Five Seconds to a Paperclip: Hologram-Powered 3D Printer Creates 3D Objects with Incredible Speed
It’s late at night and The Creator is nearing exhaustion. She stares at a petri dish filled with a greenish slime, a veritable primordial stew, in which lie all of her hopes. Taking a deep breath, the turns on The Machine. A light flashes, bright green, the laser illuminates the dish and a form begins to take shape. At first she is unsure of its success, but after a moment, the form becomes solid. It is real. She gently lifts her creation from its womb and holds it in front of her. Satisfied, she throws back her head and issues a cry of victory – finally, the power is hers! She reaches for the phone to dial her closest friend and accomplice: “Hey Marge, it’s me. I made a paperclip! How cool is that?”
Okay, so that might not be exactly what happened, but it could have been, thanks to the invention of a new holographic chip developed by DAQRI for use in the creation of real 3D objects from digital 3D models. What makes this paperclip particularly newsworthy is that rather than being built up layer by layer as has traditionally been the method with 3D printing, instead the clip was created in about five seconds as a single piece by exposing the goo, a light activated monomer, to a light field. Granted, it’s not as if we have been laying awake at night wishing for better ways to create paperclips, but in this case it’s not so much the object that was created as the very fact that it can be created in this manner that is important.
Currently, the method only works for creating objects with a shallow depth, but that may soon change as the holographic chips are scaled up. And the benefits of figuring out just how to do this would counter what are widely recognized limitations for 3D printing as currently performed: spot weaknesses as a result of layering and the need for support material during printing. This doesn’t mean that it won’t create as many problems as it solves, however. Heat, for example, could create difficulties as polymerization is a process that is accompanied by the release of heat and could therefore lead to melting issues during production.
Another difficulty associated with scaling this technology up so that it becomes more than a better way to make paperclips and playing cards is that it is computationally intensive. The way that the silicon wafer projecting the hologram works is that it is topped by a grid of manipulable crystals that determine the strength, length of time, or phase of the reflected light to be shone upon its surface by a laser. What that means in terms of number of crystals is explained by Daping Chu from the University of Cambridge’s Center for Advanced Photonics and Electronics:
“If you want to create a 1,000-by-1,000-pixel image, that’s one million points. If you want a 3D image with the same resolution [that] is one billion points. In principle, it’s the same problem. But in reality…you don’t have enough hardware capability.”
What all this means, really, is that this is in its infancy. I’m old enough to remember when it was amazing that a computer could fit on top of your desk, so the idea that we will be able to somehow create chips capable of projecting enormously complex holograms without dedicating the entirety of the world’s energy output to them just doesn’t seem that far out. Discuss in the DAQRI forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: MIT Technology Review]
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