An MIT team develops 3D-printed tags to classify and store data on physical objects


CATEGORY: New advances BRAND: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Instead of standard barcodes affixed to products, these discreet labels are embedded within the interior of objects made using standard 3D printers

The concept, called InfraredTags, came about through a collaboration with colleagues at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and a research scientist at Facebook.


Instead of the standard barcodes affixed to products, which can be chipped or separated or become unreadable over time, these labels are discreet (due to the fact that they are invisible) and much more durable, since they are embedded within the interior. of objects made on standard 3D printers.


The researchers spent a couple of months trying to find a suitable variety of plastic that could pass through infrared light. The solution had to be found in the filament designed specifically for 3D printers. After an extensive search, they came across custom plastic filaments made by a small German company that seemed promising. They then used a spectrophotometer at an MIT materials science lab to analyze a sample, where they found it to be opaque to visible light but transparent or translucent to IR light, just the properties they were looking for.


The next step was to experiment with techniques for making labels on a printer. One option was to produce the code by carving small air spaces (representatives of zeros and ones) into a layer of plastic. Another option, assuming an available printer can handle it, would be to use two types of plastic, one that transmits IR light and the other, on which the code is inscribed, that is opaque. The dual material approach is preferable, where possible, because it can provide a clearer contrast and therefore could be more easily read by an IR camera.


The tags themselves could consist of familiar barcodes, which present information in a linear, one-dimensional format. Two-dimensional options — such as square QR codes (commonly used, for instance, on return labels) and so-called ArUco (fiducial) markers — can potentially pack more information into the same area. The MIT team has developed a software “user interface” that specifies exactly what the tag should look like and where it should appear within a particular object. Multiple tags could be placed throughout the same object, in fact, making it easy to access information in the event that views from certain angles are obstructed.


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