Back in March of last year there was a story doing the rounds from the guys over at the Objet blog, they’d 3D printed a “fully functional” keyboard using their Digital Materials. Unfortunately some folks with an actual fully functional keyboard and twitter were quick to point out, for something to be functional it has to work and seeing as there were no electronics in the keyboard it couldn’t be classed as such.
The argument slightly missed the point, what the guys at Objet were able to produce mirrored the tactility of an actual keyboard in one print - soft and hard materials combining. But what if they could actually print the electronics too?
That concept could now be realised with the release of Rabbit Proto, an add-on for desktop FDM machines that prints conductive traces within 3D prints. The Rabbit Proto can plug into most open-source plastic extrusion systems and, without interrupting a print, will print the conductive ink into your object.
“Our goal is to be able to print a functioning 3D printed object with embedded electronics with just a single click of some software." - Rohan Maheshwari, Roboticist at Rabbit Proto
Though the Rabbit Proto syringe system could work with anything that fits in their 10cc syringe such as foodstuffs, they've been working with Bare Conductive's ink, which is perfect for capacitive touch sensors. As in the demonstration video above this is perfect for something like a game controller, which is encased in plastic but requires touch.
Because the device works with the printer and its axis, it can be plotted out easily to make complex conductive patterns into the 3D print itself. A user simply has to incorporate the system into the CAD data, export via Repetier Host and the printer will print with the conductive ink at the correct times much like printing with a dual extruder.
The Rabbit Proto is available in three forms; you can buy it on its own for it to be fitted onto your current printer for $350, with an attached filament extruder head for $450, or go all out and buy a fully assembled 3D printer complete with Rabbit Proto for $2,499.
Though Rabbit Proto are focussed on prototypes as it is only printing conductive ink, not actual electronics, it theoretically could had a whole new dimension to 3D printing for interactive displays and wearable tech. The extruders will be shipping mid june so we look forward to seeing what the community does with the tech.