Sep 23 2012

The Radicalness Of 3d Printing


Way back in February of 2011, I wrote an extensive article for H+ on 3D printing and how it would allow a transition between an economy based on material “value” and scarcity to one based on nonmaterial “value” and abundance. Also, in a later article published here, I expanded on why this is inevitable and wrote, “it should be obvious that 3d printers allow for goods to behave as if they were nonmaterial. All you need is a single item and you can make an infinite number of copies.” Basically, once 3d printing is refined to a point in the not very distant future to where it can manufacture almost any arbitrary product, the value of that product will reside in the computer file, not the actual physical object.

So now, “The Motley Fool” is repeating my logic to sell investors on 3d printing: “If a physical object is a software code, then… there are no longer economies of scale in manufacturing.”

In other words, it won’t make sense any more to pay Chinese factory workers to make 100 million duplicates of the same product. Better to pay American designers to make 10,000 different products specially tailored to individual customers — in the exact size and style they want to buy. Products they can receive in the mail, or print out at Home Depot, FedEx Office, Wal-Mart, or whichever retailers are smart enough to embrace this technology first.

If a physical object is a software code, then… everyone from an aerospace engineer to an ice sculptor is really a computer programmer creating digital designs. And the market for those designs will be just like today’s market for music, movies, and books. You’ll have the iTunes store,, and other legitimate download vendors on one side of the law, and a thousand fugitive “pirate bays” on the other.

Now, I would change the language of “legitimate download vendors” for “corporate gatekeepers trying to lock people into proprietary designs intended to prevent competition” and “pirate bays” with “the open source free market”.. but you get the idea. Big Business is starting to realize, as predicted, the vast potential for profits that can be generated right up to the final stages, when home printers become as common as smartphones.  As I stated previously:

“Look at this from the manufacturer’s side. The only cost they have incurred is the R&D cost of designing an item, and the cost of running a website. They don’t even have to concern themselves with obtaining the raw materials to make an item from, nor do they have to pay a staff to run the printers, pay the electric bills to run the printers, rent a building to house the printers, pay a transporter to haul the products to market, have a warehouse to store extra products. In fact, they will have put ALL of these issues off on the customer. All that they will have to be concerned about is designing a product, testing a few dozen prototypes to fix the rough edges, and viola, a market ready product at minimal cost that need only sell a few thousand copies to pay off design fees, at which point everything else is pure profit.

If I have faith in anything, it’s in corporate greed. Once it’s cheap and easy to put a 3D printer in every home, and eliminate every cost of manufacturing to the “manufacturer” by passing it on to the customer, major corporations will get it done in a heartbeat. And they won’t give a damn about the consequences, because the only concern will be the profit of the moment.  CEOs will be all too happy about the billions they will save by making their companies cost nearly nothing to run, while still selling the same number of products at the same price they used too.  It’s all too predictable.

But the fact will still remain that by doing so, those very same corporations will be destroying themselves. They will be counting on their brands to continue carrying the same weight they did in the industrial era, and they will assume that by eliminating costs, they will be able to keep on charging the same price while making almost pure profit. And they will be right, at first.”

The Motley Fool is making the same case, telling individual investors that 3d printing is going to be a massive money maker, using the same logical points I made almost 2 years ago. And this will drive investment in further research and improvements in 3D printers. In fact, Makerbot just released its next generation printer.

But to be honest, there is still much work to be done before 3D printing on the scale that I’m talking about can occur. One of the much needed improvements is in the “resolution” of the finest details that can be printed. Fortunately, this is being worked on. The Vienna University of technology is working on printers able to work on the micrometer scale, which is a major needed step for printing electronics and biological tissue. When this hits industrial scale in about five to six years, we will probably have advanced the precision even further to the Nanoscale, though I would qualify that by saying that Nanoscale precision is likely to only be able to use specific materials, namely graphene and other single atom thick materials. True “nanofactories” able to use every element will take longer. However, even micrometer scale manufacturing is going to enable some very radical technological upheavals, as they will enable the first stages of bioprinting and electronics printing. This makes In-vitro food manufacturing and the kind of body modifications I discussed in my article on Gender Change well within the realm of feasibility, as well as the majority of the products I’ve discussed in the past such as QLed displaysSkin tight exoskeletons, film electronics,  and active cloth.

