Pioneered by Harvard researchers, a new voxel-based printing technique allows for the creation of high-resolution 3D objects from datasets.
Those of you who played Minecraft know what “voxel” refers to in the game’s world.
Though not voxel-based itself, Minecraft has popularized the term “voxel” and paved the way for the emergence of many “voxel games”, like Voxatron.
Basically, voxels are 3D cubes used in games to allow users to build 3D textured objects and create virtual universes that are editable at will.
Voxel is a portmanteau word of volumetric + pixel, with pixel itself being a portmanteau of picture and element.
Outside the gaming world, the voxel concept is promising to take 3D printing to a new level.
While 3D printers can reproduce most forms with great precision, color rendition remains one of the major technical obstacles that no convincing solution has yet been found for.
As the unit of elementary volume, or a 3D pixel, a voxel is slowly becoming for 3D printing what the pixel is for 2D images.
Research into voxel 3D printing is focusing on enhancing and extending the physical properties of voxels – making them smaller, controlling their colors and textures, etc. – for fast and high precision rendering.
Voxel 3D Printing, or how to “Voxelize” Data
A Harvard team, assisted by MIT researchers, has developed a voxel printing technique that reproduces imaging datasets into physical objects.
The new technique was developed by researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, in collaboration with MIT Media Lab.
Instead of geometric representations of the object to print, this new method uses the actual digital datasets describing this object and converts them into voxels.
The results, “comparable to moving from a dot-matrix printer to a laser printer”, are both beautiful to behold and very promising for 3D printing and manufacturing industries.
To prove the potential of their concept, researchers used the technique to design and print various high-resolution 3D objects with different colors and shapes, including a segment of the human brain and the structure of a protein.
The resolution of the new voxel 3D printing technique reaches 2.3 million voxels per cubic centimeter.
“The new method not only bridges the gap between digital and physical, but also requires less preprocessing to create a more direct translation of data to object. Modern tactics to visualize data, such as rendering of patient data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), often rely on 2-D computer displays of 3-D data sets,” said authors of the paper.