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NASA Game Changing 3D Printing success really matters

Last night I tweeted a link to the Press Release from NASA regarding their success with  testing a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing, or as we say these days,  3D printing. What surprised me was the reaction I got via re-Tweets, messages and people just saying ‘wow!’. I think what caught people’s attention was the potential highlighted by the success in NASA’s test, the potential for manufacturing and for business.

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Last night I tweeted a link to the Press Release from NASA regarding their success with testing a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing, or as we say these days,  3D printing. What surprised me was the reaction I got via re-Tweets, messages and people just saying ‘wow!’. I think what caught people’s attention was the potential highlighted by this success for NASA. Great science, great technology but I’m also heartened by the potential for manufacturing and for business.

Conducted at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland  this demonstration may lead to more efficient manufacturing of rocket engines, saving manufacturing costs and radically changing the time to develop, test and deploy new or spare parts in an industry that demands the highest quality manufacturing imaginable. The tests, using selective laser melting manufacturing technology, a practice that uses high-powered lasers to melt and fuse metallic powders into strong 3D structures. illustrates the capacity to design, manufacture and test critical rocket components. Goddard’s problem long ago became NASA’s – the work required in trajectory optimisation for safe and reliable flight could even be reduced as stronger compounds are 3D printed into components capable of sustaining more and more G-force at time of launch.

“NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by ‘printing’ tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft”— Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator, space technology

I’ve been rambling on for a year or so about the success of YouTube in democratising entertainment and how it’s helped slash the cost of program making, given power back to creative program makers and provided a platform for those with something to say. Yes, there’s a good share of dross and inanity, mainstream media has it’s fair share also, but the potential is undeniable.

In a similar way, 3D Printing is about far more than printing Skylander characters for your nephew, although entertainment and consumerism will probably drive the price reduction of consumer 3D printers over the next three years,  However, what’s exciting me is the prospect of prototyping and small scale manufacture for small businesses at a fraction of the cost once required. As a start-up owner, if your biggest concern is raising $10,000 to get a prototype of your new idea made, your business may never get off the ground. If though, you can 3D Print a prototype with different textures, colours or features you could prove a concept fast without a large outlay, and find yourself pursuing the end-goal quicker.

Sites like ShapewaysSculpteo and Ponoko are already providing this service and yes, if you need 10,000 vases manufactured quickly you will find it cheaper to have them made in China, but if you need 10 vases to prove the concept, do PR and garner the opinion of your family, 3D Print Bureaus are the best, fastest and most cost-effective option. Companies like Irish based Mcor Technologies, and New York’s MakerBot with their Replicator 2 are two of the most interesting companies in this industry. Makerbot was was recently acquired for over $400 million by Stratasys, a maker of industrial 3D Printers who have now added a consumer line-up to their portfolio – putting them head to head again with old foe, 3D Systems.

MakerBot’s Replicator 2 is easy to use and, in its second incarnation, a true consumer 3D Printer that’s helping to power the ‘Maker Movement‘. Despite being essentially a consumer product it has a good sized build-envelope – or volume – available to build your models, almost 400 cubic inches using the plastic filament Polylactic Acid (PLA). Mcor Technologies’ Iris Colour printers, incredibly, use paper – really, the same paper you buy in a ream and put in your laser printer, to build remarkable and durable models, and given the source material, at a significantly lower cost than other 3D Printers and with a lower impact on the environment. In an announcement earlier this year, Mcor and Staples announced that the Iris printers will be used exclusively in Staples Experience Centre’s that will amongst other business services, make 3D Print services available to the public with the first Experience Centre recently opening in Amsterdam.

I bumped in to Mcor co-founder Dr. Conor MacCormack a couple of months ago one Sunday morning on my way in to do Technology in Business on Newstalk and Conor was on the way out, but he graciously took some time to show me the models he’d been discussing on air with Bobby Kerr. Radio could never convey the most remarkable quality of the models – the texture. In particular, I was enthralled with a skull. Printed in colour and brilliantly detailed I couldn’t get over how it felt, almost as if more than three dimensions were at work. Since then Mcor have demonstrated just how durable printed parts can be – have a look at the ‘paper’ bottle opener video on YouTube above.

When you consider the accessibility of printers from MakerBot, the durability and low-cost operation of printers from Mcor and the precision of NASA’s requirement you see that 3D printing is a technology that can liberate some industries, consumers and entrepreneurs. NASA’s Game Changing Division has a small budget, around $150 million last year – but they may just have completed a project of immeasurable value that could impact not only the space program but the world of business.

The ability for precision manufacturing has been proven beyond doubt by sharp minds at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, and wide-spread accessibility and cost-effectiveness has been proven by MakerBot and Mcor. Seldom wrong, technology investor and sage Mary Meeker said we need to re-think everything these days, these guys already have.

External links & references

  1. 3D Printing is rewriting the manufacturing manual
  2. Mcor Technologies
  3. MakerBot – Replicator 2
  4. NASA Game Changing Division Press Release
  5. 3D Print Bureaus online : worldwide

Robotics

We Prefer Robots, That Wag Their Tails

Humans like looking at each other’s faces. If we want to figure out if someone’s happy or sad we get our clues from the face. Robot researchers tell us that robots, are different.

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Humans like looking at each other’s faces. If we want to figure out if someone’s happy or sad we get our clues from the face. Robot researchers tell us that robots, are different.

Canadian student Ashish Singh and professor James E. Young have looked at whether humans can accurately figure out the “feelings” of a robot vacuum cleaner. They took a standard iRobot Roomba, the best known brand of home vacuum robot and gave it a fluffy tail that wags – just like a dog.

