3D printers work by laboriously printing objects layer by layer. For larger objects, that process can take hours or even days.
But now scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have found a shortcut: a printer that can fabricate objects in one shot using light - and which could, potentially, revolutionize rapid manufacturing technology.
The research, published in the journal Science yesterday, describes a printer the researchers nicknamed "the replicator" in a nod to Star Trek.
It works more like a computed tomography (CT) scan than a conventional 3D printer.
It builds a 3D image by scanning an object from multiple angles, then projects it into a tube of synthetic resin that solidifies when exposed to certain intensities of light.
In two minutes, for instance, the team was able to fabricate a tiny figurine of Auguste Rodin's famous "The Thinker" statue.
The replicator might have groundbreaking implications, but it does have some inherent limitations as well: the objects it produces are small, and require special synthetic resin to produce.
But it's an exciting new technology - and one that could lead to a Star Trek future.
Source: Victor Tangermann, Futurism