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To mark and track 3D printed objects, boffins propose injecting them with air. Air itself isn't as well suited for expression as ink, but imprisoned in a stable medium like plastic, it can be arranged to convey data. In a recently published research paper, "AirCode: Unobtrusive Physical Tags for Digital Fabrication," Columbia …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Quite neat. Plays to the strengths of 3D printing

    IE, making cavities and pockets inside objects

    I had wondered about reading, but they are pinning that by imaging the object and looking at sub surface rather than sonar, which was my first thought.

    BTW these pockets are meant to be in undetectable by eye as they are too small.

    So potentially quite a useful addition to the 3D printing SOA.

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken


  3. DropBear

    If it's not supposed to visible by not being on the surface, I'm not sure I follow how exactly "projecting light" onto them is going to change that. I could see how looking at a nuclear flash _through_ the object might reveal any internal cavities, but I don't see anything like that mentioned, and anyway, it would create an awful lot of radioactive mess and disgruntled diplomats...

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      I guess if the surface is thin enough, and the flash bright enough, one could see dim spots where less light was reflected, having been diffused in the cavity?

      Or you use the newfangled CT (not sure what it means tho) that the TSA is using for laptops....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That's how I read it. They shine a bright light and the surface reveals a light/dark pattern.

        I'm wondering how hard it would be to have an ultrasonic surface-contact imager to detect the voids? That way it doesn't matter what the opacity of the material is. Also it might help with that highly-curved-surface reading issue, by allowing the voids to be placed deeper in the material, away from the convexity.

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      No nukes, just hyperlinks to follow

      It's in the original article. Light penetration depth varies by polarization and wavelength. When all things are in their naturally occurring states, the code is invisible. The difference between two photos, one optimized for the surface and one optimized for the desired depth, produces a clear QR code. The parameters for accurate scanning without human visibility are covered in great depth.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Structural Integrity

    From a structural integrity point of view, this seems like a very bad idea.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Structural Integrity

      seems like a very bad idea

      Very few 3D printed objects I've seen (including in the labs of a number of university engineering schools) would be troubled by this, because strength is not generally a key attribute of 3D printing. For all out strength you'd use different approaches such as precision injection moulding of particular plastics, make stuff out of composites, or use metal that's forged or cast (up to an including single crystal castings for stuff like turbine blades). There's some metal 3D printers used by the defence sector to do clever stuff, but even then the poiint is to save weight with mid strength components that couldn't be machined or cast.

      3D printing is a fantastic tech, it is improving all the time, and applications are growing with familiarity and technology improvements. But it doesn't look like being a volume production technique any time soon, and it won't replace existing approaches to make strong components.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Structural Integrity

        and it won't replace existing approaches to make strong components.

        Although I should add there's rumours of a certain aerospace company looking at the potential to 3D print the major form of entire aircraft wings as a single component - just add bracing and the parts that can't be printed afterwards.

    2. vir

      Re: Structural Integrity

      I can imagine the CAD software identifying a few candidate locations for watermark placement that are low-stress/low-strain where the porosity of the mark wouldn't be a liability.

  5. Pirate Dave Silver badge


    "The authors envision AirCode tags being used to encode hyperlinks associated with information about an object."

    So if there were just an available reader that could read these encoded hyperlinks. Since cat videos are such a driving force on the Internets, I say the reader should be shaped vaguely like a white cat and given away for free. I'm sure the public would flock to such hi-tech wizardry, and the market would explode in just 2 or 3 years. Sounds like a winning idea.

    1. Matt Collins

      Re: Hmmm

      Nice one, Pirate Dave... right on cue.

    2. PNGuinn

      Re: Hmmm

      I wonder how the public would feel if the white cat was to explode instead?

      Enquiring minds need an appropriate strategy boutique to do appropriate market research ...

      I wonder how the public would feel if a strategy boutique was to explode instead?

      Enquiring minds need to find someone with a singing whale capable of writing a proposal for a research grant ...

      I wonder how the public would feel if a singing whale was to explode instead?

      NURSE! Where are my jostick pills?

      Thanks - its the blood stained one with the lump of whale meat and petunias in the pockets.

  6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    "The authors envision AirCode tags being used to encode hyperlinks associated with information about an object."

    And how long will those hyperlinks remain active in comparison with the life of the object? We probably all have experience of older hardware or software where auto-updates fail because the servers are either gone or moved.

  7. TheElder

    Bright light

    Xenon flash tubes should work.

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