Disney Experiments With Light And 3D Printing
October 4, 2012

3D Printing And Light The Focus Of Disney Research

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

For many, the future will be a place where instead of going to a store to buy a product or ordering it from the Internet and waiting for it to arrive, consumers will simply download it and have it printed almost instantly on their desktop 3D printer. While the technology is still in its infancy, many companies are pushing for this new future to become reality very soon. This week, Disney has announced they are exploring this 3D printing potential by showing off printed optics and 3D printable light bulbs.

With these printers, Disney says they´ll be able to test out new toys more quickly than ever before.

So far, Disney has found a way to employ “light pipes” in these 3D prototypes, giving the toy maker a greater control on how these toys light up as well as how these optics are built.

Currently, the process of making these 3D-printable light bulbs requires a bit of a manual touch, as the print job must be stopped midstream so the lighting elements can be inserted. However, according to NOTCOT.com, this process could one day be easily automated, bringing the dream of the future to light.

Of course, light pipes and LEDs are worthless without a clear material with which to shine through. Currently, 3D printers use a sort of plastic filament to create whatever is being printed. Disney is using a high-quality, clear filament capable of clearly passing light all the way through. Combined with the light pipes, LED elements and this see-through material, Disney´s optics design creates some very interesting and futuristic effects.

To show off this new advance in 3D printing, Disney has released a video showing off the potential of this new process. With control over the light pipes and the way light is displayed or reflected, Disney is able to make toys which respond in very specific ways to a host of sensors. As examples, the company shows off a toy monster, chess pieces and even a few examples of sensors which can be used to control motion.

The little blue toy monster has light pipes which run from its feet to its green, glowing eyes. When placed on top of a mobile projector, this monster´s eyes light up in just the right way. In the video, the horned monster is seen interacting with a little girl. The projector lights up in different ways, responding to her voice, so when she asks the monster, “Do you like pizza?” the monster´s eyes respond by flashing red hearts.

There´s even a game of chess being played in the video, with the bottoms of the pieces built out of Disney´s 3D printed optics. The chess board acts as a projector and sensor, so when the pieces move across the board, the piece´s location is displayed on the front. When a piece is picked up and moved, the location is changed accordingly.

Finally, several sensors are shown off in the video, controlling projected animations on a screen. Light is being passed through these clear sensors, which affects and manipulates the animation. When a button is pressed or knob is turned on these sensors, the animation changes in kind. For example, when a button is pressed on one of these sensors, a yellow circle is quickly and fluidly reduced in size, shrinking on a screen. When a knob is twisted on another sensor, the displayed circle is peeled away like a pie graph, all done seamlessly and in real time. These sensors are even shown off as controllers, moving the displayed circle from one side of the screen to another.

While these videos have a clear “wow factor” to them, one industry watcher told the BBC it might be difficult for Disney to make a viable business out of these futuristic toys.

"So far the small number of other companies that have developed 3D printing methods have found that the resulting products end up being expensive and have targeted them at adult collectors, rather than children,” explained John Baulch, editor of Toy World Magazine.

3D printing may be the future, but for now, it seems it still has quite a way to go.