When we think about 3D Printing our mind often moves quickly to the physical object, its shape, material and other tangible aspects. We know it was once a CAD model and that software was somehow involved, but it is easy to forget quite how sophisticated the software driven process could be in a 3D Printing process.
Watch the video below. It shows the fabrication of an articulated character from a simpler 'skin' model. The technique goes well beyond what is possible using CAD software, and is the result of clever programming by a team comprising: Moritz Bächer and Hanspeter Pfister of Harvard University, Bernd Bickel of the Technische Universität Berlin, and Doug James at Cornell University.
Having watched the video, read on and wonder.
The software examines the geometry of the model and finds suitable bend points in which to add a joint. Elbows and knees get hinges. Torsos, tails, and perhaps tentacles get ball and socket joints with three degrees of freedom. The software optimizes for full movement and no collisions with other joints or possible movements. 3D Printing then allows the whole model, including its moving parts and joints, to be materialized all at once.
Some day, James suggests, it might be possible to build in motors and other actuators to create robotic figures that could “walk out of the printer when they’re ready.”