Printed Teddy Bear

Toys and other goodies made from plastic and metal are the mainstays of the 3-D printing process today. But what if you want to make something cute and cuddly?

Disney Research Pittsburgh and CMU are taking a softer approach to the popular technology with the development of a new 3-D printer that will craft everything from Teddy Bears to items of clothing like scarves and hats.

Scott Hudson, a professor in CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and a software designer, collaborated with Disney on the technology, which resembles a highly complex sewing machine.

Technically it works the same way as other 3-D printers. Designs are drawn on a computer computer and recreated, layer-by-layer, on the printer, Hudson says.

“Through a long an tortured path we came up with the notion of needle felting,” Hudson says. “We wanted to open up more of the design space (in 3-D) by allowing for a softer form. Where the makers will take this, I don’t know.”

Then again, with Disney behind it, it’s not hard to imagine.

The printer doesn’t yet achieve the same dimensional accuracy as a conventional 3-D printer due to the thickness of the yarn. It’s still a work in progress, he adds.

“3-D printing has caught a lot of peoples imaginations. But there’s also a lot of hype,” he says, referring to the small-scale consumer products that are abundant on the market.

An interesting idea might be to design a printer that can produce both fabric and plastic creations in a single fabrication, he adds. The idea behind the felter was to give fabric crafters new tools in the creation of clothing items and accessories.

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...