While 3D printing’s applications are almost limitless for some reason I never thought I would ever hear about 3D printed skin. To my surprise researchers at the University of Liverpool are developing synthetic skin that can be produced on a 3D printer and matched to a person based on their age, gender and ethnic group.
Liverpool researchers have enlisted the help of the University of Manchester to develop a 3D image processing and a skin modelling technique that can copy a person’s skin so that it appears natural, whatever light it is shown in.
Currently it is possible to print synthetic skin in one tone, but this does not reflect the diversity of the surface which in real life will be patterned by freckles, veins and wrinkles. Natural skin takes on a different shade under varying light conditions, while synthetic skin currently doesn’t.
The researchers first task is to perfect a 3D camera technology that captures geometry and takes different light levels into account. They will then develop a unique image processing technique that can almost exactly match an individual’s skin tone and skin texture under varying light sources.
A database full of 3D images of skin types taken hundreds of people will eventually be built up. This will then be used in more remote areas or in countries where access to calibrated 3D cameras is difficult. 3D printers, however, are relatively cheap so with access to a bank of skin types and a printer, medics could still produce a close match of skin type chosen from a large database of designs.
“The human visual system is extremely sensitive to small distortions in skin appearance, so making a convincing synthetic version will be essential whether this technology is used for emergency or cosmetic medicine.” said Dr Sophie Wuerger from the Perception Group in the University’s Institute of Psychology.