3D printed self- replicas: personal digital data made solid
Brendon McNaughton offers customers the opportunity to use their MRI heart scans to create a larger-than-life model of their hearts covered in shiny 22-carat gold leaf; enabling them to display their literal ‘heart of gold’. 3D ultrasound imaging is now being used to produce life-sized figurines of human foetuses for their expectant parents to hold and display. A Californian company calling itself ‘3D Babies’ offers this service, as well as fabricating newborn infant replicas using photographs supplied by the parents. These replicas are marketed on the company’s site as offering an ‘artistic sculpture for your display case’, ‘memorabilia for baby’s room’, centrepiece for baby shower’, a way to ‘share the news of your pregnancy’ or to use at a ‘gender reveal’ party (3D Babies, 2014). The family photograph has been reimagined in 3D, with services now offered for family members to have themselves scanned and then generated as figurines for display in the home in place of the traditional professional family portrait. It is easy to envisage people collecting figure replicas of themselves to mark important events, and to track children’s physical growth and changes over their life course (from in utero onward, if services such as those offered by 3D Babies are used). Indeed, such uses have already been promoted by the companies who offer these services. The 3D Selfies website (3D Selfies, 2015), where the tagline is ‘Revolutionizing the American Portrait’, argues that replica figures of children can demonstrate their growth as well as memorialise children’s favourite activities. The website displays examples of children dressed in sporting outfits with sports equipment, at birthday parties, recitals, confirmation ceremonies and bar or bat mitzvahs, in ballet garb or fancy dress. Customers are encouraged to partner with their children’s sporting teams, dance schools, schools or scouting
organisations to sell the figurines, using a Kinect device or a scanner that works with an iPad to generate scans for printing. Other examples of self-replicas on this website include fabricating figures of pregnant women, people dressed in their military uniforms, people engaging in holiday events, for use as trophies and generating the replicas at corporate events as a keepsake for attendees. Several of these companies provide self-replica figurines solely from digital photographs that customers send to them and, therefore, do not require 3D scanning technologies. Some companies allow customers to edit the figurines or busts that they generate. The FaceGen company’s website offers services whereby customers can upload a digital image of their face and then manipulate it by changing the facial expression, skin colour, gender or age and adding facial hair or a different hairstyle. Customers of Cubify can scan in their face, choose a body prototype from the range offered by the company and then generate a figurine with their own facial features. The body prototypes include sports models such as beach volleyball player, surfer, swimmer and soccer player, costumes (rock guitarist, super-heroes, mythological figures, ninjas, pirates), jobs (doctor, police officer, firefighter, teacher), occasions (wearing formal wear, wedding dress, graduation robes) as well as a range of Halloween-style ‘horror’ outfits. Customers can then choose from a range of body sizes and height to make the model look more like themselves. The Choc Edge and 3D Selfies companies offer users the opportunity to generate edible self-portraits or figurines in chocolate. A variety of 3D printing companies offer services whereby people can have their faces superimposed onto Star Wars, GhostBusters and Star Trek figurines of their choice. Figure 3.2 shows some of these types of self-replica figurines on display. Sexual activity, human genitalia and pornography have also been the targets of 3D printing initiatives. An enterprising Japanese artist, Megumi Igarashi, who specialises in artist portrayals of female genitalia, sought to raise money for her new art project by offering on a crowdfunding platform CAD files of her vulva for fabrication by customers. She was arrested by Japanese police and spent five days in jail on obscenity charges (Sevenson, 2014). Some people are dispensing entirely with the artistic impulse, scanning their genitals to give as gifts to their sexual partners. The sex toy industry is experimenting with 3D printing, promoting designs for sex toys that may be customised and made at home. The Makerlove website provides a range of free designs for download and encourages people to submit their designs to share. The Eroticart-shop company provides opportunities for customers to order customised body replicas of well-known female porn stars. These replicas may be fabricated as nudes or dressed in various provocative outfits. Another form of 3D printed embodiment is that which uses digital data about the functions or activities of bodies rather than their appearance. Exploratory work on the part of some human-computer interaction research teams has begun to generate 3D objects created from digital biometric data. Researchers from The Exertion Games Lab at RMIT in Melbourne, for example, have experimented with using 3D printers in different ways to materialise personal body data. In one project, Edipulse, the team has fabricated chocolate using 3D printers and digital data of people’s self-tracked heart rate following physical activity (Khot
et al., 2015). Based on each individual’s data, the 3D printer makes a customised chocolate in the shape of an emoticon or words providing encouraging messages (such as ‘U Rock!’). The thickness of the sweet or the number of letters completed in each message varies according to the data (high levels of physical activity generate thicker chocolates, and a longer length of exercise produces a greater number of words fabricated). Different emoticons are printed out based on the intensity of exercise. Another project by members of the Lab, SweatAtoms project, involved five different material manifestations of participants’ physical activity fabricated on home 3D printers. These artefacts included a 3D graph of heart rate data, a flower shape where the length and width of the petals represent heart rate duration and intensity, a frog shape that changed in size according to the amount of physical activity carried out that day, a die representing the six zones of heart beat data and a ring displaying the number of hours the person was active (Khot et al., 2013). The idea of such projects is to materialise personal bodily data in a way that people find more accessible than two-dimensional graphical representations or simple metrics. Some commentators have speculated that digital data could inform such practices as customised food fabrication, in which a person’s physical activity or body weight data informs what type of food their personal kitchen-based 3D food printer makes for them (Lipson and Kurman, 2013).