3D printing has given us new ways to prepare meals, create scale product prototypes, and has a variety of uses in medicine. Even Staples has joined the 3D printing revolution and is now offering 3D printers in its stores so you can avoid a big up-front hardware investment. Disney Research hopes to make a splash in 3D printing with new toy technology, and has developed ways to create soft, snuggly teddy bears along with interactive speakers that are also toys.
Generally speaking, the things 3D printing usually gives us are hard and plastic. Disney wanted to create something soft and cuddly and figured out a way to print teddy bears. They started by getting rid of the printer’s plastic spools and replaced them with felting yarn, creating something that’s sort of a hybrid between a 3D printer and a sewing machine. A needle in the printer pushes through the yarn and sews it all together, and while the sewing isn’t precise because of the thickness of the yarn, with a teddy bear, that shouldn’t matter.
Disney has also created a novel approach to toys that use speakers. Usually, a toy with a speaker can only produce sound in one direction because the speaker is a separate component inside the toy. Disney figured out a way to print the speaker out as the toy, meaning the speaker and toy are the same thing. These toys are also interactive, thanks to the ability to go into the ultrasonic range (which we can’t hear). This means you might get a ducky that quacks just from its mouth (while the rest of the toy remains silent). Or maybe a monster toy that emits a terrifying rumbling sound from all over.
The secret to Disney’s speakers is that they don’t work like standard speakers. These 3D printed speakers don’t need moving parts. After printing, the speakers get a layer of nickel paint, followed by the attachment of electrode plates. These plates vibrate when exposed to a current, which creates sound. See how they work in the video below.