Certainly the most noble applications of 3D printing came from the world of medical science this year. Because of its ability to produce parts as unique as our own bodies, the technology has enormous potential in this field. In 2014 alone we saw the first step toward a 3D-printed bionic eyeand the development of a 3D-printed airway splint that is now helping a baby breathe by keeping his airways — which were prone to collapsing — open. It was also the year in which exact replicas of a patient’s brain tumor and heartwere made so that surgeons could practice on them before performing real surgeries.
Our winner in this category, though, goes to the woman who received an entire 3D-printed skull back in March to relieve pressure from her swelling brain. The operation was a success, and the woman was back at work shortly after it was completed.
Speaking of implants, we were also wowed by the 3D-printed face implants that recently got approval from the FDA. Called the OsteoFab Patient-Specific Facial Device, the implants truly highlight the customizability of 3D printing, as they can replicate the exact bone structure underlying that most distinct feature we all possess – our face.
While not as serious as the medical applications of 3D printing, we did see the technology get put to recreational use in some fields in 2014. There was a nearly indestructible ping pong ball, a 3D-printed chess set and even a 3D-printed version of Cyvasse, the table game from “Game of Thrones.” There was also this awesome 3D-printed kayak, which is the winner of this category because, well, it’s a kayak!
Food is about to get a lot more fun as 3D printers work their way into both professional and home kitchens. The most fun application of the technology to food we saw this past year comes from a group of MIT students who developed a machine that could 3D-print ice cream. Yup, ice cream.
Other contenders in this category include mini 3D-printed sculptures made from sugar, a 3D printer that spits out “fruit” and the promise that someday we’ll be able to 3D-print pasta in any shape we want. There’s also this super-cool open-source printer that can make pancakes in pretty much any design you can dream up.
Although not actually made of something edible, another invention that needs to be mentioned in this category is the 3D-printed doodad that helps eliminate that watery squirt of ketchup that has plagued mankind since the tomato paste was first invented. God bless technology.
Humans aren’t the only ones who benefitted from 3D-printing technology in 2014. The lives of our animal friends improved as well. There was the penguin who had his life saved through a 3D-printed beak; a duck named Buttercup who got a new 3D-printed flipper foot; and this little guy,TurboRoo. The puppy, who was born without his front legs, had a special cart 3D-printed for him by Mark Deadrick, the president of a 3D-printing company called 3dyn, who then affixed some skate wheels to it so that the little guy could get around. 3D-printing technology will allow new, cheap iterations of the cart as the puppy grows.
Exoskeletons, prosthetics & more
While the items in this category could all technically have gone under “Medicine,” we had to create a separate one because there were just so many of them made in 2014. There were the custom-made braces for scoliosis patientsthat promise to be more effective and more comfortable; the 3D-printed leg known as Roboleg; the 3D-printed exoskeleton that has helped a paralyzed skier to walk again; and the 3D-printed ultrasound cast that just might become a fashion accessory.
Although it’s hard to choose a favorite from the amazing breakthroughs in this category, we are going with the prosthetic arms made by Not Impossible Labs for victims of the violence in South Sudan through Project Daniel. The arms can be made in just six hours and cost only $100, which, through fundraising, means they can give hope and dignity back to thousands of amputees.
2014 is the year in which a 20-foot-tall 3D-printer in Amsterdam began producing an entire house and, for that, it is the head-and-shoulders winner in this category. 3D printing holds a lot of promise in the field of architecture not only because of the customization available (like this castlethat came to 3D-printed life in 2014), but because many predict it will be able to quickly and cheaply put up structures — especially in underprivileged areas or places struck by natural disaster.
And what do you fill a 3D-printed house with? 3D-printed furniture, of course.
There were so many applications of 3D printing in the world of fashion in 2014 that my CNET colleague Michelle Starr will be putting together a separate gallery to highlight them all.
Still, any comprehensive wrap-up of 3D printing technology in 2014 couldn’t leave out this vital category, so for it I nominate this fashion-forward invention. It’s a 3D-printed dress that has 20 reactive displays built into it that become transparent as the wearer reveals more data about herself online. The concept causes us to rethink technology — especially the wearable kind — even while employing it to bring the project to life.
2014 is the year in which the world’s first 3D-printed car design competition was held, and the company behind that competition, Local Motors, took the winning design by Michele Anoé of Italy into production. The car itself was unveiled at Chicago’s International Manufacturing Technology Show in September. They are now signing up interested parties on their website who will be alerted once the car is ready for mass consumption.
While that’s certainly cool, we had to give this category to another vehicle — the Bloodhound SSC. While it isn’t entirely made from 3D-printed parts, it does have its share of them and, well, it just looks super cool. That, and it’s powered by a jet engine and rocket cluster that will allow it to top out at 1,000 MPH.
Cradle to grave
I know this isn’t a typical category for a list like this, but we covered two things that fit so perfectly here I just had to give them their own space. (Warning: I could have easily named this category “The Creepiest Uses of 3D Printing.”)
The first is this life-size figurine of your unborn baby. That’s right, if you just can’t wait to hold junior in your arms, a company called 3D Babies (of course), will use ultrasound data to recreate your in-utero tike’s head and put it on one of four bodies available in three different skin tones.
If that sounds a little creepy, wait till you get ahold of this one: It’s an urn to hold your loved one’s ashes that looks just like the head of, um, your loved one. That’s right, a company called Cremation Solutions promises to be able to make the urn using just a few photos of the deceased. A small urn costs $600 and will hold a portion of the ashes, while a full-sized version that can hold all of the ashes will run $2400. But really, can you put a price on something like this?
While 2014 did see its share of 3D-printed instruments come to life — like this saxophone and these super-cool instruments, we’re going to award this category to someone who used a 3D printer to make music in an entirely different way — by playing it on the printer itself.
That’s right. A YouTuber called Zero Innovations figured out how to rig a Simple Metal Printer from Printrbot to play “The Imperial March” from Star Wars using the sounds of the motors that move the printhead. While this also deserves a “Most Creative Use of a 3D Printer Award,” instead I’ll name the piece the official song to The Year of 3D Printing. Nicely done Zero Innovations. Nicely done.