Many equate the 3D printer as being the earliest form of a real-life teleporter—or transporter, if you prefer to get your science from Star Trek. The only problem is that you're not actually moving an object from point A to point B, you're just creating a duplicate somewhere else. So "Scotty" might actually be the next step in developing a working transporter, since it goes the extra mile to destroy the original object.

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Developed at the Hasso-Plattner-Institut, Scotty is actually made from a pair of off-the-shelf MakerBot Replicators that have been modified to include a 3-axis milling machine, a camera, and encryption hardware that allows the pair of 3D printers to communicate securely.

The object being sent is placed in one of the 3D printers, which uses its camera to snap an image from overhead. The image is analyzed and sent to the other 3D printer, which creates its first thin layer.

What makes these modified 3D printers unique is that the sender machine then uses a mill to grind away a thin layer of the original object being sent, which it then photographs and analyzes again to generate the data for the next layer to be 3D-printed on the other machine. This process continues until the original object is completely milled away, leaving only the 3D-printed copy in the second machine. Voila, it's been teleported.

The quality of the copy isn't perfect, however. The process of simply photographing an object, layer by layer, instead of scanning it in 3D first, results in the relocated object looking kind of like a photocopy of a photocopy. The Scotty system will need to be further refined when it comes to how it generates the copy on the other end before anyone seriously embraces it. But the potential is definitely here.

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Scotty's creators imagine the setup being the perfect tool for people buying something on eBay, but not wanting to wait a week for it to arrive in the mail. The purchased object could be scanned and destroyed by the seller, leaving just the duplicate that instantaneously arrives via the buyer's 3D printer.

It could also help solve problems with copyright and questions of ownership that have been raised with the advent of 3D printers. The music industry was up in arms when Napster arrived, as it allowed users to share infinite copies of a song for free. And while you can't just download and 3D print yourself something like an iPhone just yet, there are concerns that as the technology matures, that could one day be a reality. But with the Scotty system in place, endless copies aren't a problem.

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When it comes to making science fiction's teleporters a reality, the Scotty concept sounds like it's a step in the right direction. And while FedEx and UPS probably don't have to worry about being supplanted yet, as these researchers refine their creation, there's hope that filling out complicated waybills might one day be a thing of the past. [Stefanie Mueller - Scotty]