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futurism

Department of the Future: Mobile Manufacturing

Department of the Future: Office of Technology Forecasting

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One of my favorite futurism topics is the rise of short-run, rapid-prototyped, just-in-time manufacturing. John Robb recently posted about the MPH (Mobile Parts Hospital) in use by the U. S. military and currently being adapted to serve as an MTC (Mobile Technology Complex) by U. S. Special Operations.
The utility of this sort of mobile fabber, even if it is expensive (1.5 million), is that it can produce highly customized designs on-demand. Even at that price it quickly earns its keep by short-cutting the time and logistical effort needed to produce and move specialized parts or equipment world-wide distances. Just like table-top fabbers that can produce plastic parts, the MPH can be moved to virtually any location (it is 8′ X 8′  X 20′), and begin production limited only by raw materials and available designs.
 
Future versions of the MPH will include a 3D metal fabrication device called a DMD (Directed Material Deposition) for Laser Engineered Net Shaping.

“A high power laser is used to melt metal powder supplied coaxially to the focus of the laser beam through a deposition head. The laser beam typically travels through the center of the head and is focused to a small spot by one or more lenses. The X-Y table is moved in raster fashion to fabricate each layer of the object. The head is moved up vertically as each layer is completed. Metal powders are delivered and distributed around the circumference of the head either by gravity, or by using a pressurized carrier gas. An inert shroud gas is often used to shield the melt pool from atmospheric oxygen for better control of properties, and to promote layer to layer adhesion by providing better surface wetting.

This process is similar to other 3D fabrication technologies in its approach in that it forms a solid component by the layer additive method. The LENS process is unique since it can go from raw material directly to metal parts, in many cases, without any secondary operations. It can produce parts in a wide range of alloys, including titanium, stainless steel, aluminum, and other specialty materials; as well as composite and functionally graded materials.”

More interesting reading about the MPH in action on the battlefield here. (PDF)

  


A Fabber in Every Household: Erik Chevalier

(Hat tip to Zenpundit for bringing Ignite to my attention.)

In the past I’ve posted about the evolving technology of the 3D printer (a.k.a. Fabber) such as the RepRap, and in book reviews like Makers by Cory Doctorow. Mr. Chevalier’s idea of an artist’s co-op is an excellent one that, if it works, is the kind of thing that could have very interesting consequences.

However, I see the potential that in the developing world, these machines have an even more profound ability to provide the means to be a skip-over technology much like cell phones and satellite TV have, in some places, skipped over traditional land-line based telephone and cable TV systems. Instead of creating large mass-production facilities or arranging expensive transportation of inexpensive items into areas of the world not well know for their stability or safety, I would imagine nimble manufacturing companies with the ability to quickly respond to a wide variety of demands with very minimal infrastructure requirements. Even more intriguing is the possibility that, should the cost of these machines (the $1,000 figure in the presentation might be adequate) drop to the point that they can be purchased through a micro-loan program (or purchased and franchised / licensed to third parties), this could represent the start of a widely distributed / open-source / resilient economy, not inside the developed world, but well outside of it.

Some links from the video:

Cornucopia Food Printer

Invetech Bio Printer (.pdf)

Makerbot.com

Thingiverse.com

Objectifier on Facebook


Eyeborg

From Reuters:

“A Canadian filmmaker plans to have a mini camera installed in his prosthetic eye to make documentaries and raise awareness about surveillance in society.

Rob Spence, 36, who lost an eye in an accident as a teenager, said his so-called Project Eyeborg is to have the camera, a battery and a wireless transmitter mounted on a tiny circuit board.

“Originally the whole idea was to do a documentary about surveillance. I thought I would become a sort of super hero … fighting for justice against surveillance,” Spence said.”

This story interested me, not only because it seems like a really cool idea, but because of the book Upgrade Me: Our Amazing Journey to Human 2.0 by Brian Clegg that is currently sitting in my antilibrary.

Wired has more:

“If successful, Spence will become one of a growing number of lifecasters. From early webcam pioneer Jennifer Kaye Ringley, who created JenniCam, to Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell, to commercial lifecasting ventures Ustream.tv and Justin.tv, many people use video and internet technology to record and broadcast every moment of their waking lives. But Spence is taking lifecasting a step further, with a bionic eye camera that is actually embedded in his body.

“The eyes are like no other part of the body,” says Spence. “It’s what you look into when you fall in love with somebody and [influences] whether you trust someone or not. Now with a video camera in there, it will change how people see and perceive me.””

and

“Even in the age of miniaturization, getting a wireless video camera into a prosthetic eye isn’t easy. The shape of the prosthetic is the biggest limitation: In Spence’s case, it’s 9-mm thick, 30-mm long and 28-mm high.

While that might seem like plenty of room in an age when digital cameras are squeezed into unimaginably slim and compact phones, it actually isn’t. The average area available inside a prosthetic eye for an imaging sensor is only about 8 square mm, explains Phil Bowen, an ocularist who is working with Spence.  Also, a digital camera has many more components than the visible lens and the sensor behind it, including the power supply and image-processing circuitry. Getting a completely self-contained camera module to fit into the tiny hollow of a prosthetic eye is a significant engineering challenge.”

The coolest thing about an idea or a project like this is the potential it reveals. Follow Rob Spence’s progress at his project site The Eyeborg Project and Blog.