Yoda model made with a 3D printer in Berlin earlier this year.
Yoda model made with a 3D printer in Berlin earlier this year.

Just weeks after the first gun designs for a 3D printer were released online, a university is challenging inventors to conceive of more peaceful uses for the new technology.

The 3D Printers for Peace contest has been launched by Michigan Technological University in the US, and organisers are encouraging entrants to "Ask yourself what Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, or Ghandi would make if they had access to 3D printing."

Although concern has been expressed in recent weeks over the potential of the printers to make weapons and fuel crime, the organisers want to draw attention to the potential of the devices to alleviate poverty, heal sickness, and educate.

Aspiring Edisons of the 3D printing age are invited to submit designs for "low-cost medical devices, tools to help pull people out of poverty, designs that can reduce racial conflict, objects to improve energy efficiency or renewable energy sources to reduce wars over oil, tools that would reduce military conflict and spending while making us all safer and more secure, things that boost sustainable economic development."

Already, the devices have been put to eye-catching and imaginative use. Recently, surgeons in Michigan used a tiny 3D-printed splint to save a baby's life.

The printers have also been used to make water testing devices and for recycling plastic, while the MakerBot company in the USA is attempting to develop a model of the printer fit for classrooms, and has argued for the enormous educational potential of children being able to model and print their own designs.

Organiser Joshua Pearce told Wired: "We want to encourage people to think about ways 3D printing can be used for the benefit of humanity. 3D printers are getting a lot of bad press because people are using them to make guns, which is unfortunate, because many designers are making wonderful things."

Some have argued that the devices have the potential to spark a second industrial revolution.

BBC business correspondent Peter Day has written: "The combination of the internet, broadband-powered interactivity and the 3D printer could create a new nimble industrial era of individualised, localised goods escaped from the grip of huge manufacturing companies with vast capital investments and cumbersome making and delivery processes."

Using a digital model, the printers are able to make a three-dimensional, solid object of virtually any shape using an additive process, in which material is added in successive layers. Though the first models were developed years ago, the digital revolution has made them more affordable and widely available than ever before.

Entrants are invited to submit their designs on the Thingiverse website with the tag 'Peace Contest' by the 1 September deadline, and the winner will be awarded a Type A Machine Series 1 3D printer worth $1,400 (£929).