BBC Future

The weird and wonderful world of 3D printing

  • Empty your cartridges
    American law student Cody Wilson has created the world’s first working 3D-printable gun – though the US government has stopped his plans being shared for free on the internet.
  • Embryonic technology
    In Japan, prospective parents can order a life-like model of their soon-to-be-born – a more hands-on memento than a photo of a scan. (Copyright: Getty Images)
  • Moon units
    The European Space Agency (ESA) think man’s exploration of the solar system may be easier if we print lunar base buildings with materials found on the surface. (Copyright: ESA)
  • Plastic fantastic
    Fancy commuting in a printed car? The Canadian hybrid Urbee goes 68 mph (108 km/h) and uses printed ABS plastic panels stronger and more flexible than steel. (Copyright: Urbee)
  • Printable plane
    University of Virginia students with ‘Wendy’ – a 6.5ft (2m) wingspan model plane built via printer. Any broken parts can be printed and replaced. (Copyright: Univ. of Virginia)
  • Dressed to thrill
    Burlesque star Dita Von Teese with the first 3D-printable dress, made by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti and uploaded to 3D design site Shapeways. (Copyright: Shapeways)
  • Shoe-phoria
    Alan Nguyen of Amsterdam-based Freedom of Creation created shoes complete with iPhone holder. He says he made it to test the principles of copyright principles. (Copyright: BBC)
  • Museum maker
    Models of priceless artefacts – like this of an ancient wasp – may help education, allowing 3D objects to be downloaded and printed over the web. (Copyright: Science Photo Library)
  • It's hip to print
    The Mayo Clinic in the US has created a one-off 3D-printed hip joint for a patient – allowing them to make a much better-fitting implant. (Copyright: Mayo Clinic)
  • Fit to float
    University of Washington students made a kayak from recycled milk bottles printed to form a vessel which came second at the Milk Carton Derby. (Copyright: Univ. of Washington)
Printers that can create 3D objects have become one of the hottest topics in technology in recent months – ushering in a world of weird and wonderful possibilities that could be manufactured with the push of a button.

Plans for everything from toys to radio-controlled planes are available to download – for those who have pockets deep enough to buy one of these still-pricey devices.

But this isn’t just bushing the limits of what we can do technically, it’s pushing the moral and legal limits too. Just last week, US law student Cody Wilson was filmed by the BBC firing the Liberator – the world’s first 3D-printable handgun, made entirely of plastic apart from the metal firing pin. Wilson, a staunch believer in the right to bear arms, made the plans for the gun freely available online, which were downloaded more than 100,000 times before US authorities took them down.

There are other controversial uses for the 3D printer, such as pilotless drones that could be printed out in a makeshift hangar and assembled by hand to carry out their duties. BBC Future looks at some of the most thought-provoking ideas in the world of 3D printing.

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