Beyond the Hype and Hope of 3D Printing: What Consumers Should Expect
Apr29

Beyond the Hype and Hope of 3D Printing: What Consumers Should Expect

Share BY JASON DORRIERON   APR 29, 2014   The latest 3D printing Kickstarter smash hit, the Micro, raised its target $50,000 in eleven minutes. The Micro bills itself as the first truly consumer 3D printer—it plugs in with a USB cable, costs $299, and has raised nearly $3 million (and counting). In a quick survey, we recently counted no fewer than 35 funded 3D printer Kickstarter campaigns, and more were unfunded. CES 2014 featured some 30 3D printing booths. Even Martha Stewart is getting in on the action. 3D printing is hot, fires the imagination, and has all kinds of potential. 3D printing, however, is not for you. Or at least, that’s one prominent storyline. Beyond the hype, consumer 3D printers can’t make anything your heart desires—they mostly make junk, and there are only so many synthetic orange dinosaurs in top hats one person can collect. While this argument is true, after a fashion, the field is continuously improving. And not so long ago, affordable consumer 3D printers didn’t exist at all. The selection of desktop machines is growing. Desktop printers are increasingly available for around $1,000 or less. And setup is easier. Whether the printer connects by WiFi or USB, more printers are nearing plug-and-play. The Micro, for example, connects to your computer by USB. At 2.2 pounds, it’s lightweight compared to the3D Systems Cube at 9.5 pounds and more than that for higher-end models. Its auto-leveling and auto-calibration aim to reduce user intervention. The Micro’s software includes a touch interface for ease of use (though realistically, we wonder how many people will be using it with a touch screen) and allows users to shop 3D files online and store them in a library, ready to print. We won’t say it’s the “most” or the “first,” but according to M3D, their printer is comparatively quiet and power efficient. So, is it the first truly consumer 3D printer? We don’t know exactly what that means. If we did, we’d probably be rolling in dough right now. (Though the Micro is clearly on to something—they’re on pace to beat Kickstarter records set by Pebble and Oculus.) But what will it take for 3D printers to become standard household equipment like their less alluring 2D counterparts? Cost, speed, quality, ease, materials, and a reason to buy (that isn’t starry-eyed gear love) are a few key drivers worth tracking. First, cost. 3D printers in the sub-$1,000 range are often DIY machines (like the open source RepRap) requiring assembly. Pre-assembled consumer printers tend to be more expensive, like the 3D Systems Cube($1,300) or Zim (funded on Kickstarter) that will retail for about $899. The Micro,...

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New Method Points to Cheaper, More Flexible Wearable Computers
Apr18

New Method Points to Cheaper, More Flexible Wearable Computers

ShareBY CAMERON SCOTT   APRIL 18  2014 It could be easy to conclude, eyeing the number of Fitbits, Fuel bands and competitors in a roomful of people in London, New York or San Francisco, that wearable computing has already arrived. But wearables are at the stage personal computers were back in the days of floppy disks. To take but one problem: The wristbands that aim to monitor body processes don’t have a stable connection to the body. Flexible electronic componentry is one plausible solution, making it possible for wearable electronics to sit directly on the skin as an adhesive patch, for example. University of Illinois materials scientist John Rogers has pioneered flexible electronic patches in a series of influential papers. The trouble is, it’s taken years to amass the manufacturing refinements and economies of scale that make computer chips cheap enough for many of us to own several computerized devices, and using the new flexible parts would scuttle cost savings. So Rogers is now proposing a Plan B: a wearable electronic patch that incorporates standard silicon chips. The patch uses a microfluidic construction with wires folded to allow it to bend and flex around the rigid off-the-shelf chips. The patch doesn’t need wires for power, either, because it relies on a resonant inductive coupling charger. “Our original epidermal devices exploited specialized device geometries. But chip-scale devices, batteries, capacitors and other components must be re-formulated for these platforms. There’s a lot of value in complementing this specialized strategy with our new concepts in microfluidics and origami interconnects to enable compatibility with commercial off-the-shelf parts for accelerated development, reduced costs and expanded options in device types,” Rogers said in a news release. The latest patch is essentially a thin elastic envelope filled with fluid. The chip components sit suspended on tiny raised supports; tightly folded wires connect the electronics components, including power inductors, sensors and transmitters to track and communicate health data. Folded like origami, the wires can unfold in any direction to accommodate twisting and stretching of the patch while the chips remain in place. Cheaper than nanotechnology-based electronics patches, the computerized patch works as well as clunky conventional sensors like those used for EKG and EEG monitoring and picks up less noise than consumer fitness trackers, according to a recent study co-authored by Rogers and Yonggang Huang of Northwestern University and published in the journal Science. The researchers hope that it’s a magical combination that will let doctors get better data sooner, enabling them to provide better diagnoses. “If we can continuously monitor our health with a comfortable, small device that attaches to our skin, it could be possible to catch...

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Jason Silva’s Latest: To Be Human Is to Be Transhuman
Apr01

Jason Silva’s Latest: To Be Human Is to Be Transhuman

ShareBY JASON DORRIER   APRIL 1  2014 The term ‘transhuman’ inevitably (for me) summons grotesque visions of humans and machines merging into a Borg-like race bent on eradicating biological imperfection. These creatures’ cold rationality calls it an evolutionary improvement, but to my admittedly backward biological brain, it’s a terrible thought. I’d prefer a little less HR Giger in my future, thank you. In his latest Shots of Awe video short, Jason Silva says forget about Hollywood’s nightmare scenarios. Humans are, by definition, transhuman. We ceaselessly invent and reinvent what it means to be human. We circumvent biological evolution with technology. But that doesn’t mean we’ll one day wake up with metal and microchips grafted onto our bodies, emotion and individuality scrubbed, a node in the collective. And neither will hacking our biology produce generations of transhumans with three eyes, tiger claws, lizard tongues, and extra limbs growing out of their foreheads. We won’t generate such a future—unless that’s the future we choose. Quoting Edward O. Wilson, Silva says, “We have decommissioned natural selection, and now we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.” That sounds more like freedom to me. More like the messy, democratic process of competing ideas and inventions from which the future emerges. Will we become one with our machines? Sure, we will. We already have—cars, planes, smartphones, these ever present ‘machines’ extend our physical and mental reach daily. We’ve been merging with machines for as long as we’ve had tools. The Borg were supposed to be eons ahead of us, but their technology already looks hopelessly backward. Our technology is getting smaller, subtler, and more symbiotic—more elegantly and seamlessly absorbed into life’s fabric. If we ever do physically merge with machines or hack our DNA, the outward manifestation will be far less obvious than bodies bristling with surgical implants, heavy hardware, and random animal parts. Why? Because we have a choice in the matter, and few (if any) of us want to be techno-Frankensteins. Image Credit: Marcin Wichary/Flickr Source:  Singularity...

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