And yet another field in which 3D printers need improving is the “ease of use” factor. This is also being addressed by software that can analyze the 3D model and apply engineering “artificial expertise” to modify the object in a manner that provides greater strength to the finished project. This is an example of a high level interface to a low level process. The end user doesn’t need to know engineering, because the software provides the engineering knowledge. This is one of the vital steps towards making 3D printing so easy to use that anyone can design a product that can compete in the open market. Another example is software that makes custom DNA design as simple as drag and drop. Once you can use 3d printers to “print DNA”, such software could enable radical technologies as custom designing your own DNA to, oh, say, change your “species” to succubus? Or create “mythological” animals such as griffins and unicorns?

Needless to say, as radical as those concepts might seem now, as time goes by, it’s going to start seeming more and more mainstream. As more and more people begin realizing the possibilities, and begin exploring them, it’s going to lead to even greater radicalness than this.

Feb 12 2012

There Are Big Differences Between 3d Printing & VR

Recently, Christoper Mims over at Technology Review wrote a piece and noted that he used the opening graphic from my H+ article (Adding Our Way to Abundance) which makes me wonder if he’s directing this article at me about how he is sure that 3d printing will go the way that VR did back in the 90′s, essentially overhyped, then ignored for over a decade.

He’s been rebutted by another writer at Technology Review but there are a few aspects I’d like to focus on in specific:

There are big differences between VR and 3d printing:

1: VR was a “hyped” at a stage where the computer technology simply wasn’t there to support the claims. I was laughing at the rather ridiculous claims being thrown around at the time, because the processing power, bandwidth, and display technology simply didn’t exist to support the hype. While 3d printing is also not completely to the point I describe above, we are far closer to that level than VR was during its initial hype phase. Also, the first “hype phase” for 3d printing occurred ten years ago, it just didn’t reach the same levels that VR did. I have been watching it move from that initial stage to practical application in prototype manufacturing, and it is now in its second hype phase as it is moving from prototype to production level. The reason this initial hype phase never reached the same level is because it was just another victim of the “tech bubble” that burst following 9/11 when every technology company suddenly had to face new “security” measures, and the costs associated with them. They’ve already had their “disinterest” phase and are now emerging into the secondary cycle with practical applications in the immediate present.

2: VR was “hyped” before there was a “high level” demand for it. 3d printing has extremely practical uses, outlined in my article linked above, which makes it a priority for those at the top of the economy. Unlike VR, 3d printing offers enormous benefits to the highest tiers of society, and this is focusing massive pressure on its development. The mutation of the electronics companies from “primary manufacturers” to “design studios” who develop and prototype designs before using 3rd party manufacturers to produce “branded” products has created a “do or die” evolutionary pressure on these 3rd party manufacturers. In order to meet the demands from the corporations for faster production and faster generational turn around, these companies are having little choice but to research and develop 3d manufacturing, and are aware that any of them that comes in last will be eaten.  If you haven’t noticed, most of the more dramatic “printing” breakthroughs are coming from these manufacturers, and not research labs or American manufacturing.

3: Extrusion and Sintering are merely the stage we are at now. Were there not equally dramatic advances taking place in the metamaterials field, as well as electronic “printing.” graphene production and “printing.” not to mention numerous other micro and nanofabrication advances, all occurring simultaneously, I would be more inclined to agree about the timeline as well. However, based on where we are in development on all these other fronts, and given that they will all impact the methods used to “print” 3d objects, the arguments used in Mr. Mims article show such a short and narrow focus that it seems more like a denial of a reality that it’s author doesn’t like than an argument based on observation of all evidence. It’s basically a “We can’t do it now, so it’s impossible” argument, and I’m sad to say I am not as hopeful as he is about how long it will take to develop 3d printing once all the combined factors come into play.

