Barack Obama: The first 3D printed president

White House Maker Faire 3D printing

Yesterday in Washington DC, the White House hosted its first ever Maker Faire. Claiming to celebrate “every maker – from the students learning STEM skills to entrepreneurs launching new business to innovators powering the renaissance in American manufacturing”, President Obama opened the festivities.

And one of the headline attractions of the day was a 3D printed likeness of the large-lugged leader of the free world himself, which will become part of Obama’s collection in the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery has housed paintings and sculptures of Commanders in Chief throughout the centuries, though Barry Obam’s is the first to be fashioned via additive manufacturing.

Whereas, traditionally, men such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington would sit for hours with their faces covered in plaster, breathing through straws, for their busts, lucky Obama sat for a mere five minutes while experts from the University for Creative Technologies used the ‘Light Stage’ scanner to capture his fizzog in crystal clear resolution, a technique they also use to scan Hollywood stars.

Obama 3D printed bust

Next, a team from the Smithsonian utilised 3D scanners and SLR scanners to add peripheral data to the model, before 3D graphics experts at software company Autodesk printed the final, high res bust, using selective laser sintering.

Obama 3D printing

Speaking about the process, Vincent Rossi, Smithsonian 3D program officer, said:

We 3D scanned the face, ear to ear, at extremely high resolution, capturing details down to the pore level of the skin. The Smithsonian team used hand-held structural light scanners to scan the rest of the bust – the sides of the face, under the chin, the back of the head. We put these two data sets together in order to create the model we used for the 3D print.

All reports from the scan session state Obama was fascinated by the 3D print process, asking constant questions of the team. Of course, it’s no news that the president is a fan of 3D printing, having mentioned the technology in his 2013 State of the Union address.

White House Maker Faire

The Maker Faire is yet another indication of just how seriously the White House is taking new manufacturing techniques. As it says on its website:

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. But in recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything.

Throughout the White House Maker Faire, visitors to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were snapping photos of themselves with the historic sculpture, which is now headed home to the National Portrait Gallery.

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