Think 3D printing is wild? Try phantom geometry

Posted by Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling

Regular three-dimensional (3D) printing already seems pretty futuristic. After all, it's a technology that takes 3D CAD drawings and builds whole objects (even rooms) out of simple materials on the spot.



But what if you could actually change the shape being printed by a 3D printer on the fly? Well, that's essentially what husband and wife student team Liz and Kyle von Hasseln have achieved with their thesis Phantom Geometry, which recently won the Southern California Institute of Architecture's (SCI-Arc) inaugural Gehry Prize.

Fast Co.Design reports that von Hasselns won the prize, named after the architect Frank Gehry, not for any actual project, but for a whole new production methodology. This methodology makes use of light from an off-the-shelf projector to cure a special resin into complex, adaptable models. 

It was developed in SCI-Arc's Robot House, which — as a place on campus where students can experiment with six different state-of-the-art robotic arms under the guidance of Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser – is every bit as cool as it sounds.

One robotic arm supports a souped-up version of a digital projector at a stable height, while a second holds a vat of resin. (This resin has honey-like consistency, not unlike the stuff your dentist might use to make a mold of your teeth). 

The second arm moves the resin vat into the projector's beam of light, and the designer tells the computer where and when to expose that vat to the projector's UV rays. This, amazingly enough, instantly hardens a specific portion of the resin.

And if that's not mind-blowing enough, consider this: As the robotic arm moves lower, the rest of the liquid resin drops away as the arm moves it lower, which makes it appear as though the clear model is being "pulled" out of the vat of liquid.

What the von Hasslyns really found fascinating about this method of production was the way the designer could interrupt the process and change the model as it was being printed. 

"This system of fabrication relies upon native, real-time feed-back and feed-forward mechanisms, and is therefore interruptible and corruptible at any time," they explained.

* Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling