Renewable Matter # 19 / December-January

3D Printing and the Animal World

by Federico Pedrocchi

I remember the smiling face of a jewellery artisan who, presented with all the possibilities offered by 3D printers, showed all his enthusiasm for the new creative opportunities, those he had been dreaming about for years.

It really opens up a new world. 3D printers offer two new great possibilities. First, you can design an object from inside while traditionally it has always been designed from outside. If I shape something from the outside, then how can I go inside? I could glue pieces together, an awful choice when crafting jewels. And then with a 3D printer you can create extraordinary and very elaborate insides, this depends on the fact that you proceed by adding layer upon layer. For instance, an exact copy of our planet – with everything in it: white sea breams, microwave ovens – would be impossible to make, but if we had a big enough printer it could be done.

A problem could arise though: could 3D printer use get out of hand? As with all great inventions, beautiful and useful, there is always the possibility that they get out of control. For instance, I ponder on the possibility – the first trials have already been carried out – to create nests for bees with tube of cells wrapped onto themselves. I have seen them: impressive. Compared to natural nests the internal surface is increase tenfold, but it can be diversified in a thousand ways, with the possibility of creating a sort of giant shopping centre for bees. Since very often shape creates substance, we might end up with bees selling us honey. Bees are people who know how to organize themselves and in more than one occasion, they have already shown a certain annoyance with flying from one flower to another.

So this is what I envisage:

1) Bees will learn to use 3D printers, but this is an evolutionary scenario they have been ready for some time;

2) The appearance of American-Western like outlaws who started selling Winchester rifles to Indians, an activity that was then prosecuted, but from a moral historical point of view it is certainly not condemnable. In the near future, these guys will provide super fractal beehives to bees from whom, if we think about it, how much honey have we stolen without giving them anything in return?

And then we move on to moles. Their penchant for using 3D printers is culturally physiological. But in this case, printers can be used in a very dangerous way. Indeed, moles dig underground tunnels. A portion of these tunnels is located at 20-30 cm under the surface, but this a tiny portion, while 80% of tunnels can reach down to 10 m underground, a very hard job since we must bear in mind that all the soil dug must be removed. The use of 3D printers – we must remember that in the construction sector it is already producing interesting results – can cause a very efficient building reversal. Moles could just dig soil creating a space where they could use a printer, which, powered by the very dug soil, could build the entire tunnel structure. The problem is that moles can’t see, so by not perceiving the Escherian structure build by the printer, they could lose control of the project execution thus creating underground giant hollow and extremely fragile structures. Bearing in mind that moles are one of the least endangered animals, we are presented with a scenario where the planet could implode thus reducing its radius even by a third leading inevitably to the emission of soil into space. The planet’s mass would change, it would no longer be able to exert its gravitational force on the Moon and its orbit around the Sun could change dramatically and we could end up hitting Mars. Thus not everyone should be allowed to use 3D printers.