New Attachment Lets You 3D-Print Your Own Gadgets

The Rabbit Proto lets 3D printers print conductive material for wiring alongside plastic, such as with this game controller.The Rabbit Proto lets 3D printers print conductive material for wiring alongside plastic, such as with this game controller.

Most consumer-level 3D printers can print only in various types of plastic — great for making decorations, props and basic toys. But a new device will let home inventors create or prototype electronic gadgets. Rabbit Proto clips on to low-cost RepRap 3D printers alongside the standard plastic extruder and can put down conductive material for circuits, thus allowing people to print devices with embedded electronics.

Rabbit Proto, developed by a trio of Sanford, Calif.-based engineers, can be preordered for $350 on its website, with an expected shipping date of July 1. But because Rabbit Pro is an open-source project, the creators say they will make their code and process freely available via GitHub.

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On its most basic level, the Rabbit is a syringe-based extruder that puts out conductive ink. It's designed to work in tangent with a plastic filament extruder, so that a 3D printer can create objects that are part plastic and part conductive material. In a YouTube video, Rabbit Proto demonstrates the device creating a functional video game controller in one printing session, with circuits embedded into the plastic.

Rabbit Proto prints a working video game controller.

The version available on Rabbit Proto's website is compatible with RepRap printers that have a motherboard that supports dual-extruders (such as a Rambo or Ramp motherboard). RepRap printers are a group of open-source 3D printers that can be purchased as a kit or built by hand, by assembling the component parts and following the publicly available instructions. Building a RepRap printer requires a bit of technical knowledge, but is also cheaper (usually costing around $400-$600) than purchasing a consumer 3D printer such as 3DSystems' Cube ($1,300) or MakerBot's Replicator Mini ($1,375).

Rabbit Proto says it's working on creating Rabbit attachments that are compatible with other types of 3D printers as well.

The Rabbit can print in any material that fits inside a 10 cubic centimeter (cc) syringe, but Rabbit Proto suggests using a type of conductive ink called Bare Conductive. The engineers have also used a material called silver filled silicon RTV, which is more expensive but also more conductive. On their website the Rabbit Proto engineers encourage people to try other materials as well. It doesn't even have to be conducive — they suggest putting chocolate in the syringe and using it to print edible constructs.

The $350 "Pure Rabbit" device, Rabbit Proto's basic package, comes with a syringe extruder, a gauge nozzle approximately 1.4 mm across, and one 10cc syringe of conductive ink. The website also offers the $450 "Super Rabbit," a combined two-nozzle extruder attachment, one that extrudes plastic via standard 3D printer filament and one that extrudes conductive ink or other material via the 10cc syringe.

Finally Rabbit Proto is selling a complete 3D printer for $2499 that comes fully constructed with the Super Rabbit extruder and 5 syringes of conductive ink. The website doesn't specify when these products will be ready to ship.

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