Mechanical engineers and computer scientists have developed a 3D printing technique that uses motion capture technology, similar to that used in Hollywood movies, to print electronic sensors directly on organs that are expanding and contracting.

The new research is the next generation of a 3D printing technique discovered two years ago by members of the team that allowed for printing of electronics directly on the skin of a hand that moved left to right or rotated. The new technique allows for even more sophisticated tracking to 3D-print sensors on organs like the lungs or heart that change shape or distort due to expanding and contracting.

The researchers started with a balloon like surface and a specialized 3D printer. They used motion capture tracking markers — much like those used to create special effects in movies — to help the 3D printer adapt its printing path to the expansion and contraction movements on the surface. The researchers then moved on to an animal lung in the lab that was artificially inflated.

They were able to successfully print a soft hydrogel-based sensor directly on the surface. The technique could also possibly be used in the future to 3D-print sensors on a pumping heart.

The research is a step forward to the goal of combining 3D printing technology with surgical robots. In the future, 3D printing could be part of a larger autonomous robotic system, which could be important for diseases like COVID-19 where healthcare providers are at risk when treating patients.

Watch a demo of the technique on Tech Briefs TV here. For more information, contact Rhonda Zurn at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 612-626-7959.