Could this be the 'killer app' for 3D printers that finally makes them a must-have device for every home? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute have found a way to use 3D printers to create realistic-looking hair, bristles, and other fibres.
Goodbye crappy smartphone cases and other plastic trinkets, hello to home-made toupees and wigs with long, luxurious, flowing locks.
So how do you convince a 3D printer, which is normally used for creating rigid objects, to churn out long strands of artificial hair instead? If you've ever used a hot glue gun, and battled with those long strands it leaves behind after every squirt, then you already understand how this new 3D printing technique works.
Everything from the type of glue, to its temperature, to the amount that's been dispensed, to even how fast the glue gun is being pulled away, determines how thick or thin those wispy strands will be. And 3D printers — at least the type that extrude melted plastic — work almost exactly the same way as a glue gun does. So with a few modifications to existing hardware, and some custom software, they can now be used to make artificial hair.
Will Gierad Laput, Xiang Chen, and Chris Harrison be the new heroes of those battling baldness? That remains to be seen. This artificial hair, which is actually 3D printed sideways laying on the machine's bed, can be strong and rigid for use as bristles on a broom, or thin and flexible enough to be cut, curled, and even braided like human hair.
It takes a long process to build up enough fibres to make an entire toupee or wig, though. And consumer-level printers are far from foolproof; one tiny mistake could destroy hundreds of strands, and even more hours of work.
But there is some wonderful potential here — and not just for people looking to cover up a thinning scalp. This technique could provide new ways to 3D print complete devices, make flexible joints, or even improve how electronics and wiring are produced.
Besides, would you really feel confident, with a full head of hair that could potentially melt on a hot summer day?