Wednesday, November 30, 2011

There's Another Wave on the Horizon

Sometimes new technology catches you by surprise, but often you can see it coming if you know where to look (or just get lucky). I first learned about the devices referred to as three-dimensional printers during my time at Clemson in the mid-90s. Basically, they work by building objects up out of 2D slices. Think of how medical imaging such as MRIs work, and then use those as blueprints. Indeed that is exactly what they were researching when I was given the tour: using medical data as inputs to create custom prostheses. Cost and limits in resolution and usable materials have restricted applications, so far. But the idea of a device that can build anything (of a certain size or below) sounds like another one of those Star Trek dreams that is destined for reality. Now I read that costs for 3D printers are now below what laser printers cost in the mid-80s, and there are companies starting to use the devices in a more consumer facing way, including one that will allow you to order custom built ceramic-esque robots. (Incidentally, to dovetail my own recent posts, the software used to customize the robots also serves as an example of using cutting edge of web programming tools too.)

Imagine a world thirty years from now when anything smaller than, say, a soccer ball can be designed and produced in your home. Imagine a world where designs are shared on web pages and/or in design stores that mirror today's mobile application stores. Of course, the real trick will be imagining what the manufacturing sector looks like after that comes to pass...

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