Watching 3D printers do their job is already a surprisingly mesmerizing activity. Any time there is one in a public place plodding along to lay down its layers of plastic, a crowd will surely form to watch. The process typically takes a considerable amount of time, in some cases multiple days, to complete. This new method being explored at
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill allows for parts to appear fully formed in a vat of liquid in mere minutes.
Correction: according to this article, the printer is being designed in a collaboration between the University of California Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The method carries some similarities to a simple SLA printer, where light from a projector would cure a UV sensitive resin. However, this one differs in how those tools are implemented. Instead building up the object layer by layer, they project a video file consisting of grayscale images into a rotating vat allowing for the object to just kind of … appear!
The visual effect is stunning, but the results are still a bit rudamentary. Then again, does anyone remember how clunky the original makerbot cupcake was? Or the first few attempts at making a resin based printer at home? I wouldn’t be surprised to see this system refined and in homes in the near future.
If you really want to dig into the nitty gritty of how this works, you can find a detailed technological breakdown from Science Magazine.