4: VR had no DIY components, because all the devices needed to “make it happen” were very expensive and almost everything had to be built from scratch. There were no “garage engineers” or “backyard prototypers” because the minimum entry level to play was far out of the reach of everyone who didn’t have either a company or government backing. 3d Printers are already far beyond this stage, while VR still has not reached it.  With the Makerbot, and the REP/RAP project, DIY tinkering with printers is already well underway. And if you read my article on printers linked above, you’ll know that I predict the DIY and Open Source movements will eat centralized manufacturing efforts once 3d printing has saturated the manufacturing fields. As the other article rebutting Mim’s points out, a printer can make a 90% finished product which needs minimal “tweaking” via a small scale machine shop, which makes decentralized “Fab shops” as competitive as the large scale manufacturers. There are already innovative products being made for the market by such “little dogs” as Freedom of Creation If the “big dogs” take too long, they will be eaten before they even get off the porch, and they know this.

I’d put more faith in Mims arguments if he had said them ten years ago. But 3d printing is just one part of everything that is occurring that I have researched. By itself, were it the only technology under development, and not under the pressures it’s under to be developed, I would agree with Mr. Mims

Then we, of course, have the flip side of the coin, which is the fact that 3d printers are not limited to manufactured products, but can print biological products as well. As a recent commentor screamed: “and if ‘food’ ever does come from a printer, it won’t be food! It will be processed, toxic muck. Processed food is already the #1 cause of disease in the industrial world.”

The problem with such claims is that it ignores the simple reality that a 3d Organic Printer is not using any of the normal industrial processes that create most of our modern foods. It is merely printing stem cells into a pattern with the needed nutrients to allow those cells to mature and merge to form a complete piece of living tissue. So, if its 100% pure beef tissue, or its 100% pure beef tissue, what does it matter if it came from a cow, or a printer? The tissue is going to be pure cow either way.

Unlike “processed food,” a stem cell printer would use the exact same biological processes to make beef that Bessie does, it merely removes the need to kill Bessie to do so. As I have pointed out repeatedly, a medically viable, functional heart for transplantation is a far more complex task then simple muscle tissue and fat. It’s not a matter of whether or not it is technically possible, that has already been proven. It’s a matter of taking it out of the lab and creating mass production techniques. Studies already exist showing that printing or growing in vitro meats are capable of reducing the costs of production over 90% compared to traditional cattle farming, and produce 90% less waste products.

The UK Guardian reported that a recent study calculates “that cultured meat will have 80-95% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 99″% lower land use and 80-90% lower water use compared to conventionally produced meat in Europe. Every kilo of conventionally produced meat requires 4kg-10kg of feed, whereas cultured meat significantly increases efficiency by using only 2kg of feed. Based on our results, if cultured meat constituted half of all meat consumed we could halve the greenhouse emissions, and increase the forest cover by 50%, which is equivalent to four times of Brazil’s current forest area.

“The measurement of feed for kilogram of meat is for beef.”

Think about that. For the same “cost to produce” meat via traditional cattle farming, we could produce nine times more beef via in vitro and printed meats. In other words, the meat industry could cut the cattle industry out of the picture entirely, make 90% more profits, eliminate any possible source of “diseased meat” and still produce the exact same end product. That’s one hell of an incentive on the part of “the corporations” to fund research into improvements in 3d printing.

Extrapolate that to “hard matter” manufacturing, and the ability to use creative engineering to create products that use 90% less material for the same end product, or even a superior product as 3d printers can create items impossible to manufacture traditionally, and you can see why the push to develop is going to be fast tracked from nearly every angle.

