As additive manufacturing gradually improves its viability as a manufacturing process, its role as a prototyping technology can sometimes be overlooked or underemphasized. Rather than seeing its prototyping potential as a limitation, however, there are some who are looking to shine a spotlight onto this particular application of 3D printing.
A soon-to-be-launched exhibition at the Japan House in Los Angeles will be showcasing a number of prototypes made with the help of 3D printing and other digital manufacturing processes in an effort to highlight the importance of physical prototypes in the development of new and innovative products.
The exhibition, called “Prototyping in Tokyo | A visual story of design led innovation,” was initiated by Shunji Yamanaka, a professor at the Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo. Professor Yamanaka and his team of researchers are aiming to “contextualize the relationship between the artistry of Japanese craftsmanship and the science of prototyping technologies.”
Yamanaka himself has created a range of innovative products, including watches, cars and more, and is no stranger to prototyping. Interestingly, his recent research efforts have focused on exploring the relationship between humans and products, which has led him to developing such things as prosthetics and life-like robots.
Glimpsing into the future
To be launched on August 17th, the “Prototyping in Tokyo” exhibition will feature a range of prototypes, including the 3D printed Ready to Crawl robot, prosthetics from the Rabbit Project and the Apostroph Robot. In showcasing these physical prototypes, the organizers are encouraging visitors to interact with the futuristic products.
“’Prototyping in Tokyo’ is a rare opportunity to interact with a variety of prototypes,” reads the exhibition website. “The visitor experience will include discoveries linked to the growing potential for manufacturing made possible by 3D printers, advanced production processes and idea development archived through the presentation of picture rolls, recounting the stories of individual projects from their origin in messy prototypes, failures… and then finally, success.”
The exhibition itself will investigate three prototyping areas: prototypes of structure and movement, prototypes focused on texture and tactile sensation and projects centered on body extension. Through these categories, a total of seven prototypes will be presented, all of which incorporate an element of the Japanese aesthetic (a combination of simplicity, high technology and nature).
Notably, each of the prototypes presented will have been produced at the Yamanaka Laboratory at the University of Tokyo. The overall idea is to give visitors a glimpse into a possible future populated with bio-inspired robots, advanced prosthetics and more.
Articulated 3D prints, prosthetics & more
Among the prototypes to be displayed at the Japan House are the Ready to Crawl robots, a series of devices 3D printed in a single piece and which have the capacity to crawl and move when a motor is added to them. The articulated robots are designed to be printed with all their internal components and gears, enabling them to move right off the print bed. Visitors will reportedly be able to engage with the Ready to Crawl robots and see the different types of movements each one is capable of.
The Rabbit Project, which consists of a series of prosthetics designed for competitive track athletes, will also be featured at the exhibition. These advanced prosthetics are built to find a “harmony” between the human wearer and the artificial device. Notably, the prosthetics were designed specifically for Takakuwa Saki, a Paralympic athlete who competed in the London 2012 and Brazil 2016 Paralympics.
Another project which will surely interest visitors is a prototype of the Apostroph Robot, which was developed for the purpose of studying the physical movement and act of standing. The robot, which admittedly does not resemble a human or animal, consists of a curving, segmented body equipped with motors that help the structure to resist external forces. In other words, the sophisticated looking robot “performs organic movements” not unlike those of babies learning to stand and balance themselves.
Other prototype projects on exhibition will include a device called Clockoid and a project entitled Skeletal Automation: Archer on a Boat.
Japan House, which will be hosting the exhibit from August 17 to October 10, 2018, writes on its website:
“Prototyping in Tokyo exemplifies the thought process which gives shape to inspiration emerging from new technologies, and is a validation of the potential effectiveness of ground-breaking applications. At the same time, this exhibition reveals that the prototype can be a showpiece that clearly relates the value of technology to culture, as a bridge to the future.”