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At the risk of sounding antiquated, I have to say it: “Boy, things have really changed since I was into hiking.” Having experienced hiking and backpacking trips with directional aids consisting of maps, cairns, and some frighteningly simplistic advice and directions from rangers who were willing to send me into pure wilderness with no experience whatsoever, these biomarkers make me think I might want to try again after a respite from all nature has to offer in the outback.

imagesNot only do the amazing 3D printed trail markers tell you where you are and prevent as much calamity as possible, they also work as educational devices. Designed by Matt Hagedorn of the Victoria University of Wellington, the 3D printed trail markers are outdoorsy genius. Lodged in plain sight, the locations are carefully chosen for each 3D printed marker after scanning a spot and then using CAD software to ‘model the geometry perfectly to the mounting surface.’ The trail marker is positioned in a convenient place for hikers and is also non-intrusive, non-damaging to trees and foliage, and non-toxic.

Embedded tags will work with smartphone apps, adding a whole other level of significance to the trail markers as they not only present GPS data, but also:

  • Track info
  • Signage information
  • Natural history
  • Lore about the local region
  • Information about the local wildlife and vegetation
  • Educational resources highlighting environment issues

Traditional trail markers or 'cairns'While users are out hiking and exploring, they can also improve upon the system by suggesting new places for markers (this could be very helpful with safety), and subsequently performing scans for the new marker locations. Those scans are then turned into 3D printed markers specific to the area.

Hagedorn presents a completely natural statement with the markers, as they should ‘mimic their environment and provide their function more passively than traditional triangular trail markers.’ He also has some fun with the designs by offering to make them unique, according to their geographical areas, in the shape of an indigenous plant or something environmentally specific to the area.

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This is a simple idea that has the potential to change the face of hiking, adding extra security, knowledge, and fun — along with interaction. The markers are made with completely biodegradable materials, so they not only offer safety to people in nature, but are safe for nature itself. While these markers will definitely be responsible for educating new generations, I certainly see that I could learn a great deal as well. Break out the tent and the hiking boots — it’s time to hike, scan, and learn — all done without any negative impact on nature.

Have you 3D printed anything similar to this for tracking devices? Tell us about it in the 3D Printed Trail Markers forum at 3DPB.com. Check out Hagedorn’s video detailing the trail markers in action:

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