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Japanese inventor uses modified FDM 3D printer to 3D print plants in any shape and size
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By Alec | 3Ders

All the recent experiments with food extrusion printers have already proven that there's no reason why we should be limited to just printing plastic filament. Just recently, we even reported on the Edible Growth project, that explored the possibility of printing seeds and spores.

However a Japanese computer scientist from Tokyo has gone in another, equally intriguing direction. For Yuichiro Takeuchi, who works for Sony Computer Science Laboratories, has found a very interesting way to 3D print whole gardens, complete with any herbs and flowers you'd like to see.

And furthermore, these gardens can theoretically be printed in any shape and size you'd like (or have room for), making them perfectly suitable for desks, windowsills or even rooftops. Want a garden shaped like a teddy bear? Not a problem. However, the computer scientist from Tokyo who developed this technique, specifically envisions creations for rooftops.

As he explained to reporters from Business Insider, he hopes to install rooftop gardens throughout Tokyo to create an environment for a particular species: 'Here in Japan we love fireflies (they have a special cultural significance), but as they can only thrive in pristine environments we don't see them in dense, built-up Tokyo," he said. "I'm hoping that by installing a number of printed gardens on rooftops and walls throughout Tokyo, I can someday bring back fireflies to my neighborhood.'

But of course, plants and flowers have more functions. Not only do they brighten up our lives, but they produce fresh oxygen while sucking up carbon dioxide. It's also been proven that plants increase your productivity, making this 3D printing development interesting for just about any environment.

So how does this work? Well, Takeuchi used a modified 3D FDM printer to extrude a nutrient bedding for the plant and flower seeds to grow in. While it's not clear what kind of printer he uses to do so, his bedding of choice consists of yarn encasements that hold the plant seeds.

This special type of filament uses the hydroponic approach to growing plants: Rather than soil, this technique relies on a mineral nutrient material to enable plant life. A special attachment to the extrusion head then deposits seeds into the printed bedding.

Of course, this gardening technique isn't new at all. Several design botanists already use it for creating very inventive and beautiful gardens. One prominent example would be French botanist Patrick Blanc, who has achieved fame with his amazing vertical gardens.

Unlike Blanc's gardens however, Takeuchi's garden can be produced easily, automatically, and in every absurd size or shape you'd like. All you need is a modified 3D printer and a specific STL file and you're good to go.

This will also cost just a fraction of the amount you'd pay for a vertical garden. Even doing it by hand would be very labour-intensive, all which form major obstacles. As Takeuchi explained, his approach easily deals with all of these factors:

The printing solution takes away much of those hurdles, and also provides a high degree of flexibility (one can print out a garden that fits snugly into any designated space) which hopefully will make hydroponic gardening more attractive for citizen living in dense cities with limited space.

This cool adaptation of 3D printing technology is still in a prototyping phase. For now, Takeuchi is limited to growing relatively small plants and gardens, including watercress and various herbs. Unfortunately, his current 3D printer set-up is still too slow and small for large garden prints but the theory is thus already tried and tested.

But this could be changing in the future. Takeuchi was already turning heads at the greener future Sony CSL symposium, at New York's Museum of Modern Art. And in the near future, the Japanese computer scientists hopes to build a bigger, more efficient plant-3d-printer in over the next year. Perhaps we'll all be printing our own gardens in the near future?

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