A new digital revolution

I wonder if the technology we all use would be the same if  Gene Roddenberry had not written Star Trek?  Would we have doors that go swoosh,  flip top mobile phones, ipads and androids with touch sensitive interfaces.

digital spannerWhile down at the BETT show this week I watched the adjustable spanner in the image on the left “printed into existence”, it took around two hours.  It was astonishing to watch and in my opinion profound in its implications,  this new capability has got to be at least as revolutinoary as the desk top publishing revolution was 25 years ago in that it allows small organisations to create personalized 3D objects transmitted digitally or created on the screen.

The technology that created this very expensive plastic spanner was the HP designjet color 3D printer pictured below.  Watching  an object materialise one layer at a time was

mesmeric, objects are built up layer by layer with the result that it can create complex curves, hollows etc.

The interface with the digital world just got a little bit more fuzzy and ideas like mass-bespoke become possible.  The ability to allow design students to express their creativity and prototype prior to digitally sending off a design to a mass fabrication facility can only transform manufacturing as we know it.

Self publishing books is one thing but the ability to self publish physical devices is a whole new meme that needs a lot more thinking about.

You can see, (if you enlarge the image), that the education price was £9,690+VAT for the white plastic version and £12,475+vat for the color, that makes those spanners quite expensive unless we believe that this sort of technology will underpin manufacturing over the next century, if we do then  it becomes a prerequisite in every school of art and design and engineering shop – it would be good if primary school kids could get a look in as well. Incorporating such devices into the curriculum has the potential to contextualize many a rather dull curriculum.  Such a device has the potential to create a renascence curriculum where students are required to include material science, material culture, maths and design to create an object.

You could quite see how a library of the smaller objects in the History of the world in a 100 objects together with how they where created their cultural significance might transform a history class to take a very obtuse example.

The set of cogs and wheels demonstrated below is an example of applied maths and engineering that could transform a maths or physics lesson.  You can see that it required the ”Printing”of multiple objects requiring planning skills.  An engineer friend of mine suggested that we teach maths incorrectly, maths he says, “allows me as an engineer to predict the future – I can model an outcome before I do the work”, such contextualization combined with the ability to create a physical device could increase the relevance of mathematics for millions switched off by the abstract nature of algebra.

Cogs digitally printed

While slower than the replicator in star trek, I get the feeling that this technology will speed up, incorporate inks with different  properties.

Like in almost every other endeavour, rapid prototyping facilitates learning.  If you get the impression from reading this that I was excited by the educational possibilities of this device you would be right.  Having spent a week at the BETT show, I only wish that they would get on and finish the transporter!



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