3D model or experimenting with textures. All of these tools allow the Guided Hand to be used to create 3D printed sketches, so artists and designers can explore creating objects in 3D space in real time.

You can see some video of the Guided Hand 3D printer here:

While this is only a prototype at the moment and there doesn’t seem to be any plans to sell it, it is still a really cool project that I could see having a lot of applications beyond just being a fun novelty. Design meetings can see ideas roughly 3D printed out while the entire design team watches, just to see how the object will exist in 3D space. It could also convert digital drawings into 3D models that can be traced or printed. You can read Yeliz Karadayi’s entire thesis paper and see tons of images and printed samples here, and you can learn more about the Geomagic Touch haptic device here. Is this a new pen you’d like to try out? Talk about it in the 3D Printing Pen with Haptic Arm forum over at 3DPB.com.

[All images: Yeliz Karadayi]
3D printed trees.

3D printed trees.

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