It might seem a little sci-fi and futuristic to some, but 3D printing is not at all a thing of the future. There is already a plethora of 3D printing uses today, from cars and houses to prosthetic limbs. However, although the majority of 3D printers remain expensive and not affordable to the general public, Gartner predicts that the technology will become mainstream in about 5 years, which throws up a mass of policy implications for regulators. In a world where anyone can print virtually anything at home, how will intellectual property laws be enforced? Will 3D printing lead regulators to enforce a more flexible copyrights framework?
Although protecting intellectual property is unarguably both challenging and important, the possible good that could be reaped from 3D printing is worth exploring . Some have already began to utilize this technology to do social good, and here are 2 examples:
Providing low-cost housing in developing countries where populations are growing exponentially is a challenge. So an Italian company came up with a very easy to assemble 3D printer that uses mud and other materials found on site at zero cost. The printer reportedly can create dwellings up to 3 meters high. It can shape not only mud, but also clay, into homes at fast speeds and minimal expenses.
Source and images available here.
Healthcare is also an area that is benefiting greatly from 3D printing technology, but most of the developments – bio printing and human body part replacement – are mainly available in the developed countries and to people who can afford advanced medical care. But what about the developing world? An initiative carried out in South Sudan looked at using 3D printing to create low-cost prosthetic limbs for people and children who have lost arms during the unrest. Each arm costs only around $100, making it a scalable effort.
For more examples of how people all around the world are using 3D printers, check out Rassed’s latest Top 10:
On a larger impact scale, 3D printing is predicted to have other positive impacts on the world too. If people are able to manufacture the goods and products they want on their own, there is not only room for customizability, but also the need for shipping products goes down significantly, which can be really positive for the environment. Also, it is possible that people will create less wasted materials, which is also very good for the environment. In the medical realm, bio printing is likely to create new possibilities to combat disease and to replace damaged organs, increasing life expectancy by several years.
3D printing is definitely a technology to keep an eye on, as its impacts might be profound in the near future.