Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tinkering with Tinkercad

Peter Penguin Designed by Maker Advocate
Peter Penguin for Sharkweek Designed by Maker Advocate
In the 1980s, when Apple introduced the first laser printers and launched the desktop publishing era, we all needed to learn a few basic principles of graphic design. Will 3D printers turns us all into mechanical designers?

If so, Tinkercad is a great place to start. Tinkercad was created by Kai Backman and Mikko Mononen in 2011 to be an easy-to-use online tool for creating 3D designs that are ready to be 3D printed into physical objects. In June of 2013, it became part of Autodesk's 123D family of design products.

Tinkercad Logo
Not only is Tinkercad easy to use, it also includes step-by-step lessons which teach the basics of 3D modeling then move on to more complex modeling techniques. A basic account is free and will have you learning to design in 3D within minutes of your first visit.

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Tinkercad Tutorial Video

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Add Color to Your 3D Printer

Spectrom 3D Image via Wamungo
Spectrom 3D Image via Wamungo
The inability to change color on the fly is one of the major limitations of most consumer level 3D printers. Last week at CES, Spectrom demonstrated a prototype of their device which can add multi-color printing to any filament based 3D printer.

Spectrom works by adding color dyes to the filament before it enters the 3D printer. By coordinating the timing of the dye changes with the extrusion of the design, the user can change the color of the part in precisely the desired location. The Spectrom device was shown in conjunction with a Robo3D R1 printer and will be available as an upgrade to existing R1 printers.

Although the Spectrom method doesn't provide sufficient control over the color changes to provide continuous tone color printing like the 3D Systems Project 4500, it appears to provide a greater level of color flexibility than any other consumer level printer.

How would you use color in a 3D print?

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Photography Soars at CES

Harwar-Mega Industrial UAV
Harwar-Mega Industrial UAV
Returning home after the Photo Marketing Association conference and CES is a good time to reflect on the most important new developments in the field of imaging. While there were incremental improvements in most still camera lines and a strong push for 4K resolution in video capture, I believe the most interesting developments were in the area of unmanned aerial photography.

The Parrot AR Drone quadricopter has been popular at CES for several years, but this year they were joined by a plethora of other companies offering powerful aerial platforms in a wide array of sizes and capabilities. From autonomous swarming drones small enough to fit in the palm of your hand to large industrial units with enough power to carry a full-size DSLR or professional video camera, there were units every application.

If you like your unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) large, you will be impressed by the Harwar-Mega series.  These are industrial units with a unibody built from carbon fiber and enough power and range to travel up to 10 kilometers under self navigation. The three axis camera head allows shooting 360 degrees with a control accuracy of .02. TD-LTE 4G cellular communication resolves any concerns about transmission range.

At the other extreme, the Zano, designed for "taking your selfies to new heights" is about the size of the smart phone you will use to control it. This Kickstarter project, with an estimated delivery of June 2015, can be controlled by tilting your phone or tablet forward, back or to the right or left. You can also set the Zano to follow you so it can capture everything you do. 

Phantom 2 Vision+
Phantom 2 Vision+
The Phantom 2 Vision+ by DJI fits between the two size extremes. With a 14 megapixel camera and a 110 degree field of view, you should be able to capture impressive images and full HD video. The control range can be extended up to 700 meters.

Some of the other UAVs at CES included the Ehang Ghost, Micro Drone 3.0, MaxAero X-Star and the Hubsan X4 Pro.

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Harwar-Mega UAV Applications

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Refocus for 2015

I am a strong believer in the value of periodic evaluation accompanied by redirection of time and attention into new areas of interest. For me, the beginning of a new year is an ideal time for reflection and planning.

In my January 2012 post, Do Your Own Annual Review, I posed eight questions which I still believe are extremely useful.  However, they could be simplified into these three:
  • What has changed in the past 12 months?
  • What do I hope to change in the upcoming months?
  • What do I want or need to learn to make these changes happen?
 Personally, the topics where I intend to focus most of my research and reading in 2015 are:
  • Design trends in the stationery and wall decor markets.
  • Applications for additive manufacturing in industry and medicine.
  • The impact of printed electronics on the internet of everything.
  • Implications of artificial intelligence on industry and transportation
  • Lessons to be learned from late 19th century and early 20th century industrial history.
The tricky part about identifying new areas of focus is finding the time to make it happen. Since the amount of time per day in 2015 is the same as in 2014, any new to-do list needs to be accompanied by a not-to-do list.  What are you planning to give up to make room for the new areas of focus?

The year ahead will be full of exciting developments.  Some are expected and some will be delightful surprises. The Consumer Electronics Show next week should be filled with both.

What is your focus for 2015?

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Folding, Fashion and 4D Printing

Kinematics Dress in Motion
Over the past year, 3D printed fashions have been showing up on the runways at major fashion events. Some of the creations have been stunning, but most are structured more like a ridged plastic cage than a comfortable garment.  They have also been complex to assemble after being printed as a set of small individual components to fit within the build area of the 3D printer.

