The Dutch Queen opens a 3D-printed bridge in the red light district with a robot arm.

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That is one eye-catching headline.

It appears to have been generated by a neural network trained on Elon Musk tweets and Black Mirror episodes, but Queen Máxima of the Netherlands ceremonially unveiled a 12m (40ft) long steel bridge in Amsterdam’s red light district on Thursday, the world’s first 3D printed bridge.

Technically, the Queen did not do the task personally, but rather pressed a green button that caused a robot arm to cut a ribbon to commemorate the bridge’s inauguration. While that may seem strange in isolation, considering the world-first nature of the bridge and robotic wire-and-arc additive manufacturing (WAAM, since everyone likes a stupid acronym), it was more symbolic than anything else.

When printing a structure, WAAM employs gas-metal arc welding to deposit layers of metal, which is a considerably quicker process than constructing with powdered metal. In this example, the end result is a one-of-a-kind design that appears more sculpted than manufactured, which Tim Geurtjens of the fabrication business MX3D described as a significant advantage in making more unusual designs simpler to create.

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“If you want to have a really highly decorated bridge or really aesthetic bridge, suddenly it becomes a good option to print it,” he told AP. “Because it’s not just about making things cheaper and more efficient for us, it’s about giving architects and designers a new tool – a new very cool tool – in which they can rethink the design of their architecture and their designs.”

The bridge has also been outfitted with sensors, allowing Imperial College London researchers to monitor the structure’s response to use as well as the pressures of pedestrians crossing it.

However, Amsterdam councillor Micha Mos had higher hopes for the bridge, thinking that the 6-ton construction would assist with perception and image of the region. “This may attract a new type of visitor, one who is more interested in architecture and design, which will help change the way the neighbourhood is perceived as more of something you want to visit, but visit respectfully, than it has been in the last few decades,” he told the Associated Press.

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If it’s going to do so, it had better start doing so quick though — the bridge is only set to be in place for two years while the location’s previous bridge is being renovated.


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