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February 21 2013

3D printing from your fingertips

The 3Doodler is a 3D printer, but it’s a pen. This takes 3D printing and turns it on its head …

In fact the 3Doodler rejects quite a lot of what most people would consider necessary for it to be called a 3D printer. There is no three-axis control. There is no software. You can’t download a design and print an object. It strips 3D printing back to basics.

What there is, what it allows you to do, is make things. This is the history of printing going in reverse. It’s as if Gutenberg’s press was invented first, and then somebody came along afterwards and invented the fountain pen.

While the 3Doodler looks simple, the creators have obviously overcome some serious technological difficulties to get it working. One of the things that’s hard to do on 3D printers, at least hard to do well, is unsupported structures.

As anyone that owns a 3D printer will tell you, the cooling time for the plastic as it leaves the print head is crucial to allow you to print unsupported structures. Too hot and it doesn’t work, the structure sags and runs. Too cold and it just plain doesn’t work at all. From their videos, the 3Doodler inventors seem to have cracked the problem. Building a free-standing structure appears to be easy and well within the capabilities of the pen.

It also takes 3mm ABS and PLA as its “ink,” the same stuff used by most hobbyist 3D printers. I’ve got spools of this stuff hanging around my house, which I use in my own printer. But unlike my printer, which cost just under a thousand dollars, the 3Doodler costs just $75.

It doesn’t have the same capabilities, but that’s the difference between a printing press and a pen. It has different capabilities, ones a “normal” 3D printer doesn’t have. It’s not a cheap alternative, it’s a different thing entirely.

I’m currently watching the 3Doodler climb past its first million dollars on Kickstarter. When I say its “first” million I mean that. The project has more than 30 days left on its campaign and already it’s gone viral. This is the next Pebble. The next Kickstarter success story.

The creators have tapped into a previously untappable market: People who wanted a 3D printer but couldn’t afford one, and people who see the obvious potential of a fountain pen over a printing press, for both art and engineering.

The guys behind the 3Doodler made $60,000 dollars while I wrote this post. My hat is off to them. It’s not often someone comes up with an idea this good.

I’m going to be writing a series of posts on hardware startups over the course of the next few months, and rest assured I’ll come back to the 3Doodler. But not until they can type faster than they can make money.

February 19 2013

Four short links: 19 February 2013

  1. Using Silk Road — exploring the transactions, probability of being busted, and more. Had me at the heading Silk Road as Cyphernomicon’s black markets. Estimates of risk of participating in the underground economy.
  2. Travis CIa hosted continuous integration service for the open source community. It is integrated with GitHub.
  3. Chinese Cyber-Espionage Unit (PDF) — exposé of one of China’s Cyber Espionage Units. (via Reddit /r/netsec)
  4. $250 Arduino-Powered Hand Made by a Teenthe third version of his robotic hand. The hand is primarily made with 3D printing, with the exception of motors, gears, and other hardware. The control system is activated by flexing a pre-chosen muscle, such as curling your toes, then the movement is chosen and controlled by a series of eyeblinks and an EEG headset to measure brainwaves. The most remarkable part is that the hand costs a mere $250.

February 15 2013

Four short links: 15 February 2013

  1. Ed Startups in a Nutshell (Dan Meyer) — I couldn’t agree with Dan more: The Internet is like a round pipe. Lecture videos and machine-scored exercises are like round pegs. They pass easily from one end of the pipe to the other. But there are square and triangular pegs: student-student and teacher-student relationships, arguments, open problems, performance tasks, projects, modeling, and rich assessments. These pegs, right now, do not flow through that round pipe well at all.
  2. 3D Printed Portraiture: Past, Present, and Future — impressive collection of 3D scans of museum collections of portraiture. Check out his downloadable design files. (via Bruce Sterling)
  3. Versu — interactive storytelling, with AI and conversation modeling.
  4. Weird Things Found on Taobao — this is what I never ow my head. (via Beta Knowledge)

February 14 2013

Commerce Weekly: You can now buy stuff with tweets

American Express turns Twitter into an ecommerce platform

American Express announced an enhancement this week to its Sync with Twitter feature — users can now buy things with a tweet. Tricia Duryee reports at All Things Digital that all users will need to register to participate, even previous users of the sync feature, in order to provide a delivery address for purchased items. Once registration is complete, Duryee says, the purchasing process is pretty straightforward:

“For instance, participants will be able to buy a $25 American Express Gift Card for $15 … by tweeting #BuyAmexGiftCard25. American Express will reply via Twitter, asking the user to confirm the purchase in a tweet. All products will be shipped via free two-day shipping.”

Duryee reports that more items have been added since the launch and deals will be offered for three-week periods.

