3D Printers Rapid Prototyping and Development for all

This evening, I attended a talk on three dimensional (3D) printing, held by the Vermont Makers a group that encourage projects that fuse together technology and art, by utilizing open source hardware, micro-controllers and other available resources.  3D printers are truly a disruptive technology (A Disruptive technology is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen to describe a new technology that unexpectedly displaces an established technology), now you can print a variety of three dimensional objects instead of buying them. No longer does creating something truly innovative lie in the hands of the few. The printers work by adding layers of material to form different shapes, this is different from traditional machining where material is removed.

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Growing up I always hated when one part in a toy broke and you had to throw away the entire toy and buy a new one if you couldn’t fix it. Now you might not have to, pick up the part scan it in a 3D scanner, generate a CAD (computer automated design) layout, and start printing that part out and replaced your broken part.Eventually a manufacture might send you the CAD file to download and print your own replacement part for something under-warranty eliminating the need for a warehouse of parts and making you wait until the part arrives.

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An object being printed

As someone mentioned tonight this is maybe as close as we’re going to get to Star Trek’s object replicator a device that can create any object in a matter of seconds. I was pretty excited and decided to take up learning how to use some auto-cad software better so I can create my own parts, being an electrical engineer learning CAD wasn’t part of the standard fare.

A 3D Scanner
A 3D Scanner

References:

http://www.makerbot.com/
http://vermontmakers.org/
http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/disruptive-technology

San Francisco

Three distinctive things come to mind when you think of SF: the Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, and Alcatraz. Along with Chicago, New York, Miami, Boston, and  Los Angeles — San Francisco takes its rightful place as one of the great American cities in the United States. I find SF closest to New York and Chicago in its style as it is walkable, a center for civic activism, art, and good food.  If you happen to be in San Francisco, I highly recommend you visit the Woodhouse Fish Co. for a pleasant dinning experience.

Part of the SF Skyline as seen from the bay bridge

From this picture taken while crossing the Bay Bridge (not to be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge) a few things are visible, the top of the TransAmerica Pyramid, that happens to be the tallest building in SF formerly the headquarters of the TransAmerica corporation. Also visible is the San Francisco Ferry building that houses a few restaurants and host to farmer markets on the weekend.

The San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
Open on May 28, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to northern California counties. The construction for the bridge was rather fast it took approximately four years, and the bridge was named based on the fact it transverses the Golden Gate Strait which is the entrance to San Francisco Bay.
IMG_2147Few people clamor to go to prison, but Alcatraz is somewhat of an exception constructed originally as fort to protect San Francisco from attack, the fort then became a military prison and then eventually a federal penitentiary from 1933 to 1963.  Visitors to Alcatraz not only get great views of San Francisco and the bay, but also get to walk where some infamous prisoners walked such as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.

It’s Star Trek

On my recent flight back from Sacramento, CA as we were taxiing to the runway the pilot came on the PA system as is customary for the traditional status update on expected take off-time, “Good evening from the flight deck (the cockpit) this is Captain Kirk we are 1  for take-off” I started chuckling and the lady next to me said you’re kidding right, “Captain Kirk like, the Enterprise?” I started thinking about how long I’ve watched Star Trek, my father watched the show during its initial run in the 1960s and then he watched the show in syndication when I was young and I watched it with him. Star Trek: The Original Series was created by Gene Roddenberry, which was centered around a starship called the Enterprise and its voyages exploring the alpha quadrant which is one forth of the milky way galaxy which includes Earth. According to the show the starship Enterprise works for the United Federation of Planets (UFP) which is an interstellar federal republic comprised of at least 1000 planets including Earth.

The enterprise belongs to Starfleet headquarter in the Earth city of San Francisco and is the exploratory, peacekeeping and defense arm of the UFP routinely travels on scientific missions to observe other civilizations that may or may not be inside the UFP. Roddenberry choose a multicultural cast to compose the crew, with members from Asian, White and African American, Russian, Vulcan (a federation planet), and Scottish backgrounds.

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This was rather forward looking for a show in the late part of the 1960s. Occasionally, more often than not the Enterprise finds itself coming into contact with an omnipotent being or a hostile race proving that even in the 24th century there is still aggression. While this is a small part of the dystopia, compared to most other science-fiction series Star Trek gets extremely close to portraying a utopian society.  On Earth in the 24th century money no longer exists, poverty was eliminated and common diseases were eradicated.

The show explored a lot of philosophical, ethical, moral, political, and social questions.

Some that come to mind:
– Should you let a civilization unaware of your presence go extinct because a star near their planet is about to explode?
– Should a sentient computer be forced to work for humans?
– Is doing what’s logical the same thing as doing what’s right?
– What makes one civilization superior to another?
– How do you conduct interstellar diplomacy?

In one of the most talked about episodes in the history of the series, “The City on the Edge of Forever”, Kirk and Spock must use the Guardian to prevent Doctor McCoy from changing history inadvertently.

A quick internet search on Star Trek and Philosophy returns a Georgetown University course titled: PHIL-180 Philosophy and Star Trek, which explores some of the philosophical questions raised by Star Trek.

As a scientist and engineer watching Star Trek is pretty cool, technology is used to solve problems and save lives, but at the same time we see the social implications of using technology in primitive civilizations and realizing that sometime technology is the problem (something I’m thinking about this month and will discuss at a later point). Perhaps the more intriguing parts of Star Trek is that fact that the scientist and explorers come front and center, the first real TV show to do so in an appealing manner. Many engineers, astronauts and were inspired by the show in the 1960s. After Star Trek: The Original Series, several other series followed it with fair success. In the most recent movies the emphasis has been on action not philosophy so in that regards Star Trek has lost its luster, but other science-fiction shows like the recent Battlestar Galactica (BSG), 2004 TV Series fills that gap, not to be confused with Boron Silicate Glass.

The famous 5 minute journey to the enterprise came in the first Star Trek Movie: The Motion Picture was prolonged as it was the re-emergence of Star Trek after almost a decade. Notice the shuttle craft flies over the top of the enterprise to see the letters, “USS Enterprise.” They pay homage to the scene once again in the 2009 Star Trek movie with Kirk and McCoy being flow to the enterprise via shuttle-craft from a space dock. Next up Doctor Who.