Oct 14, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printers are fun and creative for us home users, they are fundamentally tools for giving physical shape to lots and lots of data. And that can be just about any type of data, however obscure or iconic and often seen that is, as the latest projects by one Argentinian group reminds us. Called Datasthesia, this team consists of Karen and Marcelo and they take famous and interesting visualizations of data (such as the iconic shot of the earth at night), and turn them into 3D printed representations.

The two artists Karen Antorveza and Marcelo Rinesi are both members of Argentinian innovation collective Baikal Institute, which is also where this idea began. Karen is an industrial designer and works for Argentinian 3D printing company Trimaker, and he is particularly intrersted in what digital fabrication can do for creative industries. At the Baikal Institute, he teamed up with Marcelo, a freelance data scientist with a very diverse background in games, e-commerce and web security.

Project Population Density

And what they have come up with is remarkable. As they explain to 3ders.org, they believe that humans aren't exclusively visual beings, so properly designed objects can communicate information and spark intuitions in novel ways. And 3D printing is, they argue, one of those technologies that still have so much undiscovered potential in regards to human expression. ‘It's understandable, as we've only had them for years, or a couple of generations at most, and it also offers enormous possibilities for exploration, discovery, and messing up,’ they explain.

One new avenue that can be explored is 3D printed ‘maps’ of the world’s data, which has already resulted in two remarkable pieces: Wikidata and Population Density. Both have grown out of combination of the interests of the two innovators. ‘We choose each new project after a lot of emails, and sometimes cups of tea, bouncing ideas about what sort of topics and techniques we happen to be curious about. We don't have any outside mandate or limitations other than what we think we might be able to get away with, and trying something new and having it crash and burn isn't a problem, which is one of the fun aspects of Datasthesia,’ they explain to 3ders.org.

The first, Population Density, is a remarkable embodiment of a recent and well known NASA shot of the world. ‘We wanted to begin with data embodiment; just as we process images differently than tables of numbers, we understand physical objects in their own way. What kind of object could we build to express data in a (literally) tangible way? We chose for this a topic that we feel is interesting on its own, the geographical distribution of economic activity through the world,’ the designers explain. And this map is a truly remarkable piece, as links can be drawn between population and electric light, making the map of the world look truly different if you just focus on people.

Taking things to the next level with their second project, Wikidata relies on the same principles but instead takes Wikipedia’s geotags as its core. ‘There are obvious spatial correlations between the maps, but there are also fascinating differences — places “more interesting” (at least to Wikipedia contributors) than what they population densities would imply,’ they say. Especially small islands are far more visible this time around.


Both projects result from an interesting design process in which data sets are explored and, through a trial and error process, converted into maps. ‘We are at least as interested in what the tools (from the data sets to the software tools to the printers and materials themselves) are good and bad at, on their natural affordances, as on what we originally wanted to do,’ they say, but the 3D printed results are undeniably beautiful too.

And for those map lovers out there, it’s good to hear that more similar projects are coming. The duo have at least one more map project in the pipeline, this time generated through a completely different software approach. Some other, unrelated projects are also forthcoming, so we can doubtlessly expect more fascinating 3D printing projects by Datasthesia in the near future. 


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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