#SciFund Round 3 “Digitize the World”

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#SciFund Challenge Round 3, Project: Digitize the World

Using 3D printers, educators are developing new materials for their classrooms – objects that can literally be printed out into solid form so that they can be passed around and handled by the students. The materials used are melted plastic – most commonly ABS and PLA (a plastic made from corn) but researchers are currently finding ways to recycle old milk bottles and other refuse plastic to make new objects from. Participants in the SOLID Learning program (which began with the Personalized Robotics project in round 2) suggest that students are very interested in creating robots that reflect their bodies, faces or other objects that are not easy to design using computer-assisted drawing (CAD) programs.

Whether this means a banana-shaped robotic vehicle or a robot truck with a copy of their own upper body as the driver, educators and students want to be able to scan in 3D shapes that can then be printed using their 3D printers. Educators have also asked for high-resolution scans of artifacts for use in their classes, and several museums and university collections have offered access to their resources in return for access to the resulting scans. Many options exist to build 3D virtual objects entirely within computers, from robots to gearboxes or even catapults and wind tunnels so that teachers can create these items at need and share them with their students. However, creating a model takes time and a fair understanding of these programs to make more than simple geometrically-defined shapes. Students and teachers want to be able to design an object using PlayDough(tm) or clay and transfer that design into the computer to be printed out. Several art and engineering students mentioned that they want to capture their own head and shoulders and print these out to scale so that their remote controlled cars can be piloted by “them.”

3D scanners exist to capture a physical object into the computer, but they are either very expensive (used in industry and medical practices) or lower-resolution and difficult to work with (home-built). This crowd-funding project will seek support to purchase an inexpensive high-resolution 3D scanner, the NextEngine 3D Scanner HD that some may have seen Jay Leno using to repair his antique cars. Rather than $50,000-80,000 scanners like ZCorp’s ZScanner or Creaform’s HandyScan/MetraScan systems used in commercial settings, the NextEngine 3D scanner is available for $2,995. This will be our goal for this project, and the scanned results will be shared with museums, educators and students worldwide.

NextEngine 3D Scanner

A growing number of teachers around the world are being equipped with 3D printers, through the DARPA-funded MENTOR program, MakerBot’s Education effort and through RepRap open-source self built systems. But teachers need objects they can create for their courses using these amazing printers. Artifacts like Clovis point spearheads or Greek amphorae can be scanned without risk to the object and then freely shared as simply data files that teachers anywhere can download and print copies for their own classrooms. Researchers at the Smithsonian are just beginning to start scanning their massive collection, but have no current plans to share the results beyond their partner museums.

All items scanned by this crowdfunded device will be made available without cost through the Thing-i-verse (http://www.thingiverse.com/) open file sharing site, providing items for teachers to print whether very fragile dinosaur bones or priceless artifacts from antiquity. My supporters will literally be making the world’s history available to anyone, anywhere in the world. And, students in our workshops and classes will be able to print out small copies of themselves or their own designs to set on the shelf alongside their toys, building interest in the revolutionary potential of direct digital manufacturing and rapid prototyping while they are still young enough to let these ideas take fire in their imaginations.

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