And note, I don’t dispute that “a box in the corner” is many years off. Personal 3d Printers are at least a decade away, as I have also stated previously. But the stages from current capability to the replacement of “production lines” is already underway, and likely to proceed far more rapidly than expected, particularly during the latter half of this decade, and from there, it’s likely to only be a few years to personal fabricators are wide spread. Universal Personal Fabs able to print anything desirable are probably less than two decades down the road, but again, universal adoption will likely take longer, due primarily to the prejudices of those like the commenter I quoted above. However, in the end, those fears will be proven to be unfounded, and caused merely by xenophobia.

Needless to say, 3d printing is not VR, but they are likely to develop hand in hand for the next decade, with innovations in one leading to innovations in the other as we begin the merger of “Physibles” and VR with our “real world.” Mr. Mims is quite welcome to his doubts. I just don’t see reality supporting them.


Sep 07 2011

From “Dirty” To “Pristine” Uses Of Technology


I wrote a line on the Acceler8or Facebook page that went ‎”I look for the ‘dirty’ uses of technology, and then trace backwards from them to the ‘pristine’ uses.” R.U. wanted me to explain that line a little more and discuss exactly what I meant by it.

So I’d like to start by discussing why I stress “being a succubus” as part of my articles, because it’s part and parcel of those “dirty uses” I was talking about, and it gives me a chance to talk about myself and how I see this coming about in a manner that might sound a lot less like “wishful thinking” than most of you probably think possible.

So, first off, let’s start by examining the end result: Valkyrie Ice, 7 foot tall Amazon succubus. She has batwings, cloven hooves, a long prehensile tail with a spaded tip that can act as a third hand, pointed ears, upper and lower fangs, and rams horns. Why I want to look like this isn’t important. I simply do, and I am willing to go to great lengths to get my way because I’m human, irrational, and don’t give a flying fuck about whether you approve of my desires in any way.  Pretty much like most humans. The big difference is that I’m actually willing to be honest about my desires instead of keeping them concealed out of fear of being socially acceptable. You might not find succubi attractive, but I know for a fact that there are many other people out there besides me who do, and while “the majority” might raise an eyebrow at me, that still leaves millions of people in the “long tail” who are going to be perfectly happy chasing mine.

If you are not familiar with “The Long Tail” it’s the marketing term for the ever smaller demographic divisions that lie outside the “mass market.” It’s the “niche” market, the subdividisions between 1 person and “everybody.” Everybody likes food. Not everyone likes “Aunt Wheezies Real Coon Squeezins!” (No, that’s not a real product.) The “Long Tail” is what powers Amazon and EBay, finding the other people who want that still packaged 1st edition Jawa with vinyl cape and basically catering to desires that are too “small” for the big guys to bother with. The “Giant’s” can’t concern themselves with anything that won’t sell to everyone, and this has been the model for the entire industrial revolution. If “Everyone” doesn’t buy it, it’s just not worth making. However, in the age of the internet, the “Long Tail” is proving to be a market many times larger than the “Mass Market” and some companies are beginning to realize diversity is the future, not the old “You can have it in any color you like so long as it’s Black” mindset of the megacorps.

And with so many numerous technological developments ongoing, understanding the “long tail” is crucial to any attempts to predict the future. In short, any future predictions that assume that the current corporate ideals of “You take it our way, or you get nothing” will continue to remain in force are flawed. Any assumption that the “majority” will prevent the development of “odd and strange” technology to cater to individuals like me is based in the illusion that there actually is a “Majority” when in truth, every single one of us belongs to one small subsection of the “Long Tail” in one way or another. You may not want hooves and tails, but you might love to have a new nose, or to look like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. You might want neon hair, or just hair that is curly, but everyone has some desire that is not  universally shared.  

And this is what leads to the Law of Unintended consequences, technology version. “For every developed technology, there will be the ‘intended use’ it was created for and an unknown number of ‘unintended uses’ that will be found for it.”

