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Using 3-D Printing To Give Us A Tactile Glimpse Of The Past

Much of the conversation surrounding the emerging technology of 3-D printing is concerned with how it could deliver us the future–of everything from medicine to architecture. But a new restoration project explores how 3-D printing can change our relationship with the past.

With her project “Smart Replicas,” Dutch design researcher Maaike Roozenburg is using 3-D printing to create replicas of pre-industrial ceramics, allowing museum-goers to touch and hold versions of objects they’d normally only look at from behind glass. The “smart” part of the project’s name is revealed when visitors pull out their phones, which uses an augmented reality app to overlay animations and text and play period music that presents the viewer with the object’s historical context.


The app lets viewers “discover stories about the tea cups,” see “animations in which the decorations on the original historical cups come to life and tell little fairy tales,” or a layer of information “that shows the route […] and inventories of the ships and trade companies that traded these cups,” says Roozenburg.

To avoid touching the objects, Roozenburg used a 3-D scanner to create a computer rendering of each cup. Then, the data was reconstructed as a 3-D CAD model, which can be fed to a 3-D printer.

Roozenburg recently presented replicas of seven tea cups from the 17th century at the Object Rotterdam Design Festival, culled from the collection of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. In May, she’ll give a final presentation at the museum itself to test the prototypes.

Follow along with the project on her blog, here.

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