Jul 25, 2017 | By Benedict

Columbia University researchers have developed “AirCode,” a new way of embedding information within a 3D printed part. Patterned air pockets, which could form QR codes and such like, are printed under the surface of an object, and are readable using computational imaging methods.

When designing a 3D printed object, the inside of the object is a matter of serious concern. Density and infill pattern, for example, can have a huge effect on the overall strength and function of a part, which means that designers must think carefully about what lies beneath the surface of their 3D printed creation.

But what if the inside of a 3D printed object did more than just provide the structural backbone of a part? What if the guts of your next 3D printed object contained hidden information in the form of precisely printed 3D patterns and “air pockets”?

That’s the thinking behind AirCode, a new technique developed by researchers at New York’s Columbia University that “allows the user to tag physically fabricated objects with given information.”

According to the researchers behind the technique, a 3D printed AirCode tag “consists of a group of carefully designed air pockets placed beneath the object surface,” which can be 3D printed as part of the object itself, without the need for additional material or post-processing.

The uses for this technique could be wide-ranging and significant.

Since the AirCode tags would be printed just under the surface of an object, the information contained within the tags would be virtually invisible from the exterior of the object (and could be encrypted with a coding technique). This means the information would only be readable in the right hands.

Because of this, creators of 3D printed items could embed all kinds of important information within their objects: authenticity tags for determining the genuineness of an item, passwords, and even fun things like hidden messages.

“These unobtrusive tags are imperceptible to the human eye but recognizable by a computer,” the researchers explain in their research paper.

The secret to creating air pockets that are virtually invisible to the naked eye but readable with certain equipment lies in “scattering light transport,” a kind of light transport in which light penetrates the surface of a translucent object, scatters within it, and then exits in a different way from the way it entered. It sounds complicated, but it’s exactly what happens when we see varyingly translucent things like skin, marble, wax, and even milk.

By using a computational imaging method (the researchers’ imaging setup consists of an off-the-shelf camera and a projector fitted with polarizers), the Columbia researchers can detect their AirCode tags from just under the surface of a 3D printed object, using an encryption system to decode whatever information is contained within the shapes of the air pockets.

The tagging technique could have applications in metadata embedding, robotic grasping, and conveying object affordances.

It also comes with several important advantages. For one, AirCode tags could be printed on virtually any 3D printer, even single-extruder machines. And perhaps most importantly, the AirCode information would not affect the appearance of a printed part, since it would be (mostly) hidden beneath the surface.

At present, reading an AirCode tag takes the researchers 3-4 minutes. However, they think this time could be drastically reduced in the future by using better cameras or infrared equipment.

With AirCode, the Columbia researchers have presented a seriously plausible method of conveying information in 3D printed objects. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this work to see where it ends up.

Authors of the study were Dingzeyu Li, Avinash S. Nair, Shree K. Nayar, and Changxi Zheng, all of Columbia University.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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