American Express SVP of digital partnerships and development Leslie Berland told Duryee that Twitter is just the beginning — the service will eventually be offered on other platforms, such as Facebook.

While fun and novel for consumers, Forbes’ B. Bonin Bough notes the value of the ecommerce partnership for participating retailers: “Having customers promote brands while buying them is a win-win situation,” he said, “and could potentially lead to incredible results — that is, if AmEx and Twitter can get this new purchasing behavior to catch on with consumers.”

Purchasing behavior may not end up being the ultimate obstacle, however. Angel Djambazov at GeekWire took a look at the potential security issues of the program, noting that “security has never been Twitter’s strong point. The platform is rife with phishing.”

Could 3D printing bring down retail?

The ForeSee Mobile Satisfaction Index: Holiday Retail Edition was released this week. The survey of more than 6,200 shoppers reviewed the consumer experience during the 2012 holiday shopping season.

One of the highlights of the report addressed the trend of showrooming. Eric Feinberg, senior director of mobile at ForeSee and co-author of the report, said for the press release, “Customers are using their mobile phones as integrated parts of their shopping experience … Mobile is the ultimate companion channel, making showrooming as much of an opportunity as it is a threat.”

But it’s not as big an issue as some retailers may think. Commenting on the report, ForeSee president and CEO Larry Freed told Chantal Tode at Mobile Commerce Daily:

“The idea that everyone is going to be looking at Amazon’s app when they are in Target and Walmart is proving out not to be true, and I think retailers need to continue to focus on providing a great integrated experience between that phone and that retail environment so that there is a value add for a consumer when they are in Target to go to Target’s app or site instead of going to Amazon’s.”

Fretting over showrooming may be a bit shortsighted on the part of retailers, however — the real concern for the future of retail may have more to do with 3D printing. Dalton Caldwell took a look this week at a recent statement by Marc Andreessen that the chain retail model is “a fundamentally implausible economic structure,” arguing that few stores “can survive a decline of 20 to 30 percent in revenues.”

Caldwell says he isn’t sure he agrees with Andreessen’s prediction, but that “[i]f we accept Andreessen’s argument that most retail companies could be put out of business by a 20-30% decline in revenue, 3D printing could be plausibly be the vector by which this scenario is manifested.” He points to items such as toys and sports equipment, and home improvement items such as plastic drywall anchors.

Not everything can or will be replaced by 3D printing, Caldwell notes, but taking the things that can into consideration along with retail stores’ “revenue sensitivity caused by debt” might just lead the future Andreessen predicts. You can read Caldwell’s full piece on his personal blog.

Pay at the pump gets PayPal

PayPal announced this week that through its partnership with retail petroleum company Gilbarco Veeder-Root, it now will offer mobile payments at the gas pump.

“The initial effort will launch the PayPal payment capability to retailers with Passport point-of-sale (POS),” Lucy Sackett, director of outbound marketing for Gilbarco Veeder-Root wrote in a press release. “Future developments will bring PayPal solutions to Gilbarco’s growing suite of media and merchandising applications.”

Sarah Perez at TechCrunch notes the impact of the Gilbarco deal, reporting that “the 150-year old Gilbarco currently works with 19 of the top 20 convenience store operators in the U.S.” and that company “has installed over 30,000 POS systems across North America which will now see PayPal integrations.”

Tip us off

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

Related:

February 07 2013

Four short links: 7 February 2013

  1. Tridium Niagara (Wired) — A critical vulnerability discovered in an industrial control system used widely by the military, hospitals and others would allow attackers to remotely control electronic door locks, lighting systems, elevators, electricity and boiler systems, video surveillance cameras, alarms and other critical building facilities, say two security researchers. cf the SANS SCADA conference.
  2. Santa Fe Institute Course: Introduction to Complexity — 11 week course on understanding complex systems: dynamics, chaos, fractals, information theory, self-organization, agent-based modeling, and networks. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Terms of Service Changes — a site that tracks changes to terms of service. (via Andy Baio)
  4. 3D Printing a Replacement Hand for a 5 Year Old Boy (Ars Technica) — the designs are on Thingiverse. For more, see their blog.

