Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Disney Research have created a 3D printer that can output a real, cuddly teddy bear in a few hours, thereby putting Santa’s elves out of business. The machine uses soft yarn and a needle to “felt” the object together by entangling the fibers as the object is built.
A research paper by, Scott E. Hudson of CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institutedetails the system and shows how the printer can make almost any shape out of almost any fibrous material. Like plastic 3D printers, the machine lays down the fiber in long threads and connects them by poking the fiber with a barbed needle.
As you can see from the video above, you’re not getting Teddy Ruxpin here. Instead, you get something that looks more like a crocheted bear with one flat side. However, because the material is so malleable, you could feasibly created things in any shape or even design objects that can connect together to make clothing or quilts.
Because these objects are felted together they are not quite as solid as, say, a crocheted doll or doily. However, the fibers create a solid mass, suitable for wearing, hugging, or snuggling.
“I really see this material being used for things that are held close,” Hudson said. “We’re really extending the set of materials available for 3D printing and opening up new possibilities for what can be manufactured.”
The system uses standard, open source printer software to prepare and print the objects and, as we see in the video above, it’s a great hit with babies.