An interesting research project out of MIT shows that it’s possible to embed machine-readable labels into 3D printed objects using nothing more than an FDM printer and filament that is transparent to IR. The method is being called InfraredTags; by embedding something like a QR code or ArUco markers into an object’s structure, that label can be detected by a camera and interactive possibilities open up.
One simple proof of concept is a wireless router with its SSID embedded into the side of the device, and the password embedded into a different code on the bottom to ensure that physical access is required to obtain the password. Mundane objects can have metadata embedded into them, or provide markers for augmented reality functionality, like tracking the object in 3D.
How are the codes actually embedded? The process is straightforward with the right tools. The team used a specialty filament from vendor 3dk.berlin that looks nearly opaque in the visible spectrum, but transmits roughly 45% in IR. The machine-readable label gets embedded within the walls of a printed object either by using a combination of IR PLA and air gaps to represent the geometry of the code, or by making a multi-material print using IR PLA and regular (non-IR transmitting) PLA. Both provide enough contrast for an IR-sensitive camera to detect the label, although the multi-material version works a little better overall. Sadly, the average mobile phone camera by itself isn’t sufficiently IR-sensitive to passively read these embedded tags, so the research used easily available cameras with no IR-blocking filters, like the Raspberry Pi NoIR.
The PDF has deeper details of the implementation for those of you who want to know more, and you can see a demonstration of a few different applications in the video, embedded below. Determining the provenance of 3D printed objects is a topic of some debate in the industry, and it’s not hard to see how technology like this could be used to covertly identify objects without compromising their appearance.