So let’s look at my desires to be a succubus again, now that we understand that those desires are neither unique nor universal, merely one demographic among endless others in the “Long Tail.” In fact, if you go to SecondLife and do a search for “demons” you will find there are hundreds of shops dedicated to… well, horns, hooves, spaded tails, wings and everything else “demonic.” In fact, one of the most successful long term shops in all of SL is Grendel’s Children, a shop exclusively for non-human Avatars and accessories.

So I’m going to set aside long term futuristic developments in biotech and such which could lead to my physically becoming a succubus, and even set aside such “dismissible” technology as VR to look at how I could physically look like a succubus inside of ten years. We’re going to let our imaginations go wild and think like a Hollywood makeup technician with free reign on methods and an unlimited budget, and design a “succubus suit” that would allow me to walk onto a set looking like the demoness I want to be. That shouldn’t really be a huge stretch, since it’s already been done with Tim Curry in his role as “Darkness” in Ridley Scott’s Legend. I will however add one caveat, I’m going to assume the use of a lot of “in the lab” technology that could enable me to act in this suit exactly like I really had this body without any “digital” effects being added in post processing or needing a crew of puppeteers to control.

So, first off, let’s start with the body suit itself. I’m going to want it to be lightweight and unrestrictive while still supporting wings, horns, hooves and a tail. It’s going to have to fit to my form and allow me to “be naked” while still being “in costume.” It’s also going to need to be tough enough to stand up to stunts and to contain its own animatronics for the wings, tail and hooves because I’m expecting to be filmed using 360 degree camera technology and I can’t have cables and power lines connected to the suit or it will ruin the “no post processing digital effects” rule. In fact, I want this suit to look so realistic that I can walk down the street in it and not have people be able to tell it’s a suit. I’m even going to want it to be wearable dancing… and even during sex.

I know, I’m so demanding. I’m making this nearly impossible… or am I? The fact is, I’m deliberately setting the conditions to illustrate that there are numerous “in the lab” technologies that could make this a reality, with only minor modifications to suit my “other than intended” uses.

Let’s start off with the actual body suit, because it should be obvious that it’s going to require some pretty sophisticated materials to make. Metal and plastic are just not going to cut it. Traditional servomotors won’t do either. So we look to the labs, and we see a lot of developments in metamaterials. There’s a variety of potential materials to chose from, graphene being one of the most promising, although boron carbide is also a potential choice, or possibly even Kevlar. We’ve even got Aluminum foam, aerogels (and artificial muscles made from spider-silk, CNTs, and various polymers. That makes it pretty clear that while I cannot specifically say which of the various laboratory-made metamaterials will be cheap, easy to manufacture, or which will be easiest to use in a 3d printer, I can be pretty sure that one or another of them will be available to do the various things I’m going to need this suit to do.

The first thing is that it has to be skin tight. If I look at the artificial muscles being worked on, I can envision the possibility of a suit made from them that will “shrink to fit” perfectly. And as they are extremely lightweight fibers, there’s a good possibility I can make it transparent. Additionally, given the strength of said “muscles,” making a harness to keep the wings firmly attached to my back, tail firmly attached to my rear, and make sure my hoof shoes and horns fit without wobbling should be pretty easy as well. As these parts would be made out of extremely lightweight but superstrong materials, as discussed above, they should be fairly easy to keep tightly fitted to the body in the appropriate areas, especially if we have the entire suit being actively controlled to maintain optimum fit by minimally expanding and contracting as it senses my body motions.

