Curtin University students develop 3D-printable digital toolkit for life on Mars

Two Australian universities are among the participants of HP's Mars Home Planet project, which looks to solve obstacles in the way of supporting and sustaining human life on Mars through HP technologies.
Written by Jonathan Chadwick, Contributor

HP's Mars Home Planet project is reimagining what human life on Mars could be like for 1 million humans with the help of the company's technologies, including 3D printing and virtual reality (VR).

The project, which HP said has over 85,000 participants worldwide, brings together engineers, designers, artists, and students to address issues with a human colony on the red planet.

Product design students from Perth's Curtin University, one of two Australian universities involved in the project, have designed a digital library of physical tools and utensils that could be 3D-printed on Mars.

The team, led by Dr Qassim Saad, head of product design at the university, used HP's Jet Fusion 3D printer to print a nylon-based rock hammer prototype, which could be printed using a material better suited to the rough terrain and low gravity there.

Speaking to ZDNet at HP's Home Planet showcase in Sydney this week, Curtin's Rose Thompson, studying a Bachelor of Arts at the university, said her team of fellow students had originally begun considering how a toolkit could be transported and manufactured on the planet. From this, they developed the printable rock hammer as their final project.

"We had the idea that it was an evolving toolkit, so you can edit it on the fly as you realised what the limitations of the planet were," she said. "We went with a hammer as a final project as it's not just relatable, it has this sort of permanence through time; it's still used."

The 3D-printable library gives the added advantage of tools that can be broken down and reprinted as something else depending on tasks, which would save space and weight, according to Jacques Jenkins, also part of Curtin's research team.

"You're not just looking at the physicality of material, but also the human resources, space, volume ... it was to do with a lot of different types of objects. If you had a favourite mug, you could have a digital model [of it]," he said.

"Say you had to go to one part of Mars from another, you can't afford to transport all your bits and bobs, all that material can be broken down and recycled and then rebuilt at your new location."

Thompson told ZDNet that another Curtin student successfully 3D-printed his leg, after figuring that amputating someone's leg and replacing it with a bionic leg before they go to Mars could be more viable way of tackling the issue of poor circulation.

Other students considered how a funeral would take place; what kind of seeds could adapt to the fertility of the soil for food; and what sort of garments could be engineered to be stiffer at the joints of the body to help muscles work harder.

Melbourne's RMIT, the other Australian university involved in the project, has students working to design graphics for a virtual urban area habitable for 1 million people on the planet, based on terrain from Fusion's "Mars 2030" game, which uses research, images, and expertise from NASA research.

Content creators are using Autodesk design software to build 3D models, brought to life by the community of researchers, in VR on the HTC Vive. Immersive experience and visual effects developer Technicolor Experience Center is also offering creative and technological support to help complete projects.

According to HP, immersive technologies such as VR present "unprecedented opportunities" for STEM education in Australia.

"By 2030, 14 percent of the global workforce will have to change what they're currently doing, because their jobs are being replaced by things like automation, AI, and other digitalisation transformations," said Mark Fenson at HP South Pacific. "At the same time, 8 to 9 percent of the population will have jobs that aren't even discovered yet.

"At HP, we're not thinking of this as the downturn of the economy and so on; we're seeing this as inspiring our future leaders and how they can use our technology to create future benefits in populating Mars."


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