A group of engineers at Disney Research in Pittsburgh has demonstrated a range of new 3D printing techniques, allowing for the integration of elements such as displays and sensors into cheap, printed objects. The new approach takes advantage of recent developments in the types of materials that can be employed in 3D printing, focusing in particular on "high resolution transparent plastics with similar optical properties to plexiglas."
The key is the simplicity and cheapness of the manufacturing process
In the example pictured above, a set of "light pipes" embedded in the chess piece maps to a projector on the board, allowing the king to display its current position. Compared to the possibilities of a conventional LCD, the demonstration may not seem impressive, but the key is the simplicity and cheapness of the manufacturing process — as the researchers explain, it forms "part of our long term vision for interactive devices that are 3D printed in their entirety."
Aside from simple displays, the process can also be used to produce a variety of sensors, using changes in a path of infrared light to detect movements such as the touch of a button or the turn of a dial. Check out the video below for a visual demonstration of exactly what is possible, as well as some simulations of future applications.