Wait a minute, you say, how is it supposed to do that? Well, that’s where printable electronics comes in. Stanford University just perfected a means to make a “decal” out of an electronic circuit that can then be applied to any material. That suit could be literally controlled on a thread by thread basis to ensure perfect fit. In addition, it could be adjusted to provide support, like a bit of tummy tuck and breast support. While wearing it, my body could look as perfect as it’s possible to look, while (hopefully) still allowing for a “nude” look and full freedom of motion. And those same “artificial muscles” could be used to mimic the actual muscles that would be found in batwings, making them able to extend and flex just like a real one. With properly made wings, the “bouncing” effect seen in many mechanical devices that use servos could be eliminated. Also, the same “muscle cloth” could be used as the wing membranes. As for the tail, well Festo’s already created a robot “elephant’s trunk” arm, meaning a full prehensile tail is quite feasible.

In fact, the hooves might be one of the more difficult things to properly make, because it has to keep my foot on tiptoe, provide support to keep it that way without sacrificing the ability to bend my ankle, as well as control the actual hoof to keep the base of the hoof aligned to the plain of the floor to ensure good footing. This likely means a bit of exoskeleton will be needed, essentially making the hooves a prosthetic device that fits over my foot and compensates for the stress of walking like a ballerina all day. (And yes, I could, if asked, draw a potential design sketch.)

But how to control it? Well, Epoch’s Emotiv EEG headset is already available, so we simply include a version of it into the skull cap that is snuggly fitted to my head, keeping my horns solidly in place, and viola — with the proper control software and some practice, I have a “Succubus” suit that fit’s like a second skin. But we still need to provide power for all those electronics don’t we? Lucky me that several dozen different breakthroughs in ultracapacitor batteries (Google it as there are far too many to link), as well as flexible solar have been in the headlines recently, no? Those wings, with their large surface areas would make great solar collectors and there are multiple flexible storage solutions that could be sandwiched into the membranes as well.

Now a lot of this would be difficult to make right now, but with the likely advances in 3d printing over the next decade, we can certainly assume that while my suit might not be “cheap” it is likely going to be within the realm of technical feasibility. So, now that we’ve shown how we could potentially create such a suit, we have to look outside the narrow demographic of “people who want to look like succubi” and see if there’s a much broader demographic that could use this collection of technology as a solution to a much wider range of issues. I can certainly think of several. For example, the wings and musculature is likely to be seen first in a next generation model artificial arm or leg. The “skin suit” has applications as a replacement for the current “pressure suits” worn by pilots who experience high-g’s. Combined with graphene or boron carbide and some clever design, it could even be a means to create a form fitting “Ironman” exoskeleton type suit for soldiers, police, firemen, and even athletes.  Combined with an Epoc, it could possibly even be a means to enable the paralyzed to control their bodies again (prior to stemcell regeneration of nerves.) And that’s not even to mention the clothes that true “skin tight” cloth could make possible. So we can be pretty sure that a good possibility exists for the creation of the “skin suit” for reasons much less “kinky” than my demoness fetish. So now we have the “pure” uses of this technology, i.e. the uses which are broad enough to be “intentional,” and thus more likely to be developed than my rather narrow uses.

However, there is yet another factor to consider. What other demographics in the “long tail” would have alternative uses for the same technology? And I can also find plenty of those, from transvestites wanting “girl suits” to furries who would add an animal facemask with animatronics and video camera eyes to the rest, to motorcyclists (the “armored” version would probably act like a full body helmet) and even to more modest uses like “control top” panty hose that actually could act like a girdle without sacrificing important functions… like breathing.

So now, here we are, with a whole bevy of technological puzzle pieces, and a few potential ways they could be fitted together to make a variety of “solutions” to various “problems.” Will they be put together this way? Who knows? But there is a demand for products like these — or very similar ones — regardless of whether everyone shares in the demand or not. And as the “long tail” grows ever more prominent as more and more “niche markets” find their customers, I don’t doubt that my succubus suit, or something very like it, will come to be. After all, I’m a human with a desire, and willing to pay to have that desire filled, and sooner or later, someone is going to create the supply to meet my demand.

And when they do, I’m going to have fun getting my tail chased.