A 3D printer that can output a real, cuddly teddy bear in a few hours, has been created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Disney Research. The machine uses soft yarn and a needle to “felt” the object together by entangling the fibers as the object is built.
A research paper by Scott E. Hudson of CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute details the system and shows how the printer can make almost any shape out of almost any fibrous material. Like plastic 3D printers, the machine lays down the fiber in long threads and connects them by poking the fiber with a barbed needle.
The printer makes something that looks more like a crocheted bear with one flat side, instead of Teddy Ruxpin. However, because the material is so malleable, you could feasibly create things in any shape or even design objects that can connect together to make clothing or quilts.
Because these objects are felted together they are not quite as solid as, say, a crocheted doll or doily. However, the fibers create a solid mass, suitable for wearing, hugging, or snuggling.
“I really see this material being used for things that are held close. We’re really extending the set of materials available for 3D printing and opening up new possibilities for what can be manufactured.” – Hudson
The system uses standard, open source printer software to prepare and print the objects.