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Disney Research Aims To Revolutionize Design By Merging Optics With 3D Printing

If you’re anything like the girl in this video, you’re probably growing impatient with the increasingly banal use of 3D printing within the expansive world of product design. But before your impatience enrages you to the point of yelling at inanimate objects, let us offer you some consolation that we weren’t able to offer her.

Scientists at Disney Research, Pittsburgh have been working to combine the newer technology of 3D printing with the older technology of optics to present a technological amalgamation that aims to change the world’s approach to product design. The scientists, Karl D.D. Willis, Eric Brockmeyer, Scott E. Hudson, and Ivan Poupyrev, have been printing solid-state prototypes with geometrically designed internal patterns that channel light from an LED source in order to transport optical and sensory information.

And what’s more, by printing these geometric patterns layer-by-layer into the casing of the object, this new technology cuts out the need for multi-part assembly. This creates a faster, more efficient, more cost-effective method of production which, in turn, creates a more accessible means of manufacturing. As form follows function, this new technology has the potential to completely redefine the design of everyday objects, such as light bulbs or flashlights.

As well as offering us a new platform for practical, artistic, and technological exploration, “Printed Optics,” as Disney Research Pittsburgh calls their new project, should be enough to effectively diminish any potential impatience with the perceived direction in which 3D printing is headed.

Except, of course, for the girl in this video.

A 3D printed lens is used to focus light.


This diagram explains how 3D printed controllers can use optics to sense touch.


A prototype of the sensorial capabilities of 3D printed optics.


Another prototype of the sensorial capabilities of 3D printed optics.


3D printed products vs. manually assembled products


3D printed LED light bulbs.