A team of researchers in Germany have developed a system which enables an object to be destroyed in one place and an identical object to be reconstructed elsewhere.

‘Teleporting’ Physical Objects by Scanning and 3D Printing

While ‘teleportation’ may be the means of transport that everyone dreams about, it nevertheless currently remains restricted to the domain of science fiction and the idea has not yet been reflected in the field of hard science. However, work in this area is making progress. Ten years ago, a team of Australian researchers managed to ‘teleport’ data. Now a team of researchers from the Hasso Platner Institute in Germany have succeeded in doing something akin to relocating physical objects. Their system, which they have named Scotty after the famous ‘Star Trek’ character, cannot actually teleport an object in the strict sense of the word; there is no disassembly or reassembly of atoms, a procedure that cannot at the moment be carried out. On other hand an object really does disappear in one place only to reappear at another location using additive layer manufacturing, better known as 3D printing.

Scan, encrypt, print

In a paper entitled ‘Scotty: Relocating Physical Objects across Distances Using Destructive Scanning, Encryption and 3D Printing’ the Hasso Platner team describe how they use two units to ‘transfer’ the physical object. Each consists of an off-the-shelf 3D printer, the sending unit is fitted with a 3-axis milling machine, a camera and an Arduino microcontroller for encryption and transmission, while the receiving unit has a Raspberry Pi single-board computer. To ‘teleport’ an object, you first have to dip it into black paint so that the camera can identify the different layers accurately, then place the object in the first printer and press the ‘relocate’ button. The milling machine will then slice the first layer off the object and the system will scan it, encrypt the data and send it to the second machine, which is uniquely programmed to decrypt the encoded data and ‘print out’ the layer of material almost instantaneously. This operation is repeated until the original object has been entirely destroyed and scanned and then entirely reconstituted by the 3D printer. At the moment the system only works with plastic objects, such as figurines, but should evolve over time in line with advances in 3D printing techniques.

Protecting intellectual property

A key aspect of the Scotty system is that only one duplicate of the object is made and a single unique object remains after the transfer process, which could prove vital in the near future. In the coming years 3D printers are set to makes great strides in quality. At the same time the cost of the printers is bound to fall, enabling far more people to make use of them. This could in fact revolutionise online sales so that a site such as Ebay would be able to deliver goods digitally for 3D printing. The Scotty technology should ensure that items protected by copyright or patent can be delivered in such a way that the original is destroyed while the copy is being made and only one version of the item will remain. This could well play a vital role in preserving intellectual property in the years to come.




By Guillaume Renouard