Follow-Up Case Study To The evok3d 3d Printing 2.0 Event
After attending the evok3d 3d Printing technology sessions called Updates & Insights – 3d Printing 2.0. I promised I would do some follow-up case studies. This is the first of a series of really exciting cases on how 3d Printing is enabling breakthrough innovations. Special thanks to the team at evok3d for keeping me across some really exciting and cutting edge use cases they are involved in.
3d Printing, Steve Austin And The Bionic Man
If you happen to be around my age you may remember a show in the early 70’s called the Six Million Dollar Man. Astronaut Steve Austin is severely injured in the crash of an experimental lifting body aircraft. They rebuild Steve and make him, “better, faster, stronger than he was before”. He becomes the ‘bionic man’. He gets a new arm, leg and eye.
How Do Bionic Parts Work Dad?
Each of these new bionic parts were actually superior to his old human based parts in many ways. Watching this show as a young boy in the early 70’s I was completely hooked. I used to sit there with my father and we would both be amazed with what Steve Austin could do with his new bionic parts. He could run at around 60 miles per hour, his arm was as strong as a bulldozer. His eye had a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities.
I remember grilling my poor dad on how they could make these bionic parts and if it would ever be possible. Of course, no one believed it was really possible or ever would be… My poor old dad did the best he could to explain it all to me.
Interestingly out of all the high tech ideas on the Six Million Dollar Man, I don’t think we ever saw a “ProJet 1200 3d Printer”.
On an important note too. There was gender equality back then, there was also a bionic woman. She was of course better equipped, with much later technology.
Both series were incredibly popular.
Will Human Bionic Parts Ever Be Real?
Well, day by day and advancement by advancement science fiction is being met by science reality. I got word that researchers at the Bionics Institute (yes, there actually is a bionics institute) have been using 3D printing technology to produce bionic eye prototypes.
Bionic Vision Australia
Below is a short animation of the schematic of for the bionic eye implant.
Bionic Eye / Vision Project
Here is a little background about one of the bionic eye projects.
Bionic Vision Science Fact
Yes, you read it correctly, we are in Steve Austin territory. Some of this work is being led by Chris Williams, Senior Research Fellow at the Bionics Institute. His team are working to create components such as RF coils that transmit power and data wirelessly once implanted in the eye.
Smart Phone In Your Eye?
To quote Chris Williams, “You would be able to transmit vision to the device in the eye…it’s just like putting a smart phone in your eye,” There is also hope that power will be able to be transmitted to the device without wires too.
Being able to be moved data in and out without wires opens up a whole new world for bionic implants in general!
So, where is 3d Printing playing a role in all this? A 3d Systems, ProJet 1200 3d Printer is being use for verification and prototyping. Silicon moulds are then made from the prototypes. Prototyping detailed parts for medical applications seems to be a strong growing trend.
This is ideal for highly detailed prototypes. It has found a lot of success as a 3d Printer for use by Jewellers and Dental restoration work.
3d Printing Takes Prototyping From Weeks Or Months To Four Hours
Chris Williams team use the ProJet 1200 3d Printer supplied by the team at evok3d, to test for fit, size and functionality. This is allowing them to take significant amounts of time from the normal prototyping process.
Chris Williams again; “We can now get a prototype out in 4 hours using the ProJet 1200 3d Printer. Before 3D printing it would take us weeks or months. We found it takes 20 iterations to reach an upgrade, in terms of going through iterations, the machine justified itself in the first week.”
After 5 years of research the first clinical trial has been completed on patients using a novel device.
“It was quite promising, their vision was optimised, obviously they want better vision and fully wireless power, but the eye surgeons were pleased with the process and that’s a platform for future trials”, Associate Professor William’s said.
When you see the sort of technology that has to be put together for testing, there is no doubt that 3d Printing is an incredible asset to this sort of project. Check out the video and you can soon see the sort of parts that need prototyping.
Are We There Yet?
Of course there is a long way to go on this technology, before we could say the bionic eye is even close to perfected. But it’s a little like Moore’s Law. You find that the speed of adaption and innovation goes up exponentially. Each new invention and innovation creates a domino effect.
Before we had high resolution 3d Printing prototyping and model making, the steps were laborious and slow. With many parts of the process being manual. Now the estimated 22 iterations needed for a model release, are done in fractions of the time it once took.
The smart phone, microwave communication and software advances have given us super small scale, low power electronics along with wireless data transmission densities that are way beyond what we thought possible just a few years ago.
All of these inventions and innovations compound on one another to create a pace of advancement that is hard to keep up with. I enjoy writing about these changes so much. I keep remembering back and contrasting how far we have come. I also see the accelerating pace of change.
The Bionic Ear Is Maturing, The Bionic Eye Is The Next Frontier
The potential impact on the lives of people that need this technology must be incredible. It is truly great work. We have seen incredible breakthroughs in the bionic ear by Graham Carrick of Cochlear. Watching a child hear for the first time as they switched on his bionic ear brought tears to my eyes. It was an incredibly moving moment.
This work is also being done in Australia where I live which does make you feel a little proud. I was actually lucky enough to get out and see the Cochlear labs some time ago and it was pretty darn impressive. If we look at the original prototypes and compare them to where the bionic ear is now, it’s incredible how far the technology has come. So I would expect the bionic eye to iterate at a great rate.
The work being done by Bionic Vision Australia, the Bionic Institute, Chris Williams and his team is ground breaking. It is truly exciting to think that we may see in the not too distant future lives being transformed with this new bionic eye technology. It is also inspiring to see how current 3d Printing is allowing us to get there so much faster.
Further Information On This Article
“Prototyping The Bionic Eye Using The ProJet 1200 3d Printer At The Bionics Institute / Bionic Vision Australia”
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