Bike-mounted 3D printer turns trash into twinkling tokens

In Taipei, a group of young design enthusiasts have kitted out a bike with a computer and 3D printer to turn plastic waste into something useful -- and fun.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

Mobile Fab cycles to teach people to recycle. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

Mobile printers are shrinking in size as they grow in popularity. A group of young makers in Taipei has taken advantage of the smaller size of the machines to take the technology to the streets of their city.

"We wanted to do something to bring both recycling and 3D printing closer to average people," said Kamm Kai-yu, co-founder of the Taipei-based company Fabraft, according to Reuters.

So what they did was grab some design plans and open-source software off the Internet, build their own 3D printer, strap it to a bike, and pedal around town asking people if they could have their used plastic cups. The machine, which they called Mobile Fab, only works with No. 5 grade plastic (polypropylene), but due to the nation's fascination with a beverage known as pearl-milk tea, there are plenty of plastic cups around to be used as printing material, said Reuters.

Once the cups are in hand they're turned into a powder by a grinder on the bike, which the 3D printer then melts and uses as "ink" to produce gear-shaped tokens. The tokens are fitted with a flashing multi-colored light, creating a device that's meant to attach to the spokes on a bike. They're free to anyone who brings their own plastic, but those who want to turn their trash into a token have to wait about two hours for the machine to do its thing.

Kamm said that in addition to delivering a message about waste and ecological awareness, the goal of Mobile Fab is to spread awareness about technology.

"People learn from this process that a 3D printer can make what was once trash become useful and valuable," he told Reuters in the video below. "In the future they won't feel scared when they face it."

Kamm and this three colleagues are all in their twenties and hail from art and design schools. They said the next step for their company is to build a larger version of Mobile Fab which will help them continue to "pedal" their eco- and tech-friendly messages to the masses.