Disney’s Getting Into 3D-Printing Soft, Cuddly Things

The world of cartoons is going to get a little realer

Actress Jodi Foster in 1985 with an interactive Mickey Mouse created the old fashioned way. © Bettmann/CORBIS

As 3D printing has progressed, this new technology has been pressed into the service of making everything from candy to living tissue. And, now, Disney has unveiled a new variation on 3D printing—a device that can print out what Diseney has been making in all forms since the very first sketch of Mickey Mouse: soft cute things.

The process works like this: A laser cuts slices of fabric in just the right shape, along with some supporting fabric. The printer heats up the layer to activate adhesive backing, so that it will stick to the other slices. Layers of conuctive fabic, sensitive to touch, can make for an object that's interactive.

Once all the layers are complete, the user removes the supporting fabric by hand and the object—a bunny, in the demonstration—can be hooked up to a computer or LED lights. Or just cuddled, if you're feeling old fashioned.

A Layered Fabric 3D Printer for Soft Interactive Objects

This is hardly Disney's first foray into 3-D printing. Last year, Disney showed off a method for sewing material around robotic components in what 3Dprinting.com called "a cross-over between a 3D printer and a sewing machine." Potential use: on-demand robotic teddy bears. The company's research lab has also invented a technique that scans and renders complex hair styles in 3-D printed figurines (including those sported by furry animals) and a method for 3-D priting interactive speakers in any shape. Looks like the makings of an even more realistic cartoon world.

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