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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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Print Your Dinner

Cake topper printed on ChefJet Pro
Cake topper printed on ChefJet Pro
During the holiday season, family gatherings often include hours in the kitchen preparing the traditional holiday feast.  While electric mixers, food processors, pre-packaged dishes and modern stoves and ovens have greatly reduced the amount of time required to prepare a big meal, some wonder if we will soon reach the point where we can simply press a button and print dinner on a 3D printer.

The first course that will be able to be 3D printed will probably be desert. The crystalline nature of sugar allows it to work well in a powder bed printer using water as a binding agent. The ChefJet printer from 3D Systems uses this method to create beautifully complex confectionery that can be a delicate as a snowflake.  The ChefJet Pro goes even further by including color dyes in the binder enabling full color deserts.

Pizza printed on a Foodini printer.
Pizza printed on a Foodini printer.
Most of the rest of the engineering around 3D food printing involves extruding pastes to build up structures which would require cooking after printing. Since flour, tomato paste and cheese can all be formulated into pastes, pizza and pasta dishes are excellent candidates for printing. The Foodini 3D food printer in development by Natural Machines can print with all of these ingredients and many more including chocolate, chicken and chickpeas.

Printing a full turkey or a rib roast is unlikely to happen in the near future, if ever. But it won't belong before 3D printers sit next to the mixer and the microwave in a modern kitchen.

What would you like to print in your kitchen?

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful for Bioprinting

Cross-section of multi-cellular bioprinted human liver tissue
Cross-section of multi-cellular bioprinted human liver tissue
This is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. As always, I have a lot to be thankful for and one of those things is 3D Bioprinting. As an amateur futurist and technology analyst, I enjoy following all types of technical discovery. But medical innovations are particularly exciting.

Last week represented a major inflection point in 3D bioprinting. Organovo, the San Diego based bioprinting company, introduced their first commercial product; a 3D printed human liver tissue that can help predict liver tissue toxicity in potential new drugs. Based on work done at the University of Missouri, this process will speed the development of new drugs by eliminating toxic compounds earlier in the discovery process.

This development, along with advancements in printing of orthopedic implants by companies like Arcam AB and improvements in 3D printed prosthetics, have made 2014 a watershed year for medical applications of 3D printing. Going forward, medical applications will be one of the largest and most important segments of the additive manufacturing market.

Are you thankful for any particular technologies?

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Following the Rails to Promontory Point

Teri and I are considering a road trip that would follow the original route of the eastern portion of the Transcontinental Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska to Promontory Point, Utah. It seems that it would be a fun summer trip through some beautiful scenery and a chance to see some interesting historical sites.

Here are some of the places we are considering visiting:

The Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs Iowa.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum

The Durham Museum located in Union Station in Omaha, Nebraska.

Union Station Omaha, Nebraska

The Golden Spike Tower overlooking Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska.

Golden Spike Tower

Cody Park Railway Museum in North Platte Nebraska.

Cody Park Railway Museum

Cheyenne Depot Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Cheyenne Depot Museum

The Utah State Railroad Museum at Union Station in Ogden, Utah.

Utah State Railroad Museum

The Golden Spike Visitors Center at Promontory Point, Utah.

Golden Spike Visitors Center

What other sites would you recommend visiting along this route?

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Avastars Makes You the Star

Avastarship by Avastars
The Avastarship, which launched yesterday in the main foyer of the St. Louis Galleria Mall, would have looked right at home on the set of the original Star Trek series. An aluminum cylinder, ringed with glowing bands of psychedelic color, is hard to miss. The 3D scanner in the center of the ship won't break you apart and beam you through space, but it will launch you instantly into a 65 inch tall, personalized Avastars video where you are the star.

The animated videos let you be a rockstar, fashionista, cheerleader, veterinarian, firefighter, cool rocker, special forces hero or a martial arts master.  A few days after the mall experience, you will receive a 3D printed personalized doll or action figure with your own face.

"This isn't about 3D technology," explains Avastars' cofounder Dan Lauer. "The girl who comes to Avastars doesn't care about 3D printing.  She wants to be a princess or a popstar and that's what really maters."

Avastars doll and action figure
The St. Louis startup was cofounded by Lauer and Jill Barad, the former Chairman and CEO of Mattel who led the explosion in the popularity of Barbie in the 1980s and 1990s. Lauer's previous ventures include the creation of the Water Babies brand of realistic baby dolls. The management team also includes Scott Harmon who honed his 3D technology experience at Zcorp prior to and after its acquisition by 3D Systems and Brandon Elliot, formerly the Director of Digital Ventures at Build-a-Bear Workshop.

In addition to the St. Louis Galleria, Avastarships are also launching this year in Oak Brook, Illinois and Cincinnati, Ohio.  The companies goal is to expand into thousands of retail locations.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Do I Know for Certain?

There is one point on which I am absolutely certain. One thing of which I am certain is that there is little else that I know for certain.

The world does not follow a random and arbitrary set of rules. The laws of physics do not change. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But the world is complex and impossible to model accurately.

Because the world is too complex to fully understand, it can appear random and arbitrary at the individual level. I don't know what today will bring.  I hope to finish this post, go for a hike at Rock Bridge State Park then come home and do some reading. But there is also a possibility that I will get hit by a car, shot by a terrorist or attacked by a mountain lion. It might be safer to go back to bed.

It is highly probable that I will have a pleasant walk and a quiet afternoon. Since I write these posts in advance and post them manually, if you are reading this, I made it home.

I don't know for certain what today will bring. I don't know whether the market will go up or down next week. I don't know whether my remaining time is short or long. The one thing of which I am certain is that there is little else that I know for certain.

However, I believe that by thinking in probabilities rather than certainties, my understanding of the world is more accurate. Expecting the expected and some elements of the unexpected is the most reasonable expectation. The way we respond to the unexpected defines us.

What do you feel you know for certain?

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