Monday, February 13, 2012

Star Trek Technology has arrived

Imagine it; now print it -- in 3D (c) Harry Bishop

Click here for related story [bbc}   

BBC reports that technology has advanced to the Star Trek level of replication, from equipment to food.

The latest step is the 3D Printer, which has been around for a few years, but has now achieved new levels of sophistication and technological innovation.  We learn that an 83 year old woman has been fitted with a new titanium jawbone, perfectly matched to her facial bones, using a 3D printer.

Titanium jaw; Ceramic teeth; Polymer gums (c)
The Belgian technology team supporting the surgeons used a 3D printer using Titanium powder instead of ink powder.  The printer fused the powder with a laser, one layer at a time, with 330 layers per centimeter of thickness.  

The end result was a jawbone with articulated joints, complete with holes to accommodate muscle attachment, nerve growth, and veins.

The finished jawbone was then implanted into the patient's face, and now functions just as her old jaw did, except better. 

Ceramic teeth and flexible gums can also be created and fitted to the jaw for both functionality as well as aesthetics.  This could lead to an entirely new level of dentistry.

Fully functional, realistic limbs for amputees

The creation of a functional jaw is a first, and it won't be long before other functional body parts follow.  Porous titanium  implants can be used to enable new bone tissue growth, and even skin, ears, etc. for burn victims; plus, body organs and blood vessels are envisioned which would use organic powders derived from live tissues.  

Eventually, body parts could be re-created from scanned images of original  damaged or severed parts.

This technological advance follows a number of mechanical and artistic innovations.  Mechanics can now create replacement parts for antique and modern cars at a fraction of their normal cost; artists can be enormously creative in designing complex sculptures, and designers can create miniature scale models of their concepts in a matter of hours.
But now, the replication takes off in another direction.

Food replication is now reality.  Food is freeze-dried, reduced to powder form, and is used in a 3D printer in place of ink or other materials.  Create the design, program it into the 3D printer, press the button, and in a relatively short time, the printer will build a meal for you.

 Build me an Irish Whiskey!

It will take a little longer than it took for the Star Trek crew-members, but, the concept and results are much the same.
Specialized chocolate designs use chocolate powders as "ink" building special forms and flavors.

For other tastes, food is liquified, flash-frozen, reduced to powder and constructed using laser heated layers; it can be modified for dietary restrictions to omit sodium, cholesterol, calories, etc., without affecting taste.


Taste would be programmed according to downloaded formulas for anything from cheeseburgers to fried catfish and rice.
3D Printer          (c) Makerbot Industries
Now, all this should be astonishing.  But, in reality, the 3D printers have been around for more than ten years, but it's just taken a while for people to adapt to the technology, and put it to use.  One of my engineers once explained it to me by advising

"We can build anything you can imagine; 
just explain what you want, and we'll figure out how to build it."

Steve Austin: The Six Million Dollar Man - Science Fiction to Reality                (c)

So, where do we go from here?  What has been Science Fiction now morphs into Science Fact.   We recall marveling at the concept of the Six Million Dollar Man ["We have the Technology!"] and saying "Imagine that!"

Well, now we do have the technology, AND the materials to not only build the Six Million Dollar Man, we can repair our amputee soldiers, and perhaps give them better bodies than before.

Will our next step up in technology be Cyborgs?
Imagine that!