• October 10, 2016

Data to the Touch: 3-D Print Virtual Info

Mixed reality makes data tangible, unlocking new uses.

3-D printers give data a physical form, and that’s changing things fast. From replicating a murder victim’s fingerprints so police can unlock his phone for clues, to making a model of diagnostic data so a doctor can see the patient’s problem better, virtual data is becoming tangible in a new mixed reality.

Here’s a look at how innovative uses of 3-D printing are already changing how some people do their jobs and where industries might soon expect innovative or disruptive changes to their business processes and data management challenges.

Busting Crime

Police in Michigan recently turned to Anil Jain, a professor at Michigan State University, and PhD student Sunpreet Arora for help in 3-D printing a murder victim’s fingerprints from a scanned image. The police needed the fingerprint mold to unlock the victim’s phone and look for clues that might help solve the case.

No fingerprint mold made by ordinary means could unlock the phone, however. Even 3-D printing is hard-pressed to produce a mold that could work.

“Most fingerprint readers used on phones are capacitive, which means they rely on the closing of tiny electrical circuits to work,” reports Rose Eveleth in a Fusion post.

“The ridges of your fingers cause some of these circuits to come in contact with each other, generating an image of the fingerprint,” she wrote. “Skin is conductive enough to close these circuits, but the normal 3-D printing plastic isn’t, so Arora coated the 3-D printed fingers in a thin layer of metallic particles so that the fingerprint scanner can read them.”

The implications here are great for law enforcement, but not so good for security professionals since bad actors may soon be able to use 3-D fingerprint molds to fool biometric security readers.

Medical Marvel

3-D printers are already capable of printing human organs, but that’s not the only medical miracle this technology can pull off. Patients are printing their diagnostic data and taking the 3-D representations to their doctors so the physicians can better see the problem and plan surgery or other treatments accordingly.

For example, a man in England recently created a 3-D scan of his own kidney to help the surgeons who were operating on him to remove kidney stones.

“It makes our job easier going in,” surgeon Bhaskar Somani said in a BBC report. “The 3-D helps because it gives us a rough estimation of where to come from and to be more precise.”

The report also says that surgeons at that hospital use 3-D printing more often for “high-end” operations such as hip replacements, but doctors are now considering it for a broader range of surgeries.

In 2013, another man printed a 3-D model of his wife’s brain tumor, which helped surgeons save her sight.

Other patients can do this, too. There’s even a how-to guide in Make magazine along with a download link for the open source tool Slicer.

The implications are great for doctors and patients alike in improving patient treatments and outcomes. But there’s a security and privacy invasion danger here as well since 3-D printers are notoriously unsecured and thus medical imaging data is not protected on the device. There could be serious regulatory non-compliance issues for healthcare providers in using this tool.

Prepare for Mixed Reality

3-D printing will continue to grow as will its uses in most industries. The main drawback is data security. Fortunately, several security and data management companies are already tackling this issue, so be sure to add security to your company’s 3-D printers or secure the data being sent to them.

Otherwise, look for ways that mixed reality with 3-D printing can readily improve your business outcomes. This trend is new, but it’s gaining steam. Plan for it now so you can leverage it for the success of your enterprise.

Like this story? Read more about the 3-D printing revolution.