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Tubes Can Help You Make Interactive 3D Printed Objects

When you are making, do you 3D print sculptures or 3D print equipment that will need wires and sensors and lights? If it's the latter, you'll want to read about this new work from the Autodesk Research team called PipeDream that helps you easily put tubes into your models and extend the potential of your creations.

Autodesk Research 3D Printing Pipes
A 3D Printed Radio with Tubes for Controls

In the above example, you can see a 3D printed radio with tubes in it for the speaker, volume, power and tuning controls. Below is another example with tubes added into a desktop pen holder. Smaller tubes at the bottom have spaces for sensors to determine which pens are present. This kind of idea could be expanded to a work shop for tracking tools.

Autodesk Research 3D Printing Pipes
A 3D Printed Pen Sensing Container

PipeDream is some new research that has been prototyped within Autodesk Meshmixer.

Autodesk Research Meshmixer Tubes Pipedream
Looking at tubes in Meshmixer

When creating pipes in your models, you are presented with a number of possibilities:

  • Would you like to specify surface points where the tubes should start and end (like in our examples above)?
  • Woud you rather specify a specific path through the object to make neon lights or a marble maze?
  • What is the radius of the tube and does it very over the length?
  • Does your tube connect two points or does it radiate like branches on a tree?
  • Would you like your tubes to be capped so that you have a cavity in your object?

Capped pipes to make a cavity in an object?

Here's an example of a 3D printed bunny. This bunny is printed in a soft, pliable material. The cavity works as an air bladder so that the bunny can breathe with the help of an air pump. The air coming from the bunny could be used as a feedback mechanism in a toy or a teaching tool.

Autodesk Research 3D Printed Pipes Bunny
This bunny is connected to an air pump to simulate breathing

The cavity in a soft printed object could be fitted with other feedback devices like a noisemaker, buttons for lights, haptic buzzers, accelerometers and sensors to determine if an object has been touched.

Another great example is creating pathways for lights and wires. In the example below created for the 2014 UIST (User Interface Software and Technology) Symposium, the letters are connected to make a continuous path. With this continuous path, a neon sign can be created.

Autodesk Research 3D Printing Pipes UIST


Adding tubes to models that will be 3D printed opens up a lot of possibilities. One other interesting thing we tried was to fill the tubes with conductive paint instead of pushing wires through the tubes. This allowed for easily powering LED's in our models.

To see more of this technology, you may watch the video below or refer to the PipeDream research paper on

If you are at UIST, please stop by to talk with the team. If you would like to share your thoughts on this technology or have questions about it, feel free to let us know here on the Autodesk Research blog.



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