CB 1000

16 October 2013
Connecting the dots Part one: Mobile phones and 3D printing.
by Karim Immanuel Chemlal
Karim Immanuel Chemlal
Karim is an Australian writer and Political Activist. Specialising in Futurism, Science Fiction, Politics, Fantasy and History, Karims forth coming book "Amok Rising" will be published in 2016.

3d printing and mobile phonesThis series will look at a recent technological development each week and examine how it is changing not only today but how it may also powerfully reshape our future.

3d printing and mobile phones.

One is the most ubiquitous, fastest growing and most successful technology in history and the other is moving rapidly from its embryonic status and promises similar world changing potential.

The connection between the two is how 3D printing is set to dramatically add value and function to the mobile phone in much the same way as software applications opened up what had been simply a mobile communications’ device and converted it into a complete communications, information and recreation hub.

3D printing is now making everything from toy figurines and plastic car fixings to alloy jet engine parts for Lockheed Boeing and this trend seems pervasive as it expands into almost every aspect of manufacturing and the mobile phone market is no exception. Recently engineers at UCLA managed to create a 3D printed attachment that allows the phone to become a sub-wavelength microscope capable of detecting image particles as small as 90 nano-meters. What this means in layman’s terms is that it will enable your multi media mobile device/phone to also become a microscope capable of seeing particles at the nano scale including viruses. It could prove essential for various point-of-care applications such as viral load measurements, or other biomedical tests conducted in remote or under-resourced areas. The same UCLA team recently found other ways to modify mobile phones functions to detect food allergens and perform kidney function tests. A journal paper published in ACS Nano provides a more detailed explanation of the device.

3dmpSo now the mobile phone (thanks to 3D printing) can also become a research tool , highly sensitive detection device and even a health scanner. Now its certainly also a potential copyright nightmare for manufacturers as their customers could potentially now begin making their phones own replacement parts and accessories, but it seems that some manufacturers like Nokia are embracing the new hybridisation of these technologies. At the Mobile World Congress earlier this year, Nokia used a MakerBot machine to print custom cases for its Lumia 820 phone. In a recent blog post interview in January, Nokia executive John Kneeland touted 3-D printers as a tool that may one day let consumers customise devices.

“You want a waterproof, glow-in-the-dark phone with a bottle-opener and a solar charger? Someone can build it for you — or you can print it yourself!”

John Kneeland

The Startrek Tricorder
The Startrek Tricorder

And the trend to developing devices to augment the mobile phone into an almost star trek like versatility is only speeding up. Currently the tech company Structure SDK has a highly successful Kickstarter project to manufacture their 3D sensor device that will attach to iPads and eventually smart phones to function as highly energy efficient and mobile 3D sensors and scanners.|

AS an example the SDK structure sensor can:

  1. Object Scanner: Capture models of objects and export them to CAD software or for 3D printing. You can also upload models directly to Shapeways.com for 3D printing.
  2. Room Capture: Easily capture a 3D model of a room by simply spinning around with your Structure Sensor and iPad. Then, tap any two points to retrieve distances.

So a design, virtual upload, architectural and engineering tool is also potentially added to the list of mobile phone functions in a mating of technologies less than two years old.

So with my mind, blown by this awesome innovation of the two technologies I could not help comparing this to Star treks fictional tricorder, now far less wistfully distant and with some real hope for its eventual reality. All being enhanced and made possible by the burgeoning technology of 3D printing.


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