My father once paid $100 for a calculator. This was back in the mid-1970s and this calculator could perform the basic functions and print them as he entered them. It was only the size of the collected works of William Shakespeare and was considered to be an extravagantly advanced piece of machinery. Now, of course, everybody – with the exception of my father – carries a smartphone that can do calculations as well as give you the weather, remind you to pick up the dry cleaning, and connect you to people on the other side of the planet. The trend in technology is not only doing something better, but also combining as many functions as possible into a single machine.

Taking the all-in-one concept to the next level is the company that makes the Aether 1 Bioprinter, a machine that promises to combine traditional 3D printing with CNC milling, laser engraving, and good old fashioned painting. Reading the list of promised possibilities, the only thing missing is the ability to bring you a cold beer at the end of a hard day – and who knows, that might have been in the fine print. The machine has 24 extruders, can print in more materials, and offers a wide variety of attachments, such as solenoid microvalves, which I thought was a type of oyster, but is actually a miniature valve composed of a coil of wire wound in a helix that is used for precisely controlling liquids and gases.

To describe the capabilities of their machine, the team at Aether released this statement:

“Across the ages from the ancient to the modern world, human potential has been defined by our tools. Give an innovative mind a powerful new tool, and there is no limit to what can be accomplished. That’s why Aether has developed Aether 1, the most versatile tool ever created. Aether 1 will help the university, government, and private researchers achieve their most ambitious and world-changing goals, for a price that any lab can afford.”

If this were set to the right music, it could very easily be the setup for an opening scene in a Marvel Comic movie. As it is, however, the folks at Aether aren’t hampered by their seriousness. They have recognized the possibility of a tool such as this to be used for simple pleasures such as the creation of artwork. In a newly released video, they demonstrate the machine recreating University of Washington Husky memorabilia using paintbrushes, laser raster engraving, and colored mechanical pens.

They were interested in their machine’s ability to create works of art because of their belief that art provides an access point for students to become familiar with cutting edge technology:

“3D printing and bioprinting are essential skills for students to learn, they will completely disrupt industries ranging from medicine to manufacturing. To stay ahead, students must have access to the latest critical technologies, and Aether 1 is easily the most cutting-edge device on the market. Art is an easy and captivating way for students of all ages to learn to use the world’s most advanced 3D bioprinter. For teachers and students alike, Aether 1 may be the most engaging device ever placed in a classroom…Art and science unite as one.”

It does feel a bit like overkill at this point, however, sort of as if you purchased a world class luxury car and then found out it they had added attachments so that it could also vacuum and remove soap scum from bathtubs. This is not to undercut its technical capacity; it can, for example, mix paint colors to create a near infinite number of colors or create works that combine media such as pencils, calligraphy, and pens – up to eight at a time – to create images on a mind boggling array of media. It is fun to watch, especially with the paintbrushes, and if the machine can do all of the things that are promised, which includes printing foods capable of acting as electrical circuits and produce ceramic sculpture, then they’ll be forgiven for their nearly overwhelming confidence.

What do you think of this development? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

[Images provided by Aether]

 

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