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Dr. Matt Ratto, a professor at the University of Toronto, holds a plastic handgun that he and his team constructed using a 3-D printer in early June. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Dr. Matt Ratto, a professor at the University of Toronto, holds a plastic handgun that he and his team constructed using a 3-D printer in early June. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Duckling feet, not guns: Here are some of the good things 3-D printers have been doing Add to ...

With great (printing) power comes great responsibility.

So begins the discussion on 3-D printing.

Every time technology changes or advances to something we’re not entirely familiar with, people get excited – and then they get scared. It’s a natural response. We’re worried we don’t know the full extent of a development’s capabilities. And we’re fearful when we hear stories about new technology being used for questionable pursuits.

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A Globe article, for example, featured University of Toronto students who printed Canada’s first 3-D gun using online, easily available plans.

The issue created a great debate last year when Texas law student Cody Wilson uploaded the plans for the handgun online. Those plans were downloaded over 100,000 times, putting the plans to create a dangerous weapon inside many people’s homes, before Wilson was ordered to remove them by the U.S. State Department.

It’s a divisive subject – why use something as powerful as a 3-D printer to create something as harmful as a gun?

The point the U of T students were trying to make is that the technology is powerful, and 3-D printers will need to be monitored as we begin to use them even more.

But it’s not all bad.

3-D printers have also been used to create some pretty amazing things. Twitter both oohed and ahhed over the story of a little duck named Buttercup, who was born with a backward foot. He took his first steps on Sunday night using a brand new foot that was printed for him. The prosthetic is made out of silicone, so it even bends like a real duck’s foot should.

And then there are practical reasons for using a 3-D printer; friends of mine who studied industrial design at school all chipped in to buy one that they could use for creating models. It seemed to work great: Their projects were high quality, colourful and relatively cheap to build – plus it added an element of fun and novelty.

There’s also been talk of 3-D printing revolutionizing health care, allowing doctors to print casts, even liver cells. There have even been fashion shows where the clothes have been printed, and engineering labs are trying to work out just how to print food. These are new, exciting times in the world of the 3-D printer as everyone is still learning what they can do with one.

Science will continue to correct mistakes and create new rules around 3-D printers that we didn’t need five years ago. As we follow their exploits, remember that, just like inventions past, new technology will continue to be used for both the greater good, and the questionable.

 

 

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