We have seen so many incredible collaborative efforts involving 3D printing over the last couple of years. Desktop 3D printers are limited in that only objects of a certain size are able to be produced in a single piece. Many hobbyists and designers alike tend to get around these limitations by printing larger objects in several pieces. This idea for printing an object in multiple sections has caught on, and recently an organization called WeTheBuilders has set out to crowdsource large 3D printed items by assigning a section of each print to each individual taking part. For instance, they have recently printed a 198-piece bust of Benjamin Franklin.
One initiative called the Great Globe Project has set out to crowdsource a massive 3D print of the world which will make WeTheBuilders’ projects look like child’s play. The initiative, which will be placed in the hands of primarily middle school students over an extended period of time, looks to 3D print a 1:100,000 scale model of the entire Earth. You may be thinking right now, “OK, big deal, 1:100,000 scale is tiny.” In fact, it’s not tiny at all when you are talking about a model of the Earth. Actually, the planned 3D printed crowdsourced Earth will have a diameter about the size of a city block and as high as a 42 story building (420 feet). Weighing in at a massive 3.5 million pounds, the globe will have a volume greater than that of the Empire State Building.
To further elaborate on the scale of the Great Globe Project, it will take approximately 10.5 million 4-inch 3D printed triangular tiles to complete. Every feature, both man-made and natural, which is larger than 30 feet will be viewable on this scaled down model of our planet.
So what’s the point of this project which will easily be the largest 3D printing undertaking ever? Education! This project will act as a class project for thousands, or perhaps even millions of middle school children worldwide. Each student will be provided a seven character tile area code (ex. H685739) which corresponds to NASA’s World Wind satellite and USGS map. This ID number will be used by students to access work on their virtual tile at the Great Globe website. The plan is to have 9 students work together on each of the 10.5 million tiles which will eventually be needed to complete this globe. They will model the tiles based on the physical details of the area of the Earth they have been provided, and then explore interesting facts about the area, entering this information into a database.
At this point the models will be printed on one of 200 color 3D printers located in schools, museums, and other areas. Once printed the tiles are sent to the students who then will put on the finishing touches by adding colored glazes. Each 4-inch tile is then attached to a mounting panel in groups of 81, making up a larger triangle panel measuring 3 feet per side. There will be a total of 129,000 of these panels, which will then form sections consisting of 9 panels. These 14,000 sections will then be combined to create the massive structure. Plans are to have an 8,000 seat auditorium surrounding the globe, which will rotate on its axis, turning once every 20 minutes.
The globe will be erected on a site outside of Phoenix, Arizona, and will hopefully become a tourist attraction as a way to promote worldwide education. It is estimated that the project will take around three full years to complete, and will be constantly revised as features on the real earth change.
One of the limiting factors of the project is the cost. It will cost approximately $50 for each tile made, a sum which is not affordable to many children, especially in developing nations. This cost will hopefully be covered via donations, grants, and other means of funding. Students and teachers from over 30 countries have already signed up to participate in this extraordinary project.
It should be fun to follow along as this project progresses. Let us know if you or your child have participated in any way, as well as your thoughts on what seems to be quite an ambitious project. Discuss in the Great Globe Project forum thread on 3DPB.com