Researchers at Disney Research Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are experimenting with 3D printed optics using clear resin. Printed optics can create a variety of effects within 3D-printed objects, from focusing light within printed prisms to channeling light through honeycomb-like “light pipes,” which give the effect of individually lit pixels.
One of the examples of the new technology uses a mobile projector and internal light pipes to transfer projections through an object, giving a printed toy a pair of animated eyes. An obvious benefit of the technology is the reduction of electronic components. Entire toy lines that would normally require individual LCD or LED displays (and batteries) for animated parts could use light pipes partnered with a single mobile projector to accomplish the same effect.
One of the more interesting concepts involves a game of chess played on a tabletop display. As you move a chess piece across the board, its location is automatically sensed and displayed on the screen, which is then piped through its pedestal. The same technology could be used to display other contextual information, like suggested moves.
The researchers are also experimenting with embedded electronic components that are inserted into an object mid-print. By doing so, they can create components like buttons, dials, sliders, and LED bulbs that focus light, as well as accelerometers and touch sensors (that use IR emitters and receivers). The team says the technology will be implemented in a variety of interactive toys and devices in the future.
You can see this technology at work in the video below.