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Jaw-dropping things you can make with 3-D printers

Source: Princeton University

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Human ears

This isn't your average ear. It's a bionic human ear that can pick up audio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability.

The idea came from a Princeton University team led by assistant professor Michael McAlpine that used 3-D printing because standard-tissue engineering couldn't replicate biological structures.

The team made the 3-D ear from a hydrogel, calf cells and silver nanoparticles that form the antenna. The cells developed into cartilage, replicating a human ear and encasing the electronics.

McAlpine told CNBC that while researchers are excited by the potential medical applications, they are primarily focused on a new concept of enabling augmented capability in even healthy humans. Such a system could be used in conjunction with other printed organs to create a human cyborg, he said, adding that the project is not being commercialized at this time.

The ears, he said, could enable "sixth sense" sensory inputs enabling direct electrical communication with electronic devices such as laptops and cellphones, he said.

Lux Research believes the medical applications of additive manufacturing could be worth $1.9 billion by 2025.

"The biggest opportunity are surgical and orthopedic implants," Lux Research Associate Anthony Vicari told CNBC. Companies such as Oxford Performance Materials have already received regulatory approval and have applying the technology commercially, he said.

Source: Princeton University