Disney can literally turn Mickey Mouse and other beloved cartoon characters into 3D stuffed figurines. Through a collaboration between its own engineers and scientists from Cornell University and Carnegie Mellon University, Disney Research announced they have prepared a printer that creates 3D objects very similar to stuffed toys.
Disney’s interest for technology and the digital world has become pretty obvious recently, with its grandiose 3D animation films. But entering the tech market with a device that enables anyone to create stuffed rabbits is an entirely new thing.
“We present a new type of 3D printer that can form precise, but soft and deformable 3D objects from layers of off-the shelf fabric”, Disney Research’s James McCann wrote. What makes Disney’s 3D printer unique is that unlike any other known alternative – such as SLA 3D, FFF, and SLS – it uses fabric as a printing material, and not plastic, metal, food or paper.
“Our printer employs an approach where a sheet of fabric forms each layer of a 3D object,” McCann explained. Instead of the filament spool that desktop 3D printers use, Disney’s printer simply needs a roll of fabric. The resulting product may not be as resistant or pretty as what other printers make, but it will definitely be softer.
The Disney Research 3D printing process works in several steps, as it lays down each layer of fabric one by one. Then, several 2D images are created from each sheet with the help of a laser cutter. The sheets are then put one over the other, bound together by an adhesive activated by heat. One interesting fact is that the adhesive is more commonly used in the sewing industry than in printing.
One all the laser cutting is done, the object still resembles a cube. It is only after the excess material is peeled off that the object on the inside is revealed. Many people who saw the printer at work failed to imagine what purpose it might serve besides entertaining children. But Disney researchers beg to differ.
The 3D printer is able to use more than one type of fabric in one run. Disney Research suggests this allows the stuffed toys to support all kind of high-tech improvements. “Our printer is capable of automatically feeding two separate fabric types into a single print. This allows specially cut layers of conductive fabric to be embedded in our soft prints”, McCann argued.
It remains to be seen how much Disney Research is willing to invest in its project of turning cartoon characters into reality, so to speak. The company has to be given credit for innovating, and the fact that it has virtually no competition for its new product could work well for Disney.
Image Source: NBC News
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