Now you can 3D print objects with touch sensors already in them


PrintPut is a new method for integrating simple touch and pressure sensors directly into 3D-printed objects.


Although 3D printing has cut the time it takes to prototype down from days or weeks to just hours, adding interactivity to your project still leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, trying to wrap sensors around a complex shaped item can be downright difficult, let alone impossible in most cases. But what if there was a way to include input sensors directly on a 3D-printed object? Pretty cool, right? That’s the idea behind PrintPut, the brainchild of students at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab.

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Typically speaking, prototypes are used to help guide the design process on how an object should look, feel and behave. In an effort to take augmenting physical prototypes a step further, PrintPut uses conductive filament to offer an assortment of sensors that any user can now easily incorporate into their 3D models, such as buttons, pressure sensors, flex sensors, sliders and touchpads.

“On the one hand, physical prototyping is extremely useful for informing the aesthetic and ergonomic qualities of a product. But unlike their digital counterparts, the results of these prototyping methods are typically non-interactive,” the team writes.

What’s exciting is that these interactive elements can be embedded in just about any surface, not only flat ones, therefore opening up endless possibilities for creative minds. PrintPut combines conductive ABS filament and a dual-extruder 3D printer like the MakerBot Replicator 2X, along with a series of scripts to generate the sensor-laden 3D shape.

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The process is not unlike that of an ordinary print job; it starts with a CAD model and importing it into a 3D printer’s build manager. A designer will then use a plugin to define the points and curves for the interactive areas. From there, the software determines how to integrate all of the conductive channels. What you’re left with are two interlocking 3D models — the conductive circuits and the base model with hollows for these created paths — which are sent over to the printer. Once the object is done printing, it is connected to an Arduino or other MCU via alligator clips.

A touch pad on a dome that can serve as an interactive globe? A slider printed onto a sine wave that DJs can use mix their beats? A pressure-sensitive toy robot for kids?

As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless. The project was initially introduced at the INTERACT 2015 conference in Bamberg, Germany. Intrigued? Check out PrintPut’s official page here, and be sure to catch it in action below!

[Images: Human Media Lab]

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