You’re playing a game on an obscure old gaming system when the controller breaks. What do you do? The obvious answer could soon be “print a new one.”
Brisbane-based startup Cartesian Co. launched a Kickstarter campaign today to fund a printer that prints circuits. The EX¹ can print on materials like plastic, paper and fabric, meaning it could print paper circuits and wearable electronics.
While the creators label the EX¹ a 3D printer, it’s not exactly building towering objects. Like an ink printer, it contains two cartridges. Each is filled with a chemical. The printer lays down a layer of each and they react to form strips of stable, conductive silver nanoparticles. Only the exact amount of each chemical needed is used, leading to almost zero waste and no dangerous residues.
Traditionally, creating circuits requires soldering–a messy process by which a hot tool, such as a soldering iron, is used to melt a small amount of metal. The melted metal is then used to join together two pieces of metal, such as different parts of a circuit board. Soldering is still common practice for the individuals who would use a machine like the EX¹.
“We want to make prototyping electronics as easy as 3d printing,” co-founder Ariel Briner said in a Kickstarter video.
The creators set a goal of raising $30,000, which the campaign hit around 11 a.m. today. Depending on when backers order the printer, it is available for $899 to $1,499. It will begin shipping in July 2014.
Printed electronics have appeared in consumer electronics for some time now, and researchers are still making progress. Microsoft Research and the University of Tokyo used an average inkjet printer and ink to print circuits on paper. PARC and NASA have teamed up to print electronics on plastic sheets that could flutter around on the surface of Mars to collect data. PARC is also looking into gravure printing, which would use large cylinders to roll circuits onto plastic.
As far as I can tell, this is the first circuit printer to appear on a crowdfunding site, readily available for anyone to buy. If it works, it will be an exciting option for small businesses and hobbyists looking to add electronic functionality to their creations.