3D printers as teleporters

Anil Dash has a characteristically great, smart noodle on the future of 3D printing, including several provocative ideas (the emnently sensible notion of not reinventing the printer as a platform for selling expensive consumable "ink" is, alas, a little late, and, hurrah, about to be obviated by the expiry of key patents in 2014-16).

The Teleporter: Every 3D printer should seamlessly integrate a 3D scanner, even if it makes the device cost much more. The reason is simple: If you set the expectation that every device can both input and output 3D objects, you provide the necessary fundamentals for network effects to take off amongst creators. But no, these devices are not "3D fax machines". What you've actually made, when you have an internet-connected device that can both send and receive 3D-printed objects, is a teleporter. I know that sci-fi nerds will point out that this is hardly teleportation, since you're cloning the shape of the original object rather than actually sending the original object somewhere. But sci-fi correctness is not nearly as useful for the 3D printing industry as a totally futuristic concept that can get normal people excited. Imagine a simple television ad with a clean, well-designed (not a kit!) device saying "when you lose the wheel for your kid's toy car, her friend can teleport her a replacement".

3D Printing, Teleporters and Wishes

(Image: Makerbot, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from medialab-prado's photostream)


  1. The real breakthrough with 3D printers will be when they can effectively work with ferrous metals.

    1. The tech you wish for exists.

      About 2 years ago I read about a 3D printer that used a vacuum oven with a laser to create steel (got yer ferrous right there) parts as strong as (note: not “nearly” as strong as) parts milled from billet of the same grade.  Sorry, but I can’t find the original article.  :(

      The 2 tricks were:
      1. The oven would keep the steel powder at just below its normal melting temperature so that the laster only had to add a small amount of local energy to liquify the steel.  This meant higher accuracy and that areas weren’t being re-melted multiple times.
      2. The vacuum kept the steel from oxidizing and forming weak inter-layer bonds.

  2. Replicator.

    Other then that, you’d need to develop some sort of high energy printer since a basic laser scanner can’t detect the insides or density of the material used.

      1. Except, then you can print yourself a copy of the originally destroyed object again – replacing the one that you had with an unlimited supply.

          1. Who WANTS perfect fidelity? I CAN leave my excess cholesterol, weight, cavities, and the general build up of aging behind. A good enough scan that is rebuilt in better than the source condition is worth it. Somehow I DON’T think that getting every mitochondria, enzyme, is crucial. Blood can be a “simple” bulk generic replacement, blood transfusions don’t affect “you”, neither do organ transplants. If you can throw in a few cybernetic upgrades in the printing process I’d pay more. Also a backup disk would be a welcome extra. Not everyone worries about the matter. It is the pattern that is important.

    1. You’re right! This changes a lot of science fiction stories. For example, I expect any Star Trek remake to include a scene where the crew are sued for copyright theft after teleporting local products back to the Enterprise.

  3. This is TOO a teleporter.  That’s how they work.  That’s why there are two Rikers running around.

  4. To be pedantic, teleporters as we traditionally view them theoretically work by scanning a body/object, destroying it, sending the information to another location, and then that teleporter recombines materials into a replica of the original. Even if you used all of the mass of the original object, by recombining it you’re still making a replica.

    Travel through wormholes on the other hand does involve sending a whole object between two different locations. I’d like to see someone else’s opinion on the teleporter thing though.

    1. If it’s the same matter arranged in the same way, does that really count as ‘destruction’? 

      If you took apart a lego house, recording the position and state of every brick as you disassembled it, then put it back together somewhere else while making sure every brick in the ‘copy’ is in the same position it was in the original, that’s arguably not destruction, just temporary disassembly.

        1. As I said in my first comment; if you can make an exact copy of the lego village out of the exact same lego in the exact same positions, it’s arguably not ‘destruction’, merely ‘disassembly’.

          1. Yes, but in most examples of teleportation, you don’t ship the exact same lego, you ship instructions on how to build it out of local lego.

      1. But we are not lego houses. We’re dynamic physical systems with – apparently – subjective experience. Being taken apart means we cease to exist.

        Before you were born, and after you die, you are not alive. When you have been disassembled, however temporarily, you are not alive.

        Still, it’s a profound mystery. If you blow a candle out, then relight it, is it still the same flame?

    2. This happens to all living organisms. As you travelled from where you were 10 years ago, to where you are now, almost all your atoms have been replaced by others. Your current body has been regularly rebuilt using the information from earlier versions. Yet you consider yourself to be the original “you”, not a replica. Thus all teleportation moves the original too.

  5. Well technically, it’s not a teleporter unless the original is destroyed, otherwise it’s just a 3d fax machine. This is easily solved though by using destructive 3d scanning, where one mills away something in layers and takes pictures of the layers. It’s pretty much the only way to get internal features aside from CT scanning, as was used in the first 3d fax machine: https://webspace.utexas.edu/reyesr/self/3D_fax.html

    1. Yeah…the description makes no sense, it’s exactly a 3d fax machine. It uses local resources to create a copy of a remote item.

    1. You just know that guys would scan their penises if these 3D printer/scanners setups became common and connected to the web.

  6. No, we should NOT call it teleporting just to get people excited simply because it’s not even remotely close to being true. There’s plenty of morons spewing misinformation on every subject already….can we please not add to the stupidity?