January 08 2013

January 07 2013

Four short links: 7 January 2012

  1. DroneNet: How to Build It (John Robb) — It’s possible to break the FAA’s “line of sight” rules regarding drones right now and get away with it to enable fast decentralized growth. This strategy works. e.g. PayPal flagrantly broke banking laws and regulations in order to out-compete a field of competitors that decided to follow the law. (via Daniel Bachhuber)
  2. How to Make a BOM (Bunnie Huang) — yet more very useful howto information for people looking into Chinese (or other) manufacturing.
  3. JuniorA front-end framework for building HTML5 mobile apps with a native look and feel.
  4. LulzBot — robust 3D printer, with full specs for making your own. (via BoingBoing)

December 05 2012

Four short links: 5 December 2012

  1. The Benefits of Poetry for Professionals (HBR) — Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman once told The New York Times, “I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.”
  2. First Few Milliseconds of an HTTPS Connection — far more than you ever wanted to know about how HTTPS connections are initiated.
  3. Google Earth EngineDevelop, access and run algorithms on the full Earth Engine data archive, all using Google’s parallel processing platform. (via Nelson Minar)
  4. 3D Printing Popup Store Opens in NYC (Makezine Blog) — MAKE has partnered with 3DEA, a pop up 3D printing emporium in New York City’s fashion district. The store will sell printers and 3D printed objects as well as offer a lineup of classes, workshops, and presentations from the likes of jewelry maker Kevin Wei, 3D printing artist Josh Harker, and Shapeways’ Duann Scott. This. is. awesome!

December 03 2012

Four short links: 3 December 2012

  1. Manufacturing Returning to USA (The Atlantic) — because energy and wages. Oil makes shipping pricey, while “booming” US natural gas helps domestic manufacturing. Wages rising in China, dropping in America.
  2. The Android Engagement Mystery (Luke Wroblewski) — despite massively greater sales, Android users do less with their devices. Why?
  3. What’s Coming in 3D Printers (Wired) — enormous printers, printers that use sand to help with metal molding, and more.
  4. Drone Crashes Mount at Civilian Airports Overseas (Washington Post) — The drone crashed at a civilian airport that serves a half-million passengers a year, most of them sun-seeking tourists. No one was hurt, but it was the second Reaper accident in five months — under eerily similar circumstances.

November 27 2012

Printing ourselves

Tim O’Reilly recently asked me and some other colleagues which technology seems most like magic to us. There was a thoughtful pause as we each considered the amazing innovations we read about and interact with every day.

I didn’t have to think for long. To me, the thing that seems most like magic isn’t Siri or self-driving cars or augmented reality displays. It’s 3D printing.

My reasons are different than you might think. Yes, it’s amazing that, with very little skill, we can manufacture complex objects in our homes and workshops that are made from things like plastic or wood or chocolate or even titanium. This seems an amazing act of conjuring that, just a short time ago, would have been difficult to imagine outside of the “Star Trek” set.

But the thing that makes 3D printing really special is the magic it allows us to perform: the technology is capable of making us more human.

I recently had the opportunity to lay out this idea in an Ignite talk at Strata Rx, a new conference on data science and health care that I chaired with Colin Hill. Here’s the talk I gave there (don’t worry: like all Ignite talks, it’s only five minutes long).

In addition to the applications mentioned in my talk, there are even more amazing accomplishments just over the horizon. Doctor Anthony Atala, of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, recently printed a human kidney onstage at TED.

This was not actually a working kidney — one of the challenges to creating working organs is building blood vessels that can provide cells on the inside of the organ structure with nutrients; right now, the cells inside larger structures tend to die rapidly. But researchers at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania are experimenting with printing these vessel networks in sugar. Cells can be grown around the networks, and then the sugar can be dissolved, leaving a void through which blood could flow. As printer resolution improves, these networks can become finer.

And 3D printing becomes even more powerful when combined with other technologies. For example, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine are using a hybrid 3D printing/electrospinning technique to print replacement cartilage.

As practiced by Bespoke Innovations, the WREX team, and others , 3D printing requires a very advanced and carefully honed skillset; it is not yet within reach of the average DIYer. But what is so amazing — what makes it magic — is that when used in these ways at such a level, the technology disappears. You don’t really see it, not unless you’re looking. What you see is the person it benefits.

Technology that augments us, that makes us more than we are even at our best (such as self-driving cars or sophisticated digital assistants) is a neat party trick, and an homage to our superheros. But those that are superhuman are not like us; they are Other. Every story, from Superman to the X-Men to the Watchmen, includes an element of struggle with what it means to be more than human. In short, it means outsider status.

We are never more acutely aware of our own humanity, and all the frailty that entails, as when we are sick or injured. When we can use technology such as 3D printing to make us more whole, then it makes us more human, not Other. It restores our insider status.

Ask anyone who has lost something truly precious and then found it again. I’m talking on the level of an arm, a leg, a kidney, a jaw. If that doesn’t seem like magic, then I don’t know what does.

