If you haven’t seen HBO’s Westworld, you’re missing out on a lot of awesome 3D printing.
The show itself explores what happens when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware. And the human tendency to test the boundaries with technology without fully contemplating the consequences.
But 3D printing makes it all possible.
The science fiction series is based on Michael Crichton’s movie of the same name. There’s a similar plot, too: the robots running a theme park become aware of the differences between themselves and the humans who visit.
The plot reflects contemporary culture. After all, we’ve already proven worldbuilding isn’t enough to entertain us. The massive Marvel Cinematic Star Wars universes demonstrate that. In Westworld, we’ve taken it a step further – we want to be able to experience our favorite fictional worlds ourselves.
The Tech is What Set the TV Series Apart from the Original Movie
Though many might consider the technology shown in Westworld to be far-fetched, it really isn’t. Much of it is already here, just not as developed as it appears in the show.
We’re immediately exposed to 3D printing in the opening credits – snippets of the process of creating the “hosts,” robotic androids featured in the Wild West-esque theme park.
The show’s setting switches often from the park itself to the subterranean labs and offices where the park is managed. 3D printing features prominently as the backdrop for many of the lab scenes.
The producers even used 3D printers to keep up with the demand for period costuming throughout the show’s filming.
How It Resembles Modern 3D Printing
The show’s producers actually wanted to use a technology in the series that would be recognizable to viewers. But they also wanted the technology to be undeniably futuristic.
The printing processes used look like extrusion (fused deposition modeling or fused filament fabrication) and stereolithography. However, the printers themselves are nothing like the machines currently used in these two printing methods.
We have already developed ways to 3D print organs and bones, even graft 3D-printed skin on burn victims. Right now researchers are focused on perfecting these technologies for use in medical applications. Replicating these to create real-looking organs for robots isn’t a priority… yet.
What Separates Fiction from Reality
There are two aspects of 3D printing that separate the technology shown in the series and modern-day practices.
The First is the Material
Scenes depicting the manufacture of the “hosts” show a flexible white material like photopolymer resin used in printing the androids. Different steps of the manufacturing process are shown throughout the episodes. For example, at one point you see muscle being attached to bone by one machine while another machine dips the androids into a white liquid to coat them in “skin.”
This material seems to be able to offer both the structure of bone and the flexibility of muscle. It also has to incorporate some sort of neural pathway or electrical circuitry to give the androids their ability to move and speak, and a capillary-like system to carry blood (believe me, the androids have blood). There is nothing available currently that can print all of those parts at the same time.
The Other Aspect is Time
The machines printing the hosts move faster than current 3D printers. Much faster. It looks like they may be able to print a whole new host in a matter of hours.
3D printing speed at this time varies depending on the material and process being used. The speed shown by Westworld’s printers is aided by the use of moving robotic arms, which do exist right now, but in very limited usage.
A Glimpse Into Our Future?
With rudimentary forms of the show’s technology already here and 3D printer manufacturers working to develop faster printers and a wider range of 3D-printable materials, it may not be long before a real-life Westworld comes to be – or, at least, Westworld’s androids.
And if technologies such as these are made possible by 3D printing, what will be the impact on society?