Remember in Fifth Element, when military scientists of the future create a fully-formed, model-like redhead from a single cell? How far away do you think we are from that technology? It’s possible that in that future, the precursor to the Lee-Loo builder was a 3D Printer.
3D printers create objects in a process called additive manufacturing, where successive layers of material are laid down, building a pre-defined shape. These printers have been used by manufacturers since 1986 to create prototypes and final parts and products in the fields of jewelery, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering, construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical and many more.
Today the process for utilizing a 3D printer usually starts with a 3D scan, and the final piece is produced with amazing accuracy. In fact, 3D printers are being used every day to create many things not only with several parts, but several integrated and moving parts.
One of the most interesting forms of 3D printing is the use of granular materials. In this approach, a bed slowly moves downwards as grains of a material are “printed” out in each fine layer. As the grains are deposited, a process such as a laser or a polymer that reacts with the powder fuses the tiny beads together in an extremely accurate fashion.
This is something more easily shown than described with words, as demonstrated in the following video, which shows how 3D printing can bring astronauts a “science-fiction replicator”.
Today 3D printers are available to the general public for around 2,000 US dollars. The guys at Rooster Teeth purchased one and have been playing with it, as a picture posted on Twitter showed, blowing my mind with a chain of links and no seams, that was printed out – – on a printer!.
But wait! You think that’s cool, remember how this article started out with Fifth Element and Lee-Loo? If a 3D printer can print out anything you ask it to, why not human organs?
More on that in a second, but back to Fifth Element, remember how Lee-Loo took some tablets, stuck them in a microwave-like box and out came a full meal? A 3D food printer is under development that will be able to build meals out of simple nutrition building blocks.
According to one website, a 3D burger costs $300,000 to make, so there’s probably a little more development to do in that field before it’s readily available to the public.
But perhaps one of the most anticipated developments in 3D printing is indeed that of printing human organs. Using stem cells as a “binder”, researchers are working hard at being able to print such organs as a glucose-sensitive pancreatic organ, to treat diabetes. Medicine manufacturers are also interested in printing organs that can be used in the creation of certain medicines.
How close are we to printing live, working organs as a reality? One company is already printing arteries and predicts that doctors will be able to use them in bypass surgeries in as little as five years. The ability to print new bones and hearts is predicted to be possible for transplantation within ten. And since they will be using the patient’s own cells, there will be little threat of rejection and people won’t have to wait for someone else to stop using an organ before they can try it.
With these developments on the horizon, it’s not so far-fetched that Halsey can grow Spartan’s organs in a small, portable unit. And did you hear they’ve already created bio-foam? We may even see in our lifetimes the printing of entire limbs, much like how Lee-Loo was rebuilt in Fifth Element.
And on that note, I’ll leave this right here, just because it’s so damn cool.