Karl D.D. Willis is an entrepreneur who is trying to solve some of 3D’s biggest challenges, chief among them how to scale production of what are potentially millions of unique 3D-printed objects (as opposed to traditional manufacturing which builds hundreds of thousands of objects that are exactly the same) and how to connect those objects digitally. Willis has been involved in two projects that have implications for IoT, one while working as a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University and another while working for software developer Autodesk. Today he is working on founding his own company focused on 3D printing.
A second project Willis worked on while at Autodesk called Project Wire makes it possible to design and fabricate 3D-printed circuits, bringing us closer to being able to print electronics in their entirety. This could make life much easier for IoT device manufacturers since they would be able to create prototypes very quickly. I talked with Willis recently about both of these projects.
DB: A lot of people think of 3D printing as a novelty, but you’re looking at its potential for enabling the digital ecosystem. What are some of the possibilities?
KW: The things it can do are interesting – you have any kind of shape you want and complexity is free, which is an amazing property. But if you look deeper there’s even more you can do by combining materials in ways that haven’t been possible before. The InfraStructs project was trying to do that to create individual tags that could be identified. The fundamental idea behind that is if you can have two different materials that have different properties, in this case index of refraction – that’s the speed of light as it travels through the material – that difference in material, even though it may be invisible to the eye, can have machine-readable properties, and it can be read just like a barcode is. In this case you have two different materials where the physics changes when a different wavelength interacts with it. Adding that kind of functionality to 3D printing will be huge.
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