PARC — home of the laser printer, ethernet, the graphical user interface and the Alto computer — is best known for its role in Silicon Valley’s past. But in late July, a window in the belly of the center’s Palo Alto campus provided a look at the future: printable electronics that could someday go into space.
The window led to PARC’s clean room, where bodysuit-protected researchers milled about while a printer the size of an office copy machine whirred. For three or four months now, a PARC team has been working with NASA on printing heat and light sensors that would be ideal for environmental sensing on the surface of Mars. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory lead researcher Kendra Short said that eventually they’ll be able to print other types of electronics that take in solar energy, communicate wirelessly and more.
The electronics are printed on thin plastic sheets. Ideally, they could be released on Mars and flutter about on the surface over a wide area. Information such as heat or light would be picked up by the sensors and then communicated wirelessly back to Earth.
“We’re sort of building it up piece by piece, starting with design,” said Gregory Whiting, a member of the Electronic Materials and Devices Laboratory at PARC. “For space applications in particular, our sort of dream is we’d like to do some tests outside of Earth. We’d like to put things on rockets and see if we can measure useful things and if they’ll stand up to the right environments.” …
Every Thursday is #3dthursday here at Adafruit! The DIY 3D printing community has passion and dedication for making solid objects from digital models. Recently, we have noticed electronics projects integrated with 3D printed enclosures, brackets, and sculptures, so each Thursday we celebrate and highlight these bold pioneers!
Have you considered building a 3D project around an Arduino or other microcontroller? How about printing a bracket to mount your Raspberry Pi to the back of your HD monitor? And don’t forget the countless LED projects that are possible when you are modeling your projects in 3D!
The Adafruit Learning System has dozens of great tools to get you well on your way to creating incredible works of engineering, interactive art, and design with your 3D printer! If you’ve made a cool project that combines 3D printing and electronics, be sure to let us know, and we’ll feature it here!