Printing a new iPhone, a pair of runners – or even your dinner

Watching those far-away-in-the-future Eurosaver ads from our friends at McDonald’s, we started wondering about other technological breakthroughs that might lie ahead of us. Today: printable food.

By Denis McEvoy

Downloading a pair of runners or a new iPhone would be awesome, but that’s just nonsense, isn’t it? No, it’s not as ludicrous as it would initially seem.

The whole world seems to have tied it’s knickers in a twist during the past two weeks over anti-piracy bills. Us Irish have been right there in the thick of it with our own version of SOPA – but are 3D downloads the next step in piracy?

We’ve all seen 3D printers in sci-fi movies and immediately set about drawing up a list of cool crap we’d print off if they were a reality. The funny thing is that they’re not as far off as they appeared to be at the time.

Digitalising real world content is becoming a technology within reach of the masses. Advanced scanners can now get an exact 3D image of any item. The new scanners use lasers to take make detailed blueprints of objects.

The other part of the equation – printing reproductions of the objects – is the next step. But wait, they’re already around too. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the most developed printers ever were unveiled. So what’s holding things up?

3D printers are becoming more and more sophisticated, but at the moment the most detailed things they can produce are small plastic items like a chess-set or a globe. The current versions use two spools of plastic wire which is machined by the printer to form the desired items.


The MakerBot Replicator, one of the first steps toward full 3D printing

Fast forward a few technological leaps – stick with us, here – and we’ll be able to produce digitalised real world content in our own home. These 3D printers will, in time, become our very own desktop factories, creating whatever we can find digital blueprints for online.

This technology will completely change the world beyond any of our comprehensions. The affects will be extreme and wide-ranging. Over a relatively short space of time most factories could become useless, thousands of jobs would be lost and shipping and post would reduce dramatically.

The new system of downloading everything from your food to condoms will likely see piracy remain as a major problem. Companies will probably sell us the digital blueprints of the items we want and then we’ll make them in our next-generation printer. This will leave every possible product open to being pirated. How that will be curbed is something few people have even begun to think about.

But, whoever gets that job will have to hurry up. The first downloadable 3D files are already with us. Pirate Bay launched a new section earlier this week for ‘Physibles’ – physical items which are feasible to print in a 3D printer.

So, it doesn’t look like it will be far off that downloading and printing your dinner will be a reality. Better get thinking about what you’ll download… but whether it will be legal or not, now that’s another matter entirely.

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