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Design Concepts: New Explorations in 3-D

Design Concepts: 3-D
The Web is teeming with the unrealized ideas of both students and established designers who set out to produce astonishing renderings and prototypes for unusual products. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, money, or technology, many of those products never progress from the planning stages to the mass market. But that doesn't mean we can't salivate over them, nevertheless.

We've talked a great deal about 3-D printing and its potential uses in creating new kinds of objects with essentially unheard-of materials. But more and more designs have hit the Web lately, and we'd be remiss not to share them. As a concept, 3-D printing makes possible objects and structures that are more complicated than a simple vase or icy beer stein. We've pulled together some of the most forward-thinking applications of 3-D technology, from robot trash compactor/builders to startling art installations that invoke the bleak romanticism of the memento mori. Check out our finds below.

3-D Graffiti Sculptures by Evan Roth

3-d graffiti sculpture by evan roth
Evan Roth first caught our eye with his award-winning EyeWriter graffing program and breathtaking Graffiti Analysis system, collaborative projects between Roth and others that culminated in a new aesthetic of street art. Graffiti Analysis tracks the movement of the tagger's hand in a real-time, 3-D space. With some slight modifications, a 3-D printer and the help of an anonymous Viennese artist, Roth has been able to translate the motion of graf-making into sculpture. The Z-axis relates to the time it takes to create the work, while the speed of the writer's hand translates to the thick and thin lines seen in the sculpture. The abstract is made concrete, as viewers can literally look at the entire shape of a pen stroke.

Red Blue CNC by Nick Santillan

Red Blue CNC by Nick Santillan
The products of 3-D printing are lovely, but what about the machines themselves? "Computer numerical controlled" (CNC) is a broad term describing any number of automated machines that use pre-programmed directives to craft an object, from milling contraptions to 3-D printers. Designer Nick Santillan wasn't too happy with such unitaskers, so he built the Red Blue CNC with multifunctional manufacturing in mind. The contraption comes together just as easy as IKEA furniture (video demo here), and, being modular, can be modified in any number of ways. The picture above shows the Red Blue CNC sporting a router, for engraving directly on wood, but that is easily swapped out for a 3-D extruder. The portability and openness of the machine moves 3-D printing and other computer-assisted tooling into the hands of designers who can't suffer an expensive HP printer.

Structural Skull Ring by Duann

Structural Skull Ring by Duann
One of the most tempting applications of 3-D printing is the manufacture of objects that could never have been produced as a single piece otherwise. We love Alissia Melka-Teichroew, of byAMT Studio, whose ball joint jewelry is crafted with selective laser sintering, and would be impossible to make with traditional manufacturing methods. In the same vein, designer Duann has dreamed up the marvelous Structural Skull Ring, which is among the best of his 'Bits to Atoms' 3-D printed men's jewelry line. Paring down the human skull to its most architectural and geodesic form (although still complicated with its scaffold-like interior), Duann uses parametric 3-D modeling software to design his jewelry before sending it off to Shapeways, the Dutch print-on-demand company. We're cheating a bit by including him here, as you can grab a Duann piece straight from his website for relatively cheap, but we'd feel bad keeping something as beautiful as this off our list.

Rapid Re(f)use by Terreform 1

Rapid Re(f)use by Terreform 1
We can't say with certainty, but we're pretty sure architectural outfit Terreform 1 completely ripped off this concept from 'Wall-E.' Does that diminish its brilliance? Absolutely not. Rapid Re(f)use envisions New York City ten years from now, nearly twenty years since the massive Fresh Kills Landfill was closed. Rapid Re(f)use posits that seven new islands, each the size of Manhattan, could be created from the Fresh Kills debris, and that robots, outfitted as over-sized 3-D printers, could form lumps of trash into building blocks for new structures. Unlike 'Wall-E,' the robots wouldn't simply make compacted cubes, because "these devices have jaws that make simple shape grammars for assembly." Different materials would be auto-sorted according to their best uses, and simply pressed into shape, serving as atoms to the larger structure, much like the micro-materials 3-D printers use to create objects.

Consume or Conserve by Wieki Somers

Consume or Conserve by Wieki Somers
Can 3-D printing technology bring the dead back to life? Designer Wieki Somers thought she might as well try, and the result was a series of printed objects made from the ashes of the dead. In a stark triptych, Somers places a bird with a toaster, a dung beetle with a vacuum, and a bee with a bathroom scale, engraving the names of the deceased materials in bronze plaques below. With the piece, Somers questions the life perceived in inanimate objects and the very notion of recycled materials being given a "second life." Invoking vanitas painting (a Northern European style from the 16th and 17th centuries that remarked on the emptiness or "vanity" of Earthly life), Somers's work addresses the value of material (Would someone pay more for human ash?) and the spiritual void to which consumption leads.

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