Augmented Reality Goes Niche, 3D Printing Gets Real and the Future of Creation Gets Granular
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” For any Trekkie fan, these simple words have become iconic in their own special way. We know the moment Picard finished this demand, the Replicator – the upgraded version of the 23rd Century Food Synthesizer seen on the original Star Trek – would create, out of “thin air” a streamlined, handle-less cup of steaming Earl Grey tea. We have all fantasized over such a machine and recent advances in neo-manufacturing are bringing us closer to the day when we too can bark an order at a machine and be delivered 2 dozen chicken wings, half hot, half teriyaki with blue cheese dressing and a cold beer… or, whatever it is you might enjoy. Joking aside, this movement revolving around on-demand “product” isn’t really about food & beverage at all, at least not yet.
Augmented Reality is Growing Up!
We were waiting, and waiting… and yes waiting for these moments. When AR (Augmented Reality) would show true value in the marketplace and move beyond some cute digital animation against a physical Starbucks cup and into something of very real value. In the last several weeks alone, a few fantastic examples of where Augmented Reality is really heading have shown up and the good news is, AR has finally gone niche.
As an extreme example, this recent Technology Review article (published by MIT) showcases an Augmented Reality helmet designed for, ready for this, welding. And not just any kind of welding, but rather Tungsten gas welding that causes significant challenges to preciseness due to the amazingly bright brights, and incredibly dark, darks created during the welding process with this specific element. Pretty remarkable and amazingly niche.
In a slightly less super-niche way but certainly more commercially mainstream, NConnex, through a nifty augmented reality iPad application, allows you to visualize how a new piece of furniture will exactly fit into your actual living room. Here is a neat video showcasing the technology and the unique way they are also utilizing Microsoft’s Kinect platform to easily generate a 3D model of any piece of furniture.Fast forward to around the 3 minute mark to see the application in action.
Both examples show us that Augmented Reality is finally going niche, and often in technology, it’s in the niche where value is born.
3D Printing Gets Real and Does Good
3D Printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, is a very exciting frontier. Much like Augmented Reality, the possibilities of 3D Printing are really starting to shine as creative ways to use this on-demand manufacturing process are beginning to impact human lives in very big ways. It’s important to note, we’re not downplaying the creative aspects of creating a Yoda head out of thin air, (Fun, that is), as those are the types of projects that gain wide appeal and bring the technology to the masses. But when compared to the below video and how 3D Printing has literally changed this little girl’s life, well, it becomes obvious where new value creation can come from in the arena of 3D Printing technologies.
Programmable Sand: The Future of On-Demand Creation?
Imagine a fresh new crack showing up in the foundation of something important, such as a bridge. Now imagine a “magic” material that is sprayed on the crack that is comprised of what are essentially tiny robots that can communicate with one another and collectively, take the shape of the newly formed crack, filling the space, remedying what would otherwise be a potential danger. Is this very far off? Perhaps, but it’s the experimentation of this type of on-demand creation that is already underway that should get you excited.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has been working on this wonder material they dub programmable sand, which is comprised of small ‘robot pebbles’ that have the ability to communicate with another in order to effectively take any shape. The challenge is of course the size of these mini-computer pebbles and just how granular scientists will be able to make them in order to attain ever increasingly accurate copies of the object they are attempting to replicate. Think of it this way: Currently, the replicas they are able to create look like something out of Atari 2600, perhaps as “smooth” as NES 8-Bit. Where do the scientists envision this going? Well, it would look a whole lot more like…
Whether Augmented Reality, 3D Printing or these remarkable programmable pebbles, the future of on-demand creation and manufacturing is quite bright. And even though all three either blend the digital/physical realm, or exist solely in the physical world, it’s important to realize it will be the software and algorithms on the digital side of the equation that will ultimately bring all of this value creation to life.
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image credits: greendestinations.blogspot.com, hemispheresmagazine.com, carolcofilms.com
video credits: youtube.com