This is fantastic – but I cry out for more information on it!  This machine (by Markus Kayser) uses Fresnel lenses and solar powered motors to focus the light and heat of the Saharan sun on to the moving bed of sand – melting it as it travels and forming a crude glass.  The bed is lowered, another layer is sprinkled and leveled, and the sintering, 3d printing, sun-worshiping, dance goes on.  But I have questions!

This I know – what I don’t know is the strength of some of these creations!  In the video above, you can see the designer/inventor prints a bowl – and then picks it up with cloth covered hands.  Is this because it’s covered in spikes of primordially sharp glass, or because it might fall apart in his grasp?  I’d considered using the heat of the sun to 3d print objects in sand before – but I didn’t know what the strength would be like.  Could we use this to print building bricks – alleviating the need for clay firing in an environment short on combustible materials?  Or would those bricks shatter into striated shards the second they went under load?

The creator admits that his machine isn’t the answer – but that it’s a promising step on the road to answers.  I agree.  I applaud what he’s made, and hope that new, better machines will follow in the footsteps of this one.

Imagine, for example, a series of intercommunicating wheeled robots – you release them into a sandy area with a design and they work together – one or more sinter the sand with magnifying glasses, while others collect bucket fulls of sand to make the next flat layer, and provide ramps up and down the working area for access.  If one small robot cannot focus the light to a high enough temperature – 1723 degrees Celsius (3133 F, or 1996 K) – then have an array of satellite robots that focus and then beam their light to collecting robots on the sand itself.  Need a big structure?  Sinter some support/retaining walls for the sand beds in thin glass, ready to be broken and the excess sand released afterwards.  Or, with a very clever balancing robot – just have it bring its own sand supply with it – dropping it and melting it in place.  You could print houses.

It’ll be possible soon, if not already – swarm robots are coming to the point of usefulness, and 3d sand sintering has been shown above.

(Seen over at Make:Blog)