Electronics and 3D printing will soon be seamlessly integrated, but they may not all be circuit board driven. Our standard approach to electricity is wires of copper and other metals; a button is wired to a board that’s wired to a display or a light or an elevator. There are other methods of data transmission, though. Disney Research Pittsburgh worked with the Computational Design Lab at Carnegie Mellon University to research 3D printing interactive optics.
The paper Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices details their research, and it’s a great read. “Printed Optics enable sensing, display, and illumination elements to be directly embedded in the casing or mechanical structure of an interactive device. Using these elements, unique display surfaces, novel illumination techniques, custom optical sensors, and embedded optoelectronic components can be digitally fabricated for rapid, high fidelity, highly customized interactive devices.” It’s a mouthful, I know. Watch the video:
If you couldn’t watch the video, here’s a summary. Using an Objet Eden260V to print with the VeroClear transparent material, researchers produced various objects with different forms of optic-based interactivity. By printing “light pipes,” buttons, sliders, and dials can respond to touch, and displays can animate with mobile projectors. Volumetric displays can also be achieved through printing reflective air sheets, tubes, and dots into a field; projected light only shows up in the air pockets. Optical mechanics are more reliable and efficient than wires because they’re more protected and are comprised of fewer parts.
What’s really great about this technology is that it’s capable of several tasks. A few light pipes on an object and it can display, sense, control, and illuminate all without conventional buttons or a screen. Optics will literally light the path to 3D printed interactivity.