The list of materials you can 3D print grows everyday. As the technology improves, researchers are working toward printing ever-more complex objects that have abilities beyond a normal hunk of plastic. Now, Microsoft has revealed a technique for creating coded “tags” within 3D printed objects. The tags can be scanned from the outside to identify the object or gather other encoded information.
In a Microsoft Research release, principal researcher Andy Wilson revealed the tags, known as InfraStructs, are printed as disruptions within the object. These could be holes or extra material. Like a barcode, different shapes communicate different information.
“It opens up new possibilities for encoding hidden information as part of the 3D fabrication process,” Wilson said in the release. “A lot of people see 3D printers simply as tools for rapid prototyping. We want to think about 3D printing more deeply and approach it as a research topic.”
The tags could be embedded with a serial number or simple program, making them ideal for retail and manufacturing, which currently rely on RFID tags, electronic chips and barcodes to track inventory. They could also be used for interactive gaming by having a computer scan for the presence of a physical object and integrate it into gameplay. By the same principle, robots could more easily interact with objects and directly receive instructions from them upon an encounter.
“Down the road, a program reads the object, and embedded within the object are further instructions, perhaps even code that can be read and compiled to further interrogate the object,” Wilson said. “We talk about the internet of things, and I would argue this fits into that vision.”
The tags are read with a scanner that emits radiation at wavelengths considered safe to humans. The radiation passes through the object and bounces back to the scanner, building an image of the object’s interior and revealing the disruptive tag. The technique will be officially announced Thursday at the SIGGRAPH conference in Anaheim, Calif.