3-D printing is still crazy expensive. But as it gets cheaper, it's spawning a wave of bizarre tsotchkes. Here's an early candidate for Garden Gnome of the 21st Century: A model of your unborn child.
For about $1,700, a clinic in Britain creates the model in three stages: First, an ultrasound takes a 3-D picture of your child in utero. That picture is loaded into a 3-D printer, which then makes a physical model. In turn, that's used to create a bronze cast. And voila—a memento for your mantle that's just like bronzed baby shoes, only much, much weirder:
If you're not familiar with 3-D printing, it's a way of making 3-D models that's frequently used in industrial prototyping. It works by using an inkjet printer head to "print" an adhesive onto a layer of powdered medium (which can be anything, from corn starch to resin). Layer by layer, the printer builds up the model. Where prototyping used to be time consuming, hand-made, and expertise intensive, rapid prototyping is fast and democratic—which has led many to predict a wild future, not too far removed from those replicators on Star Trek, wherein an invention can become real "with the fluidity of a blog post." (Follow the link to watch one techno evangelist outline the technology's possibilities.) And judging by the example of the unborn-baby model, it should also spawn lots of...interesting...small businesses. Not a few of which will actually be good ideas.