Disney 3D Prints Electronic Teddy Bears

by Matthew Wellington on May 16, 2014

3D Printed Teddy BearUntil recently, plastic toys were just about the only three-dimensional objects that you could create for your kid using additive manufacturing technology.

This was undeniably intriguing because you no longer needed to buy every toy that your child needs.

One minor problem though, all the toys had to be fabricated using plastic and therefore could to some extent accidentally injure children when playing with them.

Disney Research has now advanced the technology of 3D printing further by coming up with a way in which soft wool-like objects, teddy bears if you like, can be made for kids to play with. The best part is due to the soft texture of such objects, they do not pose any kind of harm to your kid.

A team of 3D printing experts headed by Scott Hudson from the Human Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon University with the support of Disney Research invented a new 3D printing machine that has made all this possible.

This printer can print three-dimensional objects using soft fibers (wool) thus creating teddy bears. The idea is to use the 3D printing technology to create pliable objects that can be cuddled, for instance teddy bears. The team figured out that this could only happen if they came up with a way of printing objects using soft materials instead of the hard printing materials like plastic that have been conventionally used.

With this new printer, an electronic teddy bear can be easily created from CAD designs or other data. Basically Disney Research has used a similar concept to that of ‘Build-a-Bear’, only that now their idea provides room for greater applications, interactivity and design versatility.

How the New Printer Works

The new printer looks like a hybrid of a typical 3D printing machine and a sewing machine. The yarn used by the printer is built in the form of layers that appear like felt. The machine takes the wool felt and uses a sewing machine needle to attach one layer of the felt to the next successively until the whole object is created.

Like the conventional printer, the fabrication process begins by first having in place a CAD model or design that you would like to create an object from. Now once the design has been sent to the printer, the printer will start depositing layers of yarn and as it does this, the needle will be connecting every layer of yarn with the previous layer forcing down fibers which finally create a mass of fibers that will be in the form of the object which had been earlier on designed.

According to Scott Hudson, if the designer would like to have joints in the object to be printed, one should leave small gaps in the CAD model of the teddy bear. The gaps will not only become joints but will also determine places where the teddy bear will have more flexibility.

Just the same way one can create flexibility in the bear, Hudson claims that you can also increase the level of stiffness of the object you’re fabricating. This can be done by placing a layer of low stretching fabric within the print. If you do this, the fabric will naturally be felted into the body of the object you are making. Essentially the fabric will act as the ‘skeleton’ of the object making it more or less stiffer depending on the number of layers of fabric you had included in the print.

So the designer can always determine how stiff or flexible they want their teddy bear or cuddling object to be depending on what one would like to fabricate. Hudson also added that besides teddy bears, the printer could be used to create soft robotics, scarves and hats among other cuddly things.

New Opportunities

Albeit the printer is still in the prototype stage, there are a lot of potential opportunities that it is going to bring once everything falls in place, hopefully as planned. First of all, the printer will greatly extend the number of materials that can be used for 3D printing.

It will no longer be mandatory that you design an object that has to be printed by PLA or ABS plastic. Soft materials like yarn will now become suitable printing materials that you can consider for additive manufacturing.

A better chance of customization is yet another benefit that will come along with the new 3D printer for teddy bears. Buyers often have little choice when it comes to their own individual preferences of what their teddy bears should look and be like. Especially when it comes to the degree of stiffness and flexibility, most buyers are left with no choice but to go with what’s there in the market.

However once this new technology starts to reach into homes, consumers will be able to design their own customized teddy bears as they wish.

What’s more is the printer will heighten the level of interactiveness between kids and their teddy bears. This is because the technique that Disney Research has invented allows designers to embed Electronic Hardware into teddy bears and on top of that, make moveable appendages. Not to mention that Disney Research is also working on how they can embed teddy bears with 3D printed interactive speakers.

The end result will be fully customized teddy bears that can speak to your child, hug him and generally interact with him in a much better way that traditional teddy bears possibly could.

Additionally, purchasing a teddy bear for your child will eventually be mitigated in that you will only be purchasing a design online and printing the teddy bear in the comfort of your home. Moreover, when the toy eventually gets worn out, instead of going out there to make another purchase; one will be simply making another print. So it also provides buyers with a more convenient replacement option.

Upcoming Developments

When creating soft Robotics using the new printer, Hudson discovered that the objects showed reduced strength to forces applied perpendicular to the layers of the object than forces which were applied laterally.

To correct this flaw, Hudson announced that future creations may have to be injected with negligible amounts of a flexible adhesive. He and his team are therefore working on finding an appropriate adhesive that can provide the required degree of stickiness without resulting in a negative impact on the softness of the object fabricated.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Amit Arora May 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm

I love the idea of being able to make anything I like. Was looking at the new trailer for Big Hero and was really mesmerized.

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Jason King May 26, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I just watched it Amit and yes it’s great 🙂 Here’s a link to the trailer on YouTube if anyone wants to watch it… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vco0SpSz17g

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