Oct 3, 2017 | By Julia

Apple has just acquired a patent that could change the face of 3D printing as we know it. Published on the US patent database earlier today, the new innovation encompasses a highly advanced 3D printing system which is compatible with Augmented Reality (AR) devices, and more specifically, AR glasses. The new patent, originally filed back in Q3 2013, was granted to the subsidiary Metaio – a company Apple acquired a couple years ago that’s considered to be behind Apple’s recent investment into AR and the ARKit framework.

The news that Apple is officially sinking its teeth into the 3D printing industry is notable in and of itself, but let’s break down exactly why this new patent is expected to be such a game-changer. In its application, Apple notes that the current 3D printing systems on the market are all lacking an important application: the capability to 3D print directly onto a pre-existing object. Sure, you can 3D print all manner of materials, sizes, and geometries nowadays, but there’s no way to print additional objects right onto the surface of a pre-existing object. One reason for this could be the challenge of fit: there isn’t really a place to actually put a pre-existing object in current 3D printing systems. Another challenge is the task of adjusting print heads: how would you get the new print exactly aligned with the pre-existing object’s surface? So far, we haven’t seen any promising solutions from either the tech world or the art world in these areas.

That’s exactly where Apple comes in. Its new 3D printing system aims to provide a method for instructing a 3D printer that’s adapted to print one or more objects directly onto the surface area of a pre-existing object, or part of that object. That means building a composed, complete object that satisfies a predetermined alignment between the pre-existing object and the new, 3D printed piece, as part of a corresponding 3D printing system also outlined in the patent.

There’s more, too. As Apple notes in their patent application, there may be a need to visually augment the surface texture of a 3D printed object without going through the hassle of printing a whole other object from the same virtual model, but with different materials. Thus, Apple is tackling that gap by introducing a new AR-compatible system: AR glasses can be used to visually augment the printed physical object by providing an in-depth visualization of a computer-generated image overlaid with a view of the already-printed object. In other words, any kind of visually perceivable data such as texture, text, drawing, and video (or any combination of this data) could be viewed as a visual impression on a pre-existing object. Seen through the semi-transparent glasses, this overlay of the computer-generated visuals and the real object can also be captured by a camera, then shown to users via a regular display device, or realized via projection mapping onto the physical object.

In theory the possibilities are endless, but given the tech leader’s history of streamlined products and strict Apple-to-Apple compatibility, you can bet this new 3D printing system will be geared towards enhancing Apple-branded devices specifically. Picture customizing your iPhone with an exclusive 3D printed case or screen, or visualizing your own unique design solutions projected onto the surface of your favourite Apple product. And that’s not even considering the possible hardware applications.

Officially published by the US patent office earlier today, the new Apple system can be explored in its entirety here. No word yet on when we might start to see the exciting innovation hit the consumer market, but it’s safe to say that when we do, it’s going to be big.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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