Researchers develop a way to relocate physical objects across distances using destructive scanning, encryption and 3D printing.
The catchphrase “Beam me up, Scotty” made its way into pop culture in the late 1960s thanks to the debut of the incredibly-popular Star Trek series. It originated from the command Captain Kirk gives his chief engineer, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, when he needs to be transported back to the Starship Enterprise. And while quantum teleportation of data is now a realistic possibility, unfortunately apparating from place to place Harry Potter-style is not… yet.
Well, a team of Hasso Plattner Institute researchers in Brandenburg, Germany may have developed the next best thing: a machine capable of teleporting inanimate physical objects across a distance. The device itself, aptly dubbed Scotty, consists of an off-the-shelf 3D printer, like an ATmega1280 powered MakerBot, which the team had extended to include a 3-axis milling machine, a camera, and a microcontroller for encryption/decryption and transmission. The unit is driven by a Raspberry Pi, while Arduino Uno (ATmega328) handles the milling machine.
The process is comprised of destructive scanning, encryption and 3D printing. How it works is relatively simple: Users place an object into the sender unit, enter the address of a receiver unit, and press the teleport button. The sender unit digitizes the original object layer-by-layer by shaving off material using its milling machine, capturing a photo using the built-in camera, encrypts the layer using the public key of the receiver, and transmits it. The receiving unit then decrypts the layer in real-time and immediately begins the printing process. What this means is that users will see the object appear layer-by-layer on the receiver side as it disappears layer-by-layer at the sender’s side.
“Scotty is different from previous systems that copy physical objects, as its destruction and encryption mechanism guarantees that only one copy of the object exists at a time,” one of the project’s co-creators Stefanie Mueller explains.
Although the prototype is limited to single-material plastic objects, it allows the team to present a pair of application scenarios: Scotty can help preserve the uniqueness and emotional value of physical objects shared between friends, and Scotty can address some of the licensing issues involved in fast electronic delivery of physical goods.
“In the future, there will be laws enacted preventing patented designs from being shared; however, what if you simply wanted to transfer ownership of that design/object? This is where Scotty comes into play,” 3DPrint.com notes. “Not only is Scotty able to more thoroughly scan the interior of an object via a destructive scanning process, but at the same time that it’s destroying the original artifact a copy is being sent to another location and encrypted to ensure that this copy is only accessible at the receiving computer, where it can then be refabricated via a 3D printer.”
If you’re intrigued like us, you can find a much more in-depth explanation of the project, its technical details and applications here.