03 May 2010 @ 12:55 AM 


Instead of stopping, this train picks up and drops off a shuttle from its roof. Pretty slick.

It looks cool and it doesn’t brake for anybody. No, it’s not a teenage rebel, it’s a train. The “Train that Never Stops” looks to save passengers time and train companies money spent on fuel. This concept, which has been kicking around for years, proposes that trains have a special shuttle on their roofs that passengers can enter and exit. At each stop, a new shuttle is picked up and an old one is dropped off, letting passengers (dis)embark via the shuttle without the need for the entire train to stop. It’s an ingenious idea and a fascinating one to watch in action. Check out the concept video below.

“The birth of nanotechnology is popularly taken to be 1989, when IBM Fellow Don Eigler used a scanning tunneling microscope to create the company’s logo out of xenon atoms.”

As cool as it is to see a molecule up close and personal, you can bet IBM has bigger plans. Quantum computing, which is seeming less and less like science fiction everyday, will require building structures at the molecular level. With the modified AFM, we’ll get a better understanding of what’s happening at that level and how best to create computers at a nano-sized scale. That’s going to translate into better efficiency and processing speeds that make a modern computer chip look like an abacus.

Of course, even with the best views of the microscopic world quantum computing is years away from beginning. For now, we’ll have to be happy with having a better view of a pentacene molecule. Hopefully, IBM will adapt their technique to see many different nano-sized structures. It may not happen today, but work like this will help us build the tiny, magnificent world of the future.

We've been able to model pentacene for a long time (TOP), but actually seeing it is amazing (BOTTOM).

We’ve been able to model pentacene for a long time (TOP), but actually seeing it is amazing (BOTTOM).

For the first time, IBM was able to take real images of a molecule. These pentacene molecules are shown on an Angstrom (10^-10 m) scale.

For the first time, IBM was able to take real images of a molecule. These pentacene molecules are shown on an Angstrom (10^-10 m) scale.

[photo credits: IBM]

milling robot carves metal

The speed and precision of modern industrial machining robots puts humans to shame.

Industrial robots are getting precise enough that they’re less like dumb machines and more like automated sculptors producing artwork. Case in point: Daishin’s Seki 5-axis mill. The Japanese company celebrated its 50th anniversary last year by using this machine to carve out a full scale motorcycle helmet out of one piece of aluminum. No breaks, no joints, the 5-Axis mill simply pivots and rotates to carve metal at some absurd angles. Every cut is guided by sophisticated 3D design software (Openmind’s HyperMill). While the Daishin helmet made a nice showpiece for a biannual meeting of machining companies (EMO), this level of production is becoming the new standard. Your average industrial company got hi-tech in a hurry and now we have machines that can transform computer designs into the highest quality professional metal objects, seemingly at a push of a button. Human machinists are left in the dust. Watch the helmet being built in the video below.

Automated production has really progressed to a point where humans can’t keep up. The real challenge is between two different styles of robotic production: printing and machining. In a world with 3D printers that can work in metal, taking a huge block of aluminum and cutting it down may seem practically medieval. Milling, however, is still the best way to produce high-grade metal objects suitable for use in other machines. You can’t build a working diesel engine out of a 3D printer…yet. While we’re waiting for that technology to mature, the machining sector is developing new capabilities that keep it competitive. Information technology has crept into everything, and where it goes, innovation follows. So it is with the Daishin Seki machine’s 5 axes which are guided by the Hypermill software. These industrial robots can carve exquisite pieces out of materials 3D printers can’t touch.  Eventually production may belong to 3D printers, but for now the industrial robots sculptors are showing us that they’ve still got years of unparalleled work ahead of them. As for humans…well, we’ve moved from the machine room floor to the designer’s chair. That’s okay; the coffee’s better in the chair, anyway.

[screen capture: Daishin Seki] [source: Daishin Seki]

Imagine having a machine for $500 in your living room that can take your computer based specification for a 3D object and print out a plastic replica of the object in a matter of minutes.  Imagine furthermore that all of the specifications for the machine are completely open source, completely shareable and modifiable by anyone in the world, and that there is a worldwide community of volunteers working feverishly to support you and anyone else to troubleshoot and improve the machine.  Imagine no longer…this machine, called a Reprap, is reality!  Best of all, these machines are ultimately designed to self replicate themselves, bringing us within tantalizing reach of a long envisioned era of self replicating machines.

Students Union Reception
Above: The Reprap Machine Connected To A Computer With A 3D Specification

The Reprap machine works like this:  Reprap consists of a roughly cubical half-meter frame enclosing its fabrication workspace, motors, electronic circuitry and an extruder.  The extruder is a device that can squirt out complex three-dimensional patterns of molten plastic filaments that will ultimately solidify into the shape of your 3D object.  Software on a PC takes design files produced by 3-D drawing programs and turns them into instructions that are sent to the Reprap over a USB connection.

Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager at Google Inc. , quoted on the Reprap website, sums it all up with this little gem:

“Think of RepRap as a China on your desktop”.

Although the current Reprap is only capable of using plastic as its building material, upcoming versions will be able to use a host of different materials, opening the door to a greatly expanded world of 3D printing.

