Printing Custom Music Boxes

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Music Drop is a well-executed concept that re-imagines the classic, hand-wound music-box in a form suitable for hobbyist 3D printers. But rather than being a one-off art project, its designers have also built a custom web UI for composing new songs:

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The site still left me wondering how much one of these toys costs (since they print and assemble it for you); but it still serves as a perfect example for a 3D printer-backed business that costs nearly nothing to operate (since you create products on demand.)

3D printing circuit boards

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The ability to print circuits has been a RepRap goal from nearly the beginning. In order for a printer to replicate, it needs this ability. If you dig through the forums, you’ll find plenty of people working on this problem, but none close to selling a machine that hobbyists can buy. (And please correct me if I’m wrong on that — I’d love to see more of these.) That’s what makes the EX1 on Kickstarter special. It’s more “circuit plotter” than “3d printer”; but if we ignore that, what we have is a consumer-usable device that eliminates one of the road-blocks in sharing and prototyping electronic hardware.

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The results don’t compare to custom boards and pick-n-place machine quality, but that’s not the point. Much like consumer 3D printing, the EX1 allows rapid prototyping and exploration before sending a design off for professional production. Furthermore, because it’s just laying down conductive paths, you can put these on a variety of materials. This capability gives the device huge potential.

When this technology takes off, we won’t just be printing holiday ornaments for our trees — we’ll be printing the ornaments and the circuit board for the LEDs!

3D printing keys for physical locks

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(Image via flickr.com/photos/azken_tximinoa/6805447240/)

When you can make anything, the possession of physical objects no longer carries any particular value (sentiment aside.) And when security is tied to the possession of an object (e.g., a key), being able to programmatically replicate the object raises some interesting intellectual topics.

Now, there’s a whole industry around bypassing physical locks. Locksmiths, picking enthusiasts, manufacturers, and criminals continue to advance the trade. And for the most part, if someone with resources wants to bypass a lock, it’s going to happen. But the idea that a computer could replicate a key using a 3D printer is still fascinating. Add CCTV and computer vision to this, and you have a sci-fi future where simply displaying a key in public is enough to compromise security.

One approach for addressing this is to increase the machining complexity of a key. While simple keys can be made with a blank and hand-files, more advanced keys can require manufacturing equipment that’s out-of-reach for the average criminal. This is where 3D printing offers disruption.

To see it in action, check out “Physical Keygen: Now for Disc Detainer Locks“. It’s what happens when you combine the curiosity of an artist and a lock-enthusiast. Even more interesting, is that the 3D models were built using OpenScad, and open sourced at github.com/nrpatel/PhysicalKeygen/. The OpenScad files were written such that the key patterns are parameterized. For the supported keys, you print the Key Gauge, measure a working key, and enter the numbers into the OpenScad script to generate a matching STL. Print the STL, and you’re on your way to unrestricted access (or more likely, a broken piece of plastic stuck in your lock ;-)