President Obama stepped away from the White House Maker Faire last June to take in a novelty: A bust of himself printed out of plastic, created from a scan of his body.
This bust, to be specific:
The bust was created using handheld scanners, one of the two ways in which the president's likeness was captured. The other involved an array of cameras and lighting that looks remarkably high-tech but, by the time your grandkids see it, will seem as dorky and out-of-touch as footage of those eight-winged airplane prototypes. Such is life.
But text descriptions aren't always helpful. The White House published a video of the process Tuesday that does a better job explaining (and showing) the process.
The idea appears to have come from the existing life masks of presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Those were created by applying plaster directly to the presidents' faces, resulting in a one-of-a-kind re-creation of the facial features. Two of Lincoln's life masks have been digitized by the Smithsonian already, however, letting you manipulate them in 3D space.
The bust is an artifact of the "third Industrial Revolution," according to Tom Kalil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It's a relatively trivial application of technology that holds real promise. A few days ago, NASA began 3D-printing objects in outer space -- meaning that astronauts have the ability to fabricate new objects from where they are, instead of needing to be resupplied from Earth. (At least for small plastic widgets or, like, iPhone cases.)
The 3D model of the president doesn't appear to be available online yet, which is too bad, because enterprising 3D-printing wizards could get to work doing things like making sculptures of Obama riding a dinosaur while holding a rocket launcher. I mean, that already exists, but the likeness of the president isn't very good. (You can make a Lincoln-riding-a-rocket-raptor model if you want, though, from these files.)
Eventually, the bust pictured above will be added to the National Portrait Gallery. And once the 3D model is released, you too can print out a copy of President Obama to add to your own Neighborhood Portrait Gallery. The future is now.