3D printed balloon shapes (with video!)

Novel approach to producing inflated shapes

3D printed balloon process, showing optimized and unoptimized figures

Making balloon animals (and balloon anythings) is about to become much cooler. That’s because a collaboration between ETH Zurich and Disney Research Zurich has produced a new approach to making inflatable shapes with 3D printed molds.

The traditional method of creating rubber balloons using a sculpted mold does not lend itself to complex shapes. But the method described by Bernd Bickel and crew instead uses models of uninflated shapes that can be computer-simulated to reach a target inflated shape.

Basically, by figuring out the “at rest” state of the balloon and 3D printing that as a mold, the inflated version can be a perfect shape instead of a blown-out, distorted version that would come from simply inflating a scaled-down model.

Have a look at this video comparison to see the difference between optimized and unoptimized shapes as they are inflated:

It’s a really interesting problem to solve! If you’d like to read the in-depth explanation, the paper is available as a PDF along with the full-length video here: http://graphics.ethz.ch/publications/papers/paperSko12.php

The findings are to be presented next month at Eurographics 2012. (Which makes me wonder if they’re actually supposed to be online yet – so read quickly. :) )

(via New Scientist)


Derek Quenneville is a 3D printing evangelist who posts weekly on the Ponoko blog. Follow him on Twitter @techknight.

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2 Responses to “3D printed balloon shapes (with video!)”

  1. macouno Says:

    This sounds more like someone found a neat way to predict shape distortion than something directly related to 3d printing in itself… Whether the mold is 3d printed or not doesn’t actually matter, though 3d printing will make prototyping these way easy… and perhaps the math can help us make our own balloons! I’d love to design some.

    Awesome cool stuff!

  2. Derek Quenneville Says:

    Yeah, it’s the uninflated shape simulation that is the most impressive, but it’s a use for high-end 3D printing that I’d never considered before. (They use an Objet 350 to make the molds with a soft, squishy material.)