Byline: Stuart Dredge
Will.i.am thinks we will be 3D printing human beings in the future, although his comments were met with scepticism from biology experts. Perhaps a better starting point would be teeth.
That's the sole purpose of a new device called the Objet260 Dental Selection, unveiled this month by 3D printing firm Stratasys.
However, the realistic teeth, gums and nerves that it prints out aren't destined for the insides of people's mouths any time soon: instead, they're models for dental specialists to poke, prod and show to patients when explaining procedures.
Stratasys sees the new printer as "closing the loop in digital dentistry" in the way it takes a digital file produced by an intra-oral scanner used by a dentist and turns it into a "colour, multi-texture dental model".
The printer uses the company's own PolyJet dental materials, promising "life-like gum textures" and various shades of colour in the resulting models.
The creation of teeth, gum and nerve models is just one example of the emerging uses of 3D printing technology in the medical sector. Among the more ambitious aims is the ability to print types of human tissue, and ultimately entire organs.
In August 2014, research firm IDTechEx claimed that the dental and medical market for 3D printers will expand to $867m ([pounds sterling]523m) by 2025, although it suggested that if "bio-printing" pieces of skin, liver and kidney becomes a commercial reality, the market could be several times that size.
Overall, research firm Gartner expects 2.3m 3D printers to be sold in 2018, with more than three quarters of the 3D printing market's revenue coming from industrial use, rather than people buying these devices for their homes.
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