Feb. 17, 2014

Lipson talks about the future of 3-D printing

Hod Lipson

The promise and perils of 3-D printing, and particularly the printing of electronics and other active, integrated systems, was the topic of a Feb. 14 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) talk by Hod Lipson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of computer science.

Lipson, a 3-D printing and artificial intelligence expert, participated in the AAAS panel titled “Organizing the Innovation System for Advanced Manufacturing.” The symposium explored the role of additive manufacturing in industrial production, which includes 3-D printing, and how the emergence of robotics is also changing manufacturing processes today. Insights provided included industry, academic and science policy views on manufacturing today.

Lipson gave an overview of 3-D printers – machines that can automatically fabricate arbitrarily shaped parts, layer by layer, from almost any material. He talked about how 3-D printing has evolved over the last three decades from limited and expensive prototyping equipment in the hands of few, to small-scale commodity production tools available to almost anyone.

It has been broadly recognized that the burgeoning revolution will transform almost every aspect of life, Lipson said. But where will this technology go next? His talk included the evolution of additive manufacturing technologies’ past, present and future as a series of milestones in humans’ increasing control over physical matter.

3-D printing can provide unprecedented control over the shape of objects. It can also offer control over multi-material composition of matter. Another aspect of 3-D printing’s journey will be the control over active behavior, where engineers can move from fabricating passive parts to printing active, integrated systems, such as complex electronics. Lipson’s lab recently demonstrated that concept by printing a working loudspeaker.

“Our ultimate test is to print a robot that will walk off the printer, batteries included,” Lipson said.