November 23 2012

Four short links: 23 November 2012

  1. Trap Island — island on most maps doesn’t exist.
  2. Why I Work on Non-Partisan Tech (MySociety) — excellent essay. Obama won using big technology, but imagine if that effort, money, and technique were used to make things that were useful to the country. Political technology is not gov2.0.
  3. 3D Printing Patent Suits (MSNBC) — notable not just for incumbents keeping out low-cost competitors with patents, but also (as BoingBoing observed) Many of the key patents in 3D printing start expiring in 2013, and will continue to lapse through ’14 and ’15. Expect a big bang of 3D printer innovation, and massive price-drops, in the years to come. (via BoingBoing)
  4. GraphChican run very large graph computations on just a single machine, by using a novel algorithm for processing the graph from disk (SSD or hard drive). Programs for GraphChi are written in the vertex-centric model, proposed by GraphLab and Google’s Pregel. GraphChi runs vertex-centric programs asynchronously (i.e changes written to edges are immediately visible to subsequent computation), and in parallel. GraphChi also supports streaming graph updates and removal of edges from the graph.

November 13 2012

Four short links: 13 November 2012

  1. 3D Printing Photobooth Opening in Japan (io9) — A technician at the lab will scan your body (much like with early photography, you’ll need to be able to hold a certain pose for 15 minutes) and print out an impressively realistic 3D photo that captures not only your features, but also the basic textures of your clothing and hair. (via Julie Starr)
  2. Feynman Flowers — crowdsourcing analysis of STM imagery for nanoscale physics research. (via OKFN)
  3. Mobile Trends — Android on exponential growth vs iOS’s linear growth, and many more data-driven observations. Apple has a mobile product at every $50 price point between $0 and $850.
  4. The Definitive Guide to Forms-Based Website Authentication (Stack Overflow) — exactly what the title says.

October 29 2012

Four short links: 29 October 2012

  1. Inside BJ Fogg’s Behavior Design Bootcamp — see also Day 2 and Day 3.
  2. Recollect — archive your social media existence. Very easy to use and I wish I’d been using it longer. (via Tom Cotes)
  3. Duplicating House Keys on a 3D Printer — never did a title say so precisely what the post was about. (via Jim Stogdill)
  4. Teleduplication via Optical Decoding (PDF) — duplicating a key via a photograph.

October 19 2012

Four short links: 19 October 2012

  1. Home-made 3D-Printed Drones — if only they used computer-vision to sequence DNA, they’d be the perfect storm of O’Reilly memes :-)
  2. Hacking Pacemakers For DeathIOActive researcher Barnaby Jack has reverse-engineered a pacemaker transmitter to make it possible to deliver deadly electric shocks to pacemakers within 30 feet and rewrite their firmware.
  3. Google N-Gram Viewer Updated — now with more books, better OCR, parts of speech, and complex queries. e.g., the declining ratio of sex to drugs. Awesome work by Friend of O’Reilly, Jon Orwant.
  4. Deanonymizing Mobility Traces: Using Social Networks as a Side-Channela set of location traces can be deanonymized given an easily obtained social network graph. [...] Our experiments [on standard datasets] show that 80% of users are identified precisely, while only 8% are identified incorrectly, with the remainder mapped to a small set of users. (via Network World)

October 08 2012

Four short links: 8 October 2012

  1. Beware the Drones (Washington Times) — the temptation to send difficult to detect, unmanned aircraft into foreign airspace with perceived impunity means policymakers will naturally incline towards aggressive use of drones and hyperactive interventionism, leading us to a future that is ultimately plagued by more, not less warfare and conflict. This. Also, what I haven’t seen commented on with the Israeli air force shooting down a (presumably Hezbollah) drone: low cost of drones vs high cost of maintaining an air force to intercept, means this is asymmetric unmanned warfare.
  2. Scanbooth (github) — a collection of software for running a 3D scanning booth. Greg Borenstein said to me, “we need tools to scan and modify before 3D printing can take off.” (via Jeremy Herrman)
  3. Bitcoin’s Value is Decentralization (Paul Bohm) — Bitcoin isn’t just a currency but an elegant universal solution to the Byzantine Generals’ Problem, one of the core problems of reaching consensus in Distributed Systems. Until recently it was thought to not be practically solvable at all, much less on a global scale. Irrespective of its currency aspects, many experts believe Bitcoin is brilliant in that it technically made possible what was previously thought impossible. (via Mike Loukides)
  4. Blue Collar Coder (Anil Dash) — I am proud of, and impressed by, Craigslist’s ability to serve hundreds of millions of users with a few dozen employees. But I want the next Craigslist to optimize for providing dozens of jobs in each of the towns it serves, and I want educators in those cities to prepare young people to step into those jobs. Time for a Massively Multiplayer Online Economy, as opposed to today’s fun economic games of Shave The Have-Nots and Race To The Oligarchy.

