This is the world’s tiniest 3D printer: no moving parts and smaller than a coin

MIT researchers have created, in collaboration with a team at the University of Texas, a 3D printer so tiny that it’s smaller than a coin

This is the world's tiniest 3D printer: no moving parts and smaller than a coin
Believe it or not, what’s on top of the coin is a fully functional 3D printer

Over the last few years, one of the devices that has become most popular among “geek” users are 3D printers, since these devices allow you to manufacture all kinds of small-scale products in your home such as figures, mobile phone or computer cases and even furniture, because there are already 3D printers that are capable of printing on metal.

Obviously, the main problem with 3D printers is their size, since you must have room at home to place it and you cannot take it with you on a trip. Well, we should rather say you couldn’t, because researchers have made the world’s tiniest 3D printer, a device that’s smaller than a coin and doesn’t have moving parts so you can carry it in your pocket.

The world’s smallest 3D printer fits in the palm of your hand

After making solenoids with a modified 3D printer, something that opens the door to making cheaper phones and cars, MIT researchers have collaborated with a team at the University of Texas at Austin to create a prototype 3D printer that’s smaller than a coin.

As the aforementioned researchers explain in a report published on the MIT blog, this 3D printer is equipped with “a millimeter-scale photonic chip that emits reconfigurable beams of light in a resin pit that cures and acquires a solid shape when light falls on it.”

Concept diagrams showing how the worlds smallest 3D printer works
Concept diagrams showing how the world’s smallest 3D printer works

One of the main reasons for the small size of this 3D printer is that it has dispensed with including moving parts, since “instead of using arms and motors to change the focal point of the beam, the prototype uses small optical antennas to move it and create the desired shape.”

This is a significant advance for 3D printers, as MIT professor Jelena Notaros says:

“This system completely rethinks what a 3D printer is. It is no longer a large box sitting on a bench in a laboratory creating objects, but something that is carried in the hand and is portable. It’s exciting to think about the new applications that could emerge from this and how it could change the field of 3D printing.”

Obviously, being able to carry a 3D printer in your pocket would open the door to a myriad of new uses, since, for example, it would allow a surgeon to scan a patient’s broken bones and print a custom bone implant using a biomedical resin.

If these researchers finally manage to turn this prototype into a final product, it is very likely that in the not too distant future we will be able to carry a 3D printer in our wallet along with the coins to use it when we need it.

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