3D printing – a revolution on the horizon?

What an achievement, this is my (Christopher Roberts’s) 100th post on Technology Bloggers!

Thank you everyone for your support, I love writing here, and that is because of the fantastic community we have created 🙂

3D printers have been around for around 20 years now, however it is only recently that they have really started to show their true potential, both in industrial and now even domestic settings.

Thanks to the recent advancements in 3D printing, CAD designs can be constructed into physical prototypes (and in some cases now even final products) by 3D printers. 3D printers have the potential to revolutionise the way we live our lives, due the variety of possibilities they unlock. 3D printing could revolutionise architecture, product design, industry, education, and so much more!

What exactly is 3D printing?

Most people have access to a normal printer, be it black and white or colour, ink jet or laser. Those sorts of printers however, only work in 2 dimensions, they can print content in the dimension that is left to right, and the dimension that is forward to back. 3D printing adds in another dimension, up and down. Therefore 3D printing means that you can print in height, length and breadth.

Why is 3D printing important?

Some critics have speculated that 3D printing will be as big, if not a bigger revolution to industry, and the way we live our lives, than the internet was. The internet has opened up so many opportunities, but it is believed that 3D printing, could possibly open up even more!

For architects, it will mean that within minutes, they will be able to print on screen prototypes of buildings, so they have a tangible product to show the customer, in virtually no time at all!

For retail, 3D printing could mean that shops hold no stock, and products (less complex ones at first, but branching out in the future) could be made to order, on site! No longer would shops be out of stock, so long as they have material to print on, they can make new products, there and then.

For healthcare, the new printing capabilities will mean that body part replacements can be accurately measured, designed, and then printed. Yeah, printed bones! Just last month, it was publicised that the first 3D printed jaw had transplanted onto the face of a woman from the Netherlands. The jaw was matched to the shape of the patient’s original jaw, using CAD modelling, and then layers of titanium powder were melted into shape by the powerful lasers that make up the 3D printer.

How do 3D printers work?

Different 3D printers work in different ways. Some work by building the object slowly, layer upon layer in an upwards direction, whilst others work by cutting down into a material. The titanium jaw example from above was built by building upwards creating layers upon layers of material, from titanium powder fused together by laser.

What materials can be ‘printed’ on?

Currently you can ‘print’ on plastics, metals, ceramics, glass, and even certain malleable foods (such as sugars and chocolate). In the future that selection of materials is likely to be expanded, and some even believe that we could grow human bone, and then 3D print replacements – that is still a way off at the moment though!

Could you get a 3D printer?

Many firms are looking to capitalise on the decreasing cost of 3D printers, so much so that some companies are now offering (simpler) domestic versions for home use!

One firm selling 3D printers to the domestic market is the New York company MakerBot. Makerbot are offering a basic 3D printer, which can create plasic objects using CAD software, for $1,749 (around £1,100).

MakerBot's 3D PrinterIn an interview with the BBC, MakerBot’s chief executive Bre Pettis, claimed that the printer is “a machine that makes you anything you need” which is “handy in an apocalypse or just handy for making shower curtain rings and bathtub plugs.”

Mr Pettis also said he hoped to get his printers “into the hands of the next generation because kids these days are going to have to learn digital design so they can solve the problems of tomorrow”.

Another company, (called 3D systems) is offering its ‘Cube’ 3D printers at a similar price to Makerbot, marketing it as a tool to express your creativity. The company is currently working on an app that will allow users to use the Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor to create objects, simply by moving their hands through the air!

3D Systems 3D printer - Cube

Some of 3D Systems ‘Cube’ printers, prining 3D objects

3D printing is bringing to the global market a fast and increasingly affordable way of turning ideas into reality. No longer will the joys of flexible design be limited to those with CAD jobs and the luxury of a prototype department. There is now a big incentive for people to learn CAD techniques and how to use CAD software. Many countries are now investing in 3D printing technologies, as they can see the potential; IT jobs in the UK and abroad are likely to see big benefits from this.

3D printing is real, and it is here.

So, what do you think about 3D printing, will it revolutionise the way we live our lives – even as much as the internet did? Or do you think that it is a waste of resources, and that it will never really be cost effective enough to be used on a mass scale?

Technology and the future of work

Technology is always changing and advancing the way we live our lives, unless you are a luddite and live in an Amish community that is! Some people oppose technological change, and I respect them for that, but personally I embrace it – techie all the way!

Technology is likely to improve the way we do business significantly in the near future, but how? In this article I am going to write about some of the latest and greatest technology which is going to revolutionise the way we work!

Portable Laser Keyboards

Okay, so you may be thinking that we already have keyboards that are pretty portable, you can get role up ones that you can take almost anywhere. The problem with these is of course, they do take up space, and often they cannot connect to your smartphone or tablet.

The future solution to this problem is already here: The Magic Cube. The Magic Cube is a super portable wireless laser keyboard, which has been developed by a company called Celluon. It is basically a little box which can project a laser keyboard onto any flat surfaces, and then works out what you are typing by where your fingers break the lasers.

A wireless laser keyboard called the Magic Cube

The Magic Cube – a wireless laser keyboard

This is no ordinary keyboard though, it can connect via Bluetooth to most smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktops, so wherever you are, no matter what your device, if you have your Magic Cube, you have a keyboard!

Hand Motion Technology

In the very near future, we will be able to control screens using our hands, and not by touching the screen (that technology already exists) but by simply waving a hand in the air.