October 02 2012

Four short links: 2 October 2012

  1. Print Your Own 3D Parts (Wired) — Teenage Engineering, makers of a popular synthesizer known as the OP-1, posted the 3-D design files of various components on digital object repository Shapeways, and is instructing 3-D printer-equipped users to print them out instead of buying them.
  2. Legacy Media Demanding Surveillance In ISPsmusic rights groups including the Recording Industry Association of Japan say they have developed a system capable of automatically detecting unauthorized music uploads before they even hit the Internet. But to do that they need to be able to spy on Internet users’ connections and compare data being transferred with digital fingerprints held in an external database. That can only be achieved with the assistance of Internet service providers who would be asked to integrate the system deeply into their networks. It’s Japan for now …
  3. Sensors for Industrial Espionage (NPR) — Genscape also places electromagnetic monitors beneath the power lines running into the Cushing tank farms to measure their power usage. This gives them an idea of how much oil is being pumped into and out of Cushing.
  4. TypeScript — Apache2 licensed typed superset of JavaScript that compiles to plain JavaScript.

September 18 2012

Four short links: 18 September 2012

  1. The Rapture of the Nerds (Charlie Stoss, Cory Doctorow) — available for download and purchase under a CC-A-NC-ND license.
  2. Amazon Maps API — if there is an API layer of general use to developers, Amazon will build it. They want to be the infrastructure for the web. Tim identified “the Internet Operating System”, and Amazon figured out how to put a pricetag on every syscall.
  3. Hoektronics — open source 3d printer queue management. (via Daniel Suarez)
  4. The Machine Gaze (Will Wiles) — Converging, leapfrogging technologies evoke new emotional responses within us, responses that do not yet have names. (via James Bridle)

September 13 2012

Four short links: 13 September 2012

  1. Patterns for Research in Machine Learning — every single piece of advice should be tattooed under the eyelids of every beginning programmer, regardless of the field.
  2. Milton Friedman’s ThermostatEverybody knows that if you press down on the gas pedal the car goes faster, other things equal, right? And everybody knows that if a car is going uphill the car goes slower, other things equal, right? But suppose you were someone who didn’t know those two things. And you were a passenger in a car watching the driver trying to keep a constant speed on a hilly road. You would see the gas pedal going up and down. You would see the car going downhill and uphill. But if the driver were skilled, and the car powerful enough, you would see the speed stay constant. So, if you were simply looking at this particular “data generating process”, you could easily conclude: “Look! The position of the gas pedal has no effect on the speed!”; and “Look! Whether the car is going uphill or downhill has no effect on the speed!”; and “All you guys who think that gas pedals and hills affect speed are wrong!” (via Dr Data’s Blog)
  3. Transparency Doesn’t Kill Kittens (O’Reilly Radar) — Atul Gawande says, cystic fibrosis … had data for 40 years on the performance of the centers around the country that take care of kids with cystic fibrosis. They shared the data privately [...] They just told you where you stood relative to everybody else and they didn’t make that information public. About four or five years ago, they began making that information public. It’s now available on the Internet. You can see the rating of every center in the country for cystic fibrosis. Several of the centers had said, “We’re going to pull out because this isn’t fair.” Nobody ended up pulling out. They did not lose patients in hoards and go bankrupt unfairly. They were able to see from one another who was doing well and then go visit and learn from one and other.
  4. 3D Printing: The Coolest Way to Visualize Sound — just what it says. (via Infovore)

September 04 2012

August 07 2012

Four short links: 7 August 2012

  1. Why Toys Make Good Medical Devices (YouTube) — Jose Gomez-Marquez profiled by CNN. His group at MIT is Little Devices.
  2. 3D Printed Exoskeletal Arms for Little Girlresearchers at a Delaware hospital 3D printed a durable custom device with the tiny, lightweight custom parts she needed. Good for iterations, replacements, and an astonishingly high number of “awww” moments in the video.
  3. Figshareallows researchers to publish all of their data in a citable, searchable and sharable manner. All data is persistently stored online under the most liberal Creative Commons licence, waiving copyright where possible. figshare was started by a frustrated Imperial College PhD student as a way to disseminate all research outputs and not just static images through traditional academic publishing. It is now supported by Digital Science, a Macmillan Publishers company.
  4. Zombeeshoney bees that have been parasitized by the Zombie Fly Apocephalus borealis. Fly-parasitized honey bees become “ZomBees” showing the “zombie-like behavior” of leaving their hives at night on “a flight of the living dead.” See also NPR interview.
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