Researchers Creating Convincing 3D Printed Skin

By Nick Venable | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

3d printerThe ever-expanding world of 3D printing seemingly know no bounds. If you name it, there’s a damned good chance it can be created without a lot of huffing and puffing, and just some button pressing. Time and time again, the human body has proven to be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to manufactured replication, though advances are being made seemingly on a daily basis. Researchers from the University of Liverpool are hard at work trying to develop 3D-printed skin that goes far beyond previous efforts. It is convincing enough to look real.

Past attempts at skin printing never produced optimal results, but colleagues from the University of Manchester are working alongside the Liverpool team in developing and perfecting a 3D camera and image processing to match a person’s skin in regards to tone, texture, and how it looks in all different shades of light, from sunshine to shadows.

Obviously they’ll have to work with one person at a time in the beginning to reach their initial results, but their goal is to create something of a database with hundreds of different skin types so that they will be a pool to choose from. That will speed up the process, rather than working on an individual basis each and every time. It would also help in areas of the world where there just isn’t convenient access to the high-powered 3D cameras. Luckily, the printers themselves are becoming cheaper and cheaper as time goes by, so all physicians should need is a group of skin tones and types to choose from in order to help people virtually anywhere.

“The human visual system is extremely sensitive to small distortions in skin appearance,” said Dr. Sophie Wuerger of the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, “so making a convincing synthetic version will be essential whether this technology is used for emergency or cosmetic medicine.” Of course, I have something of a problem with people using this for cosmetic reasons, at least in the beginning. It seems like this should be solely for burn victims and others in more dire need. And then later on people can take care of what they perceive as minor imperfections in their appearance.

So if you’re speeding around on a 3D-printed motorcycle and you get into an accident, there’s a good chance you’ll one day be able to patch up those injuries with skin that looks like yours. But it may take a while, as the project is scheduled to last three years. Here’s hoping they figure it out sooner rather than later. At least before McDonald’s starts printing Big Macs.

Just think, maybe one day people with 3D printed body parts, like the hand you’ll see below, can camouflage them. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a blue hand.

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