    1. While we’re at it, I’d be happy if newspapers and marketing droids stopped referring to a whole range of 3d viewing technologies as ‘holograms’.

      1. Wait, you want the press to accurately use terms they aren’t familiar with?  Why that would require honesty and effort!

        Just look at how they’ve managed to get by for the last 40 years or so sticking “gate” on the end of every political scandal.

    2. Or, we could accept that in English, as in most languages, words evolve in their meaning all the time, and it’s okay. Not everything has to fit neatly within a binary evaluation.

    3. Or we could accept that 3D scanning and printing is likely the only thing that will be remotely possible within the next 50 years that enables me to have a thing here that you end up with over there, faster than it would take to carry it through the intervening space. I bet that would sound like teleportation to quite a lot of people, and make for ad copy that sells a million units.

      1. I bet a lot if things sound like a lot of things they’re not. Thankfully we have advertising laws. It’s not really anything special to sell a million ad copies based on outright lies. In the end it’s still factually wrong and just making people sound dumber than they already do. Did you get the email I teleported to you?

  7. “The Prestige”. Probably Nolan’s best film, and maybe Jackman’s best role. Although he was pretty dam good in “The Fountain”, too.

    Edit: If you haven’t seen “The Prestige”, it is probably a really good idea to completely forget the context of this thread before viewing it.

  8. I look forward to a future in which we can photocopy our behinds so people can behold them in 3D molded plastic, in all their majesty, and white cube faxes will be the new black faxes. =P

  9. I wondered exactly this after watching The Prestige. I think that it may be impossible to actually transfer matter; you can only copy it elsewhere, and destroy the local copy (or not).

  10. Yeah, whut the others said: if were gonna hijack an established definition just for the sake of marketing, we should go with”replicator” rather than “teleporter”.

    Would be glad to see  the word  containing “-printer” go away though, since that is also a misrepresentation of what is actually going on.

    But why not go all the way and make a new word up? 
    I submit the noun “thingifier” and the verb “thingify”. It’s got potential, I tell you!

    1. Thingification is exactly what it does.  People will get that instantly.  Even MBAs will grasp it.
      They will say things like, “I like the synergy  but, can we thingify this paradigm?”

    2. I’m fine with replicator, but it’s a less known term to non-geeks than teleporter. Point being, let’s use familiar and fun names instead of our own wonky ones.

      1. “let’s use familiar and fun names instead of our own wonky ones”

        I respectfully disagree with you there. What you’re describing is a radically new concept and should be “sold” to people as such. And the most efficient way to do that is to carefully brand it with a new, wonky, made-up, wonky, fun name with no stale connotations attached. But don’t just take my word for it: google for a wiki about xeroxed blogs.

  11. If this happens–incorporating together 3D printers with scanners, then i see bright future for the porn industry: download Jenna’s freshly scanned vagina (version with pixelated clit available for trial), or for artists or for long distance lovers!

    Picture this too: your girlfriend scanned full size sends you from overseas the file but your 3D scanner is only small so you drill a proportional downsized version of her… Advantage?–you can carry her in your pocket everywhere!

  12. “sci-fi nerds will point out…”  oooooh those infuriating sci-fi nerds with their intransigent insistence on using sci-fi terms accurately *shakes fist*.  Don’t they know that words should be used according to the interest they will generate instead of according to their meaning?  Didn’t they take Marketing101?

    In fact, since “sci-fi correctness” just gets in the way of “totally futuristic concept[s]”, let’s promote 3D fax machines with other terms that will have an even greater impact.  Let’s call them warp drives, or maybe lightsabers, or maybe rise of the machines.

    How about calling it a death star?  The advertisements could say “That’s no moon.  It’s a 3D scanner/printer!  First we will scan your planet, and then if *somebody* breaks it we will print you a new one.  The new one will be in the form or an asteroid field, so some assembly required.”

    1. I should point out – I used the term “sci-fi nerds” affectionately because I am one. Yes, words should mean something. But those meanings should also evolve.

  13. “Imagine a simple television ad with a clean, well-designed (not a kit!) device saying “when you lose the wheel for your kid’s toy car, her friend can teleport her a replacement”.”

    Why would you need a friend to do this? Why can’t the company that sold the toy car send you the wheel (perhaps for a small fee). Many companies sell replacement parts for a pittance, but charge an arm and a leg for shipping.

  14. Aldebaran’s great, okay,
    Algol’s pretty neat,
    Betelgeuse’s pretty girls
    Will knock you off your feet.
    They’ll do anything you like
    Real fast and then real slow,
    But if you have to take me apart to get me there
    Then I don’t want to go.

    Take me apart, take me apart,
    What a way to roam
    And if you have to take me apart to get me there
    I’d rather stay at home.

    Sirius is paved with gold
    So I’ve heard it said
    By nuts who then go on to say
    “See Tau before you’re dead.”
    I’ll gladly take the high road
    Or even take the low,
    But if you have to take me apart to get me there
    Then I, for one, won’t go.

    Take me apart, take me apart,
    You must be off your head,
    And if you try to take me apart to get me there
    I’ll stay right here in bed.

    — Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    1. I prefer the short version.

      I teleported home one night
      with Ron and Sid and Meg,
      Ron stole Meggie’s heart away,
      and I got Sidney’s leg.”

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