We’re pretty sure that iRobot vacuums don’t have feelings but Singh’s research shows that once we see the robots wagging their tails, in a happy family-pet way we understand that they’re working as planned.

The Manitoba University student says that a dog-like tail “seemed to be a nice, clear choice—even people without dogs or cats may be able to read some tail motions, so we decided to formally investigate that.”

Professor Young compared the idea of looking at a screen to find out how the robot’s operating versus seeing a familiar visual signal, like the tail wagging, “With a dog tail that projects a robot’s state, you could be preparing dinner and just see the robot going by from the corner of your eye,” he said. “That would let you quickly know how the robot is doing, whereas a screen would probably require training to understand and sound would be intrusive.”

2013-DogTail-LidRemoved

It turns out, according to the team’s research, that whether we own pets or not, we can all identify whether a robot is happy or not, just by how it wags its tail. Professor Young’s team went on to look at how we would feel about the next generation of robots, humanoids if they had tails. It turns out that we may not want our robots to be that human, after all.

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Technology

Revolution Vinyl USB Turntable

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Retro, or vintage is everywhere. From clothes to food, we can’t get enough of the past. And even technology has seen a retro revival. Original Apple I computers sell for a fortune at auction and retro style games are finding audiences with the children of parents who played the original versions. The turntable is one piece of tech that seen a huge resurgence in interest, and audiophiles whooped with delight earlier this year, as Technics re-released the iconic SL-1200 turntable.

If you don’t have the budget for a fancy high-end turntable though, Elyxr Audio are trying to make the vinyl record resurgence fun, but accessible. Their Revolution Turntable attempts to fuse two worlds by combining an entry level vinyl turntable with USB recording, at an affordable price.

I unpacked the box to discover a small, 1950s style suitcase. Opening the suitcase reveals the Revolution Turntable in all its retro-glory. Packaged in the box was as power lead and an RCA to 3.5mm jack cable which lets you connect the turntable to a hi-fi system or media Player.

Once powered up, the turntable has a few modes to choose from. I unearthed a couple of old vinyl records from the attic and put one on the turntable. The standard speeds remember are 45 and 33rpm for albums and singles, but the turntable will also play 78s, should you have inherited some along the way. Switching speeds is easy as the player has a dedicated speed button, as well as controls for switching modes, a nice old fashioned circular volume control dial and an auto-stop switch. There are four easy to see LED bulbs on the top of the device that let you see easily what mode you’re operating in.

Once I’d set the mode to Turntable mode, there was a short re-assuring crackle from my old Police album and, then Sting and Co burst in to action. The turntable has a useful auto-stop function which stops the player from wearing out in case you get distracted as you’re listening, but you need to return the arm to the rest position once the record’s finished playing.

If you have music that you’re already recorded on a USB memory stick you can insert the key, switch to USB mode and use the player to play back your MP3 music through the turntable’s speakers, with the previous and next buttons on the player navigating through the music on the memory stick.

The record mode utilizes both the vinyl and USB elements of the player. Pressing record mode will start recording on a USB stick that’s been inserted. Once inserted and recording, set the record playing and the music from your vinyl will be recorded, directly as a single track on to the attached USB device. There is also an option to record an album as individual, or split-tracks, tracks, which is more useful when you’re playing back later, on a different device.

The Revolution turntable has two other useful modes. The first is a simple line-in mode, allowing you to connect a 3.5mm audio cable to an audio or MP3 player and that music will be played through the turntable’s speakers. The feature I used the most though, was the line-out functionality. Packaged with this gadget is an RCA cable, which connects to the back of the device and the other end goes to a small headphone jack, which I was able to plug in to my digital home-audio system. Using this set-up, I was able to play vinyl records and enjoy the enhanced audio from my digital set-up, for a deeper sounds, but with the traditional characteristics of vinyl.

This is a well made device with exceptional styling. The sound it produces is not audiophile quality but it’s decent given the entry level price. Overall, it’s a clever way of combining new and old tech, and with the living room lights dimmed it’s the perfect way to relive some old musical memories.
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Technology

3 Gadget Breakthroughs Coming To A Surgery Near You

Tara Purcell

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There’s a lot of doom and gloom associated with the future and of technology’s ability to marshall the human spirit and lead us to a better time to come. But, just when you think it’s all apocalyptic robot cults and people being run over by driverless cars as they walk around with VR headsets on, you get a few reminders of how much tech can be used to help mankind. To redress this balance, we’ve found a few mechanical medical marvels that have come to light in the last while.

Stem Cell Cartilage Is Being Grown In Awesome Goo Labs

Using a 3D scaffold, scientists have begun growing cartilage from stem cells for use in human patients, and have done so with a fairly enchanting beige blob of goo that could one day work as a prosthetic replacement for socket joints, such as the human hip. Moreover, they’ve programmed the artificial joint to “release molecules on demand to keep the arthritis at bay” which is so epic we can barely believe it.

CRISPR Gene Editing To Begin Human Trials

Crispr is a form of gene editing technique that is a so sophisticated, people are already saying it may spell the end of certain cancers and genetic disorders within the next generation of scientific application. Memorably covered in a particularly fascinating edition of Radiolab, CRISPR is now due to start human trials, which is good news for us, bad news for pesky diseases.

Scientists Can Cure Blindness (Partially, and in Mice)

Taking a leaf out of the Fairy Tale School of Science & Biology, scientists took an as yet undefined number of blind mice and managed to restore some part of their eyesight by fixing damaged ganglions and activating the affected regions with chemicals so as to restore their rodent peepers to their full glory. No word as of yet on whether they plan to put eggs back together or heal wounds suffered by cows during unprompted jumps over nearby celestial objects.

 

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