Nervous System, a generative design studio based in Somerville, Massachusetts has developed a method to create a comfortable, full size, 4D printed dress in a single build. The first dress manufactured is so beautiful and revolutionary that it has been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of its permanent collection.

In 4D printing, the fourth dimension is change. It refers to the creation of 3D printed items that are intended to transform over time.  In the case of Nervous System, their method, which they call Kinematics, produces items with tens to thousands of unique components that interlock into dynamic mechanical structures.  Each individual component is rigid, but combined, they act as a continuous fabric. A large item, like a dress, can be printed as a single assembly and unfolded after removal from the printer.

Kinematics Dress Fabrication
The Kinematics dress was 3D printed using Selective Laser Sintering as a single piece in nylon. It consists of 2279 unique triangular panels interconnected by 3316 hinges. Over time, as the resolution of 3D printers increase, more components made from thinner and lighter materials will lead to 4D printed fabrics that increasingly lightweight and comfortable.

The implications of 4D printing go far beyond fashion. Skylar Tibbits, a Reseach Scientist in MIT's Department of Architecture is developing self assembling and programmable materials that can transform dramatically after removal from the printer.  Be sure to check out his TED talk in the video below.

Kinematics Dress by Nervous System - 3D Printed by Shapeways


4D Printing is the Future of Design

Skylar Tibbits: The emergence of "4D printing"

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

How Smart is that Device?

Nest Self-learning Thermostat
Nest Self-learning Thermostat
In just over two weeks, the Consumer Electronics Show will open in Las Vegas. As the world's top electronics companies present the toys that will be on our Christmas lists for next year, the level of intelligence in those devices will be unbelievable.

Last month, at the Printed Electronics Conference in Santa Clara, California, Fred Theil, CEO of B&B Electronics, explained his scale for determining the intelligence of consumer products.

Smart - A smart device can be programmed. A thermostat that allows you to set different temperatures for different times of the day would be a good example.

Connected - A connected device can access content from the Internet. The classic example is a game console that can stream Netflix movies to your living room.

Autonomous - Autonomous devices learn without being programed. The Nest thermostat allows you to adjust the temperature just as you would have with a traditional analog thermostat.  Each time you make an adjustment, Nest remembers your preferences and learns your patterns to keep your home the right temperature.

Collaborative - These types of devices communicate with each other to coordinate in their functionality. When your security system keeps your thermostat informed about whether or not you are at home, they are collaborative.

I am not sure these particular definitions are used by anyone other than Theil, but they do provide an interesting scale for evaluating new devices. Currently, most intelligent devices fit into the lower end of the scale, but I expect several important announcements of collaborative devices at CES.

Are you looking forward to the day when your refrigerator and your elliptical can converse with each other?

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Tech Stories of 2015

In three weeks, it will already be 2015 which makes this a good time to forecast the top tech stories of the new year. What will we be hearing about the most in the following months?

Internet of Everything

When the 1993 release of the Mosaic browser made the Internet accessible to everyone, the connections were primarily between people. Soon millions of people were connected sending emails and browsing websites. In recent years, most people in the developed world have multiple devices that they can use to go online and most new home entertainment systems and even some appliances are connected. With billions of connected devices, it is the age of the Internet of Things.

In 2015, we will hear much more about the connectivity of smaller devices including light bulbs, thermostats, watches, shoes and clothing. But the biggest surge in connected items will be intelligent packaging of consumer packaged goods. The first applications will track the history of pharmaceuticals and perishable foods, but eventually all consumer packaging will include some form of intelligent identification.  This expansion into trillions of connected items is The Internet of Everything.

Wearable Electronics

NuMetrex Heart Monitoring Sports Bra
Wearable Electronics were a big story in 2014 and will be bigger in 2015. Many examples are already on the market including smart watches, fitness trackers and shirts with OLED displays. With the announcement of the Apple Watch in September, interest in the category exploded into the mainstream. When the Apple Watch is introduced in early 2015, consumers will be eager to learn how they will use it and investors will be eager to learn how it impacts the growth of the world's most valuable company.

Additive Manufacturing

Fabricated by GE Using Additive Manufacturing
Fabricated by GE Using Additive Manufacturing

3D printing has been one of the biggest stories of 2013 and 2014, but the press is just beginning to realize that the biggest impact will be in the industrial sector where the technology is being used for additive manufacturing. The ability to create parts with complex geometry from materials that are difficult to machine using traditional methods will drive rapid growth in the aerospace and medical fields. Growth in materials like Titanium Aluminide and other exotic metals that can be used in the 3D metal printers will be even greater than the growth in the machines themselves.

 Each of these three were important stories were important in 2014, but will be even bigger in 2015.

What do you believe will be the greatest tech story next year?

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Tectronics Textiles and Electronics