The 2002 film Minority Report featured futuristic hand motion technology where detectives could push images off to the side and bring up more content just by waving their hands in the air. This was in the movie, because the film makers heard that the technology was being developed.

Better Integration

In the future we are likely to see much better integration of all technologies. Mainly thanks to the likes of cloud computing and improvements in wireless technology, it should become easier and easier to transfer files from device to to device.

Apps

Smartphones and tablets have and are still revolutionising the way we do business. Smartphones and tablets have significantly improved the way we do business and communicate, but it is the apps that you can download onto them that are likely to significantly change the way we do business in the future.

We already have apps that can scan and store your business cards, store details on your asset and save your important documents, but in the future you can expect many more effective, impressive apps. Some examples of apps which we may see developed in the future (or that are being developed now) are the likes of more powerful, real time translators, high performance graphic design apps, apps which make paying, transferring and receiving money much easier, human quality text to speech apps, and many more.

QB Robots

A US based company called Anybots have created a very cool little robot called QB, which uses the latest in wireless technology to create a portable webcam, so when conference calling, you almost feel as though you are in the room (thanks to your movable position) with your colleagues.

Anybots QB Robot

The head of one of Anybots wirelessly controlled QB robots – notice the webcam eyes and screen inbuilt into the head

The robots have freedom of movement, so they can go anywhere in the office. On the head section of the QB, there is a webcam, so that you can see what the robot sees, and a screen, so you can be seen by those in the office.

QB means that you can be anywhere in the world, and yet still check up on those in the office, meaning that working out of the office is so much easier than ever before! QB could also help to significantly reduce the costs to businesses of travel, as fewer employees will need to be on the move.

3D Printing

3D printing is a new technology, which some critics say will be as big a revolution as the internet! 3D printing will allow firms to print products to order in store, bringing huge savings to firms in terms of transportation. Some predict that by the end of the decade, 3D printers will be a common household object, where we can print things, in 3D out of a whole range of different materials. I plan to write an article in the near future about 3D printing, so stay tuned!

UPDATE: I have now written that article, and it can be found here: 3D printing – a revolution on the horizon?

So, the future looks very exciting, but what do you think of it? Have you heard anything that I haven’t?

Five changes in video conferencing for the next decade

The collapse of the global economy has left big business needing to cut costs in every coroner it possibly can. For many executives the solution lies in finding high tech alternatives to many of the most costly aspects of business. One of the most effective ways this is being done is through video conferencing.

The constant stream of meetings and sales pitches being presented all over the world in the flesh accompanied by high priced business class air fairs and four star hotel rooms are coming to an end. More and more organisations are looking to replace this with video conferencing, making international meetings a far quicker and cheaper process.

As the quality of video conference technology improves and the experience gets closer to that of a real life encounter the adoption of video conferencing technology is only going to become more wide spread.

Video conferencing is already available in extremely fast frame rates at full HD resolutions, but what else can be done to help make the form of communication seem more real. What are the technological developments we can expect in the next decade?

Skype's Logo

Skype can be used as a video conferencing tool

1 – Translation software

With video conferencing making global operations affordable for even smaller business, more business are going to be looking to have presence over seas and this will call for low cost translation services.

Translation software is quickly developing; two years ago we saw the iPod app that used it’s camera to instantly translate any written text, and this will quickly be combined with high quality voice recognition technologies that are become standard on the new generation of smart phones. We are not far off software that will quickly and efficiently translate the spoken word.

2 – Holographic projection

Previously the types of light needed for this kind of projection were too hot to be used in the kinds of small devices available in offices. However laser lighting means that holographic projectors will soon be able to be built small enough for not only office use, but could also be built into many portable devices such as smartphones.

Flash memory in smart phones could soon be replaced with a new storage format based on this technology, holographic memory. This will greatly increase storage capacities as the same area of a storage device can be used multiple times by projecting the light at different angles, read speeds will also become much faster as holo-memory can be read from many different points in parallel. This eliminates many of the large file size issues that have been hindering the spread of video technology

3 – Video takes over from the written word

As high quality webcams become more standard features on modern netbooks and better integrated with communications services such as Facebook, it is expected that people will begin to move away from writing emails and instead compose video mail instead.

For many a video message is quicker and easier and also seems more personal, now that it is as easy as clicking a button on Facebook to send one it is only a matter of time until they over take emails in the frequency with which they are sent for personal communication. The paper trail that emails leave behind may mean it takes longer for them to be used in business.

4 – A rise in personal broadcasting

YouTube videos are increasingly becoming an entertainment format that rivals television. The content on You Tube that is produced by individuals or very small companies is now genuinely entertaining yet far cheaper to produce than more traditional formats. With cost cutting becoming more essential these lower budget forms of entertainment are only going to increase. This could shift the way the entertainment industry is structured with more talent choosing to run there own company and be there own boss broadcasting themselves over the web.

5 – Increased usage of Telehealth

Also expect to see the medical industries developing more technologies based on video conferencing which will allow doctors to diagnose and treat patients from a distance. Telehealth hardware is already on track to be a $990 million market by 2015 and predictions are that this will continue to $6 billion five years after that.

At the moment telemedicine technologies are very much focused on developing countries, where there are shortages of doctors in rural communities. As telemedicine technology improves though it could be adopted in the west too allowing anyone to be treated by the best doctors in the world, no matter there location.