A Chilean startup is working to extend 3D printing to a wider public by enabling the creation of solid objects from mere thought. Could there be a substantial market out there for such techniques to simplify the modelling process?

3D Printing: Thought analysis to make modelling easier?

Not so long ago the preserve of high-tech industries, 3D printing has gradually become more and more widespread with the arrival on the market of printers which are increasingly easy to use. “However, object modelling, i.e. making a prototype using computer software, is still the major obstacle to mass adoption of 3D printing by the general public,” explains Mathilde Berchon, a consultant specialising in 3D printing who has written a book on the subject. So what if the modelling process could be performed just through our thoughts? Thinker Thing, a Chilean startup, has recently succeeded in developing a 3D printing system controlled by the mind, combining brain wave processing technology with MakerBot’s 3D printer. In an initial trialling round dubbed the Monster Dreamer Project, Chilean schoolchildren will be invited to manufacture their very own fantastical figures.

A tool for creating objects from thought

Starting from the observation that most people are better at appraising an existing design than they are at thinking up new ideas from scratch,the Thinker Thing team turned to the neuronal technology used by the EmotivEPOC interface. This electroencephalography (EEG) system, which consists of a headset made up of sensors, is capable of detecting in the various layers of the cortex emotions such as excitement and boredom, plus cognitive thoughts such as the desire to make movements such as pushing and pulling. So how it works is that Thinker Thing users are shown a series of forms on screen which mutate randomly, and the software then registers the emotions and desires based on the electrical signals emitted by the brain. The shapes that find favour will grow bigger on the screen, while the others shrink. These shapes are then combined to generate a body part, and the process is repeated for the various parts of the ‘monster’s body until the design is complete. The final outcome should be a unique 3D model that is ready for printing as a solid object.

Opportunities for both small and large firms

Simplifying the 3D modelling process is nothing new. Indeed, a number of firms have already created a market niche here, among them French company Sculpteo, which provides tools for users to customise pre-worked designs directly online. Other companies such as TinkerCAD and 123D are taking the process further, endeavouring to create mobile apps based on simple and efficient modelling software for 3D printing. Mathilde Berchon sees numerous opportunities in this field for both startups and established companies. “Young startups can work on the upstream part of the process, especially on 3D modelling software in the Cloud taking account of the specific aspects of 3D printing, or in markets which are fed by specialised designers,” she points out, adding: As for major consumer goods firms, they could also offer product modelling services, enabling their customers to create customised functionality or manufacture their own spare parts.”

By Ruolin Yang