Part of what keeps 3D printing on the cutting edge, despite its ups and downs, is that new materials open up wide avenues of possibility.
This year MIT researchers succeeded in 3D printing genetically programmed bacterial cells, compatible with most hydrogels. Utilizing this breakthrough, they printed 3D “living tattoos” that act as sensors and respond to outside stimuli. While the research is still in early stages, keep an eye out for this technology to evolve in the near future. 3D printed bacteria have potential applications in the medical field as well as in the development of wearable materials and interactive displays.
This past year also saw a major leap forward in the quest to 3D print viable organs: the development of a way to print 3D objects suspended in a near-solid structure. This allows 3D printed organs to “float” and maintain their structure during the printing process. This technology could not only revolutionize the transplant field, but be a huge problem-solver for any project that requires printing complex objects out of soft materials.
In general, watch for more innovations in the 3D printing of organic materials in 2018. As it develops, expect new technology to filter outside the medical sector into areas like consumer electronics and beyond. With the advent of living, wearable computational platforms, the future is truly here.