The ultimate goal of the Reprap is for it to be able to self replicate a true working replica of itself.  In this regard the Reprap is making steady progress.  From the Reprap website:

Not counting nuts and bolts RepRap can make 60% of its parts; the other parts are designed to be cheaply available everywhere.  To increase that 60%, the next version of RepRap will be able to make its own electric circuitry – a technology we have already proved experimentally – though not its electronic chips. After that we’ll look to doing transistors with it, and so on…

Even as Adrian Bowyer’s Reprap project continues to flourish, a dynamic community of volunteers, organizations and companies have begun to sprout up around it.  Of special note is the Reprap Research Foundation (RRRF), of which Bowyer is a director.  The RRRF is the not for profit arm of the Reprap movement tasked with upholding the following mission:

To promote research in self-replicating manufacturing systems and to distribute the results of that research freely to everybody using open-source licensing.

On the commercial side of things, check out an exciting new company, Makerbot Industries, who counts as one of its founders Zack Hoeken, a director at the RRRF and a major player on the Reprap scene.  Makerbot Industries offers a limited but expanding suite of tools, gadgets, and consulting that will empower a growing legion of enthusiasts to make the most of their Reprap experience.  Check out this video of the Makerbot team:

Still haven’t seen enough?  Check out the following more detailed video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfnLtbhxsY4

As if 3D printing wasn’t cool enough, you can now “print” objects in stainless steel. That’s right, dust off your old Transformers designs, make room in the Monopoly box for a new piece, and get ready for the model budget at your office to sky-rocket. Shapeways, an European 3D printing website that has traditionally worked in plastics and resins, has upped its game by giving you the option to take your airy artistic concepts and fashion them into cold hard steel. Except for some reasonable constraints on size and detail there are no limits to what you can create. Even if you’re not a model enthusiast, stainless steel printing holds the promise of machines that can replicate themselves and build anything. A short video of a printed steel object is after the break.

You can now print 3D stainless steel shapes at Shapeways

Shapeways lets you print 3D stainless steel creations

Set phasers to stun...er, I mean give me $29k to pay for this scanner.

Set phasers to stun…er, I mean give me $29k to pay for this scanner.

The Hub likes to highlight those groups that do things open source and cheap, but sometimes it’s good to look at the people who at the high end of the price bracket. MakerBot can put a 3D printer on your desktop, Shapeways can make you a neat object in stainless steel, but it takes a juggernaut like Z Corporation to bring you 3D printing with 450 DPI resolution in full color. On the scanning side, Z Corp’s latest models are hand held and self positioning at 50 micron resolution or better. If you’ve got tens of thousands of dollars to spend these devices would make a cool addition to your office. Or just check out some of the demonstration videos after the break.

While Z Corporation products are out of the price range for most individual users, they represent amazing technology that is commercially available to anyone. I doubt the average person even knows that 3D printing technology can produce color models in just hours. Likewise, 3D scanning an object is probably outside of the everyday citizen’s concerns. These products are still in the early generation paradigm: expensive and used almost exclusively in industry. But they won’t stay there. Technology gets cheaper and more democratic as it is improved, so we should look forward to a time when the kind of 3D printing and scanning we see in these videos would fit in anyone’s budget.

As this technology becomes more widespread and powerful, the ways we purchase and exchange goods are going to be different. When you shop online for a coffee mug, the vendor could just send you the CAD file, allowing you to print the mug rather than have it shipped. Free information (like open source design specs) will translate to free objects.

Z Corporation 3D printing works using a fine powder laid down in a thin layer. Ink jet technology allows a bonding agent (which can be colored) to be applied in a pattern on the powder. Just like your paper printer, the resolution can be quite high (450 DPI or better). As each layer of powder is applied on top of the previous one, the 3D model is formed. The color models are really good looking. They should be, the entry level color printer comes with a price tag near $40,000 USD.

3D scanning is equally impressive. The 600 model from Z Corp can take 18,000 measurements per second, with 50 micron precision. Better yet, the scanner is hand held, eliminating the need for a tripod, and can handle objects of practically any size. Surface optimization algorithms, multi-scan refining, and real time surfacing allow a user to scan an entire object in one pass, greatly reducing post-scanning processing time. With two stereo cameras and some guidance/ranging lasers, the 600 looks something like a blaster from some hokey video game, but it comes with a very serious $29,000 price tag (as of September 15th). You can upgrade to a 3 camera scanner with 25,000 measurements per second, and sub 40 micron precision, but the price climbs up and up.

For most of us, 3D scanning isn’t a daily requirement. Z Corporation products are really for businesses that need to scan to make a profit (like third party manufacturers). A much cheaper, and still really cool 3D Scanner from Next Engine ($3000) would probably handle any desktop applications you have. Or wait for Makerbot to bring out their scanner, we know they are working on one.

I like looking at Z Corporation products for the same reason I like looking at the Lamborghini Murciélago: I’m never going to use one, but it’s cool to see what engineering can achieve. 3D printing and scanning, of course, are definitely more useful than sports cars and won’t always remain luxury items. Like 2D scanning and printing, performance will be maintained or improved as costs come down. While not quite programmable matter, scanning and printing in 3D is an amazing way to convert digital files into physical objects. I can’t wait until someone takes the performance of Z Corporation and sells it in the bargain bin.

[photo credits: Z Corporation]

Posted By: Teodor Muraru
Last Edit: 27 Oct 2011 @ 02:33 PM

Categories: Technology


Responses to this post » (None)

Post a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Captcha code *

 Last 50 Posts
Change Theme...
  • Users » 1
  • Posts/Pages » 85
  • Comments » 8
Change Theme...
  • VoidVoid « Default
  • LifeLife
  • EarthEarth
  • WindWind
  • WaterWater
  • FireFire
  • LightLight

Filme vazute

    No Child Pages.

Carti citite

    No Child Pages.


    No Child Pages.


    No Child Pages.