Wednesday 7 August 2013

3D Printing the Internet of Things

The world of 3D printed things is steadily growing. Awareness of this disruptive innovation is rising and it is becoming difficult to ignore. From printed shells for hermit crabs to printed homes for people, one wonders, will everything soon be printable?

Neil Gershenfeld from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms has called it a “Third Digital Revolution". The first was communication, the second was computation and the third is digital fabrication — making things using 3D printing. The ability to download and produce things so easily has unleashed a different kind of web,  Gershenfeld told Here and Now:
“This is like the birth of the Internet, but it’s literally an internet of things. It’s an internet where data becomes things and things become data. And we’re seeing the births of entirely new businesses where you go to market by shipping data and you produce on-demand where you consume.”
Already there is evidence that 3D printing can save money. A study from Michigan Technological University suggests that a 3D printer can help a household save up to $2000 per year, simply by printing, as opposed to purchasing things. For anyone who does not want a 3D printer, big savings will still be possible, thanks to a 3D printing company called Shapeways. 

Shapeways plans to bring manufacturing closer to home for individuals who prefer to print their designs at a nearby factory. The company has been offering this 3D printing as a service in New York City since July of 2012 and is success has led to an investment of $30 million from Chris Dixon at Andreessen Horowitz in April of this year. Dixon noted, “In the same way the Internet unlocked the long tail of publishing, Shapeways is trying to do that with manufacturing.”  

Even more interesting is how future technologies involving 3D printing could enable people to recycle old objects into new things. The "Mo.Mo" concept by the Forum for the Future involves a handheld scanner that when pointed at a used item would identify if the material may be recycled into something else using advanced 3D printing technology. Their website goes on to describe how the service concept could work:
"You then send or take the unwanted item to a 3D printing lab, and print off something you do want. Thus your old patio chair becomes a set of cutlery, a broken photo-frame a magazine rack, old wine glasses a bathroom mirror, and so on."
Another development in 3D printing will fit right in with the Internet of Things. Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon University have devised a way to 3D print a kind of barcode near the surface of an object so that it can be sensed and located using a technique called terahertz imaging. These traceable codes known as InfraStruct, are inexpensive; however, the THz beam technology remains very costly.

For many, this seeming revolution in manufacturing is reminiscent of how Napster overturned the music industry and gave rise to the iTunes model. Others are expecting that the 3D printing marketplace will become a kind of cottage industry wherein arts and innovation will thrive. Whatever the case may be, these developments remind us to anticipate change, because one thing is certain, nothing will remain the same. By the way, would you like a 3D printed hamburger on that bun?

To discover more about the Internet of Things check out our YouTube playlist, Pinterest board or Google+ Community.

Image by kakissel

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