Mechanical Metamaterials and Other 3D Printing Tech from CHI 2017

All the coolest 3D printing projects from CHI 2017

5 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

3D printed metamaterial door lock mechanism
Image: Hasso-Plattner Institute/ACM SIGCHI

The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems is taking place in Denver this week, and just like last year, it’s host to some amazing, incredible, and utterly bizarre technology demos. This year’s theme is “Explore, Innovate, Inspire,” which is just exactly the sort of theme you want when you really have no idea what the theme should be. We’ve gone through hundreds of 30-second video clips to find the most interesting, craziest stuff, and today, we're bringing you everything brand new and amazing in 3D printing, along with the project abstracts for all the details. Don’t forget to check out our earlier posts on Interesting Interfaces and Virtual Reality.

  1. Embedded Textiles
  2. TrussFab
  3. EdiPulse
  4. Expressive Printing
  5. Mechanical Metamaterials

Stretching the Bounds of 3D Printing with Embedded Textiles

There are already ways of 3D printing objects out of flexible materials, and if you have a very fancy 3D printer, you might even be able to print something flexible integrated with something rigid. Working flexible fabrics into the mix opens up all kinds of other options, for things like sensors, actuators, and wearables.

Michael L Rivera, Melissa Moukperian, Daniel Ashbrook, Jennifer Mankoff, Scott E Hudson, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, and Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

Textiles are an old and well developed technology that have many desirable characteristics. They can be easily folded, twisted, deformed, or cut; some can be stretched; many are soft. Textiles can maintain their shape when placed under tension and can even be engineered with variable stretching ability. Conversely, 3D printing is a relatively new technology that can precisely produce functional, rigid objects with custom geometry. Combining 3D printing and textiles opens up new opportunities for rapidly creating rigid objects with embedded flexibility as well as soft materials imbued with additional functionality. In this paper, we introduce a suite of techniques for integrating 3D printing with textiles during the printing process, opening up a new design space that takes inspiration from both fields. We demonstrate how the malleability, stretchability and aesthetic qualities of textiles can enhance rigid printed objects, and how textiles can be augmented with functional properties enabled by 3D printing.

Demonstrating TrussFab: Fabricating Sturdy Large-Scale Structures on Desktop 3D Printers

It’s not practical to build large structures with a 3D printer, because it takes both an enormous amount of plastic and an unrealistic amount of time. A way around this is to only use the 3D printer for the important stuff: connecting structural elements. As for the structural elements themselves, you just need to find a whole bunch of otherwise useless plastic cylinders.

Robert Kovacs, Anna Seufert, Ludwig Wilhelm Wall, Hsiang-Ting Chen, Florian Meinel, Willi Müller, Yannis Kommana, Sijing You, Patrick Baudisch, Hasso Plattner Institute, Potsdam, Germany

We demonstrate TrussFab, an end-to-end system that allows users to fabricate large-scale structures that are sturdy enough to carry human weight. TrussFab achieves the large scale by complementing 3D print with plastic bottles. It does not use these bottles as “bricks” but as beams that form structurally sound structures, also known as trusses, allowing it to handle the forces resulting from scale and load.

EdiPulse: Investigating a Playful Approach to Self-monitoring through 3D Printed Chocolate Treats

With all of the ways that phones and wearables are monitoring us all the time, the really tricky thing is finding a way to usefully communicate a summary of all of those data in a way that isn’t overbearing or obnoxious. EdiPulse turns data into a delicious chocolate summary by 3D printing little graphs or simple icons to give you some incentive to pay attention to your daily physical activity.

Rohit Ashok Khot, Deepti Aggarwal, Ryan Pennings, Larissa Hjorth, Florian 'Floyd' Mueller, Royal Melbourne Institute of Techonology University, Melbourne, Australia

Self-monitoring offers benefits in facilitating awareness about physical exercise, but such data-centric activity may not always lead to an enjoyable experience. We introduce EdiPulse a novel system that creates activity treats to offer playful reflections on everyday physical activity through the appealing medium of chocolate. EdiPulse translates self-monitored data from physical activity into small 3D printed chocolate treats. These treats (< 20 grams of chocolate in total) embody four forms: Graph, Flower, Slogan and Emoji. We deployed our system across seven households and studied its use with 13 participants for two weeks per household. The field study revealed positive aspects of our approach along with some open challenges, which we disseminate across five themes: Reflection, Positivity, Determination, Affection, and Co-experience. We conclude by highlighting key implications of our work for future playful food-based technology design in supporting the experience of being physically active.

Expressive Fused Deposition Modeling by Controlling Extruder Height and Extrusion Amount

All of those finicky little adjustments that you have to make to get a 3D printer to work properly are designed to maximize the fidelity and resolution of the objects that you print. But, if you intentionally de-optimize your print by messing with the height of the extruder head and the amount of material that it’s depositing, you can generate some cool (and repeatable) print effects.

Haruki Takahashi, Homei Miyashita, Meiji University, Nakano, Tokyo, Japan

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers form objects by stacking layers having a linear structure. To print fine structures, an appropriate choice of parameters is necessary, or printing error occurs. On the other hand, the printing error is exploited as an expression technique. However, the relation between the printed structure and the parameters causing the printing error is unclear. In this paper, we focus on the height position of the extruder and the amount of extruded material, and explore the combination of these parameters to enhance the capability of FDM. By extending an equation that calculates the amount of material from the layer height, we investigate the behavior and structure of material extruded from various height positions. On the basis of experimental results, the printed structure is classified into six categories according to the structural feature. We describe these structural features and demonstrate examples with new inherent expressions for FDM.

Digital Mechanical Metamaterials

By printing a kind of spring that’s stable in two configurations, a 3D printer can create binary cells. Put enough of these cells together in the right way and you get simple things like a working locking mechanism or complex things like logic gates that can be combined to create a working physical computer.

Alexandra Ion, Ludwig Wilhelm Wall, Robert Kovacs, Patrick Baudisch, Hasso Plattner Institute, Potsdam, Germany

In this paper, we explore how to embody mechanical computation into 3D printed objects, i.e., without electronic sensors, actuators, or controllers typically used for this purpose. A key benefit of our approach is that the resulting objects can be 3D printed in one piece and thus do not require assembly. We are building on 3D printed cell structures, also known as metamaterials. We introduce a new type of cell that propagates a digital mechanical signal using an embedded bistable spring. When triggered, the embedded spring discharges and the resulting impulse triggers one or more neighboring cells, resulting in signal propagation. We extend this basic mechanism to implement simple logic functions. We demonstrate interactive objects based on this concept, such as a combination lock. We present a custom editor that allows users to model 3D objects, route signals, simulate signal flow, and synthesize cell patterns.

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