For decades, ‘Scotty’ has been a cult word for Star Trek fans. The word refers to the chief engineer, Mr. Scott, who always transported Captain Kirk back to his starship. Captain Kirk would say his catchfrase, “Beam me up, Scotty”, and Mr. Scott would teleport the captain back to his ship. Now, for the first time in the many decades of that beloved TV program, the word Scotty has found a new meaning. What are we talking about? Well, a group of German scientists from Hasso Plattner Institute – probably Star Trek fans as well – has successfully produced a teleportation system, using 3D printing.
Their system, described as the world’s first-ever teleportation system – consists of two 3D printers, one of them right in front of you, the other across the street, or anywhere in the world. The system does not literally transport an object, so in that way it is not true teleportation. It does, however, allow you to put an object in the first 3D printer and print it in the other.
The system works as follows: after you put the object in your 3D printer, then Scotty – or: a well-equipped MakerBot – fully scans the object and creates a digitized version of the object. The machine then destroys the original object – nothing of it is left – while, at the touch of a button, the connected 3D printer immediately starts printing the same object in the second location. The printers use a 3-axis milling machine, a camera and a micro controller to make this happen.
The big difference between these 3D systems, which just copy objects, is that with Scotty’s set-up, there was always just one object, one Captain Kirk. Also, of course, the object made on the second 3D printer will not be made using the material from the first object, since that will have been obliterated. A funny invention and a playful way of researching the concept of teleportation, but does it have any actual purpose? Why did the German team come up with this? Well, they say it can help preserve the uniqueness of an object, so when friends share an object there will always be one version, with one emotional value. Another advantage is that it can address some of the licensing issues in quick electronic delivery.
Human transportation could one day become a reality, as researchers claim the laws of physics do not forbid the teleportation of larger objects such as humans, but we will probably have to wait for many years before we can actually say: “Beam me up, Scotty!”
Image credits: Hasso Plattner Institute.