Disney Research along with Scott Hudson of Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute have demonstrated how it’s possible to print soft, interactive objects using new 3D printers. No longer restricted using rigid materials such as plastics, new 3D printers can digitally print objects made of softer materials, such as wool and wool blend yarn.
According to Hudson’s research paper, ‘Printing Teddy Bears: A Technique for 3D Printing of Soft Interactive Objects,’ the printer ‘allows the substantial advantages of additive manufacturing techniques (including rapid turn-around prototyping of physical objects and support for high levels of customization and configuration) to be employed with a new class of material. This material is a form of loose felt formed when fibers from an incoming feed of yarn are entangled with the fibers in layers below it. The resulting objects recreate the geometric forms specified in the solid models which specify them, but are soft and flexible — somewhat reminiscent in character to hand knitted materials. This extends 3D printing from typically hard and precise forms into a new set of forms which embody a different aesthetic of soft and imprecise objects, and provides a new capability for researchers to explore the use of this class of materials in interactive devices.’
In the demonstration video embedded below, a customer selects his desired product and it is instantly created and placed into his hands. While the teddy bear is described as interactive, it appears that hugging is about as interactive as this example gets — although one could argue that few things are more interactive than a hug.