Robotic Arms The Future of Desktop Manufacturing- Printing is Just The Beginning
Signe Brewster of Gigaom asked this week "Why aren’t there more 3D printers with robotic arms?" Cause they’re huge. They’re expensive. They swing erratically and have to be kept in cages.
In the same week, two engineers from Milan revealed the FABtotum Personal Fabricator- a printer, scanner, laser cutter, and miller all in one, soon to start crowdfunding on IndieGoGo (the video soundtrack leaves no question that these guys are Italian).
Lets weld these two ideas together for a minute, and imagine years down the road. The glut of 3D printer start-ups has thinned as the true capital of all this press-release magic starts to seep through the cracks: ideas.
Paul Sakuma’s photo from the Associated Press of Tesla’s fully-robotic factory floor, from linked article below
The technology to manufacture a huge variety of parts is all there- factories worth of it. It just needs to be shrunk down and stuck together. Thus, lets not be surprised when tiny robotic arms appear inside our 3D printers. With a robotic arm, range of motion is not limited to XYZ. The playing field for fabrication becomes an infinitesimal dot matrix approachable from all directions, not just top-down. Materials don’t have to be made out of plastic, or all in one motion- no concept is out of reach. We’ll have so much control and so many options it’s hard to imagine what we’ll do with them all! The little arms will spin and whirr with a collection of auto-replaceable heads to extrude, cut, mold, bend, sinter, shape, scan, fax, color, paint, texturize, assemble, tweak, melt…all from a computer command designed to work within the colorful, round-edged simplicity of an iPad icon. Now it’s no longer a 3D Printer, it’s a Desktop Manufactory, and that little arm can make absolutely anything.
From the FABtotum IndieGoGo page
3D Printing as the laying down of layers of plastic to make a rough-looking object fit for use will not go mainstream. Its range of applications isn’t diverse. What these printers are achieving is breaking the ground of an actually useful idea: Desktop Manufacturing. This is a world in which the means of production belong to everyone- where the output of simple or complex requires the same amount of input thanks to advanced robotics, which will by then have become common place.
How do you think robotic arms might play into desktop manufacturing in the coming years? See any problems with my logic? I’d love to hear from you :)
Video: FABtotum Personal Fabricator - 2013 Indiegogo Campaign (by Fabtotum).
3D Printing Electronics: What Will This Mean For Innovation
I’m reading Chris Anderson’s excellent book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. In one section, he describes trying to furnish his daughters’ doll house. They each want the same real-life furniture with which they’ve outfitted their digital Sims’ mansions. Amazon offered him very few, very expensive choices. So he went on Thingiverse, where he found hundreds of viable design options, all in digital .STL format. He downloaded the designs, scaled them to fit the doll house, and printed them on his MakerBot. It was free, it was fast, and it was exactly what he- they- wanted. He then says this:
Now fast-forward the clock a decade or two from today’s early 3-D printers. They will be fast, silent, and able to print a wide range of materials, from plastics to wood pulp and even food. They will have multiple color cartridges, just like your inkjet, and be able to print in as many color combinations. They will be able to print images on the surface of an object even finer than the best toy factories today. They may even be able to print electronic circuits right into the object itself (my emphasis). Just add batteries.
The video above- published by researchers at NC State- begins the future Anderson’s describing. In time, we could have the capability to print not only functional objects, but functional electronics, complete with wires, resistors, and other such components I’m not informed enough to know the names of. Need a flashlight. Done. Need a coffee grinder. Done. One friend suggested “Need a vibrator?” Done.
This raises two questions in my mind:
1) How will the principles and methods of electrical component layout change when approached from a “3D-printing-friendly” perspective? If we try to re-tool circuit boards and such so that they are easier to print, what unforeseen doors will that unlock in our understanding and capabilities of the technology?
2) If it’s free and easy to manufacture electronics in the home, what genius, mind-blowing, life-changing, hidden-in-plain-sight inventions will every day people come up with? Every inventor starts out as a user. How much simpler, better, more spectacularly variable will our lives be in 30 years when anyone with an idea can create it on the spot?
Ease inspires innovation, and innovation with such limitless barriers to fabrication will launch our species on a growth curve of development that is completely impossible to predict.
Just add batteries.
Video: 3D Printing of Liquid Metals at Room Temperature (by Michael Dickey). Please comment if this thought has given you anything to say :)
When we crossed the border from Slovenia to Croatia, the guy checked Pipo’s pink passport, but showed no interest in my or Eleanor’s blue ones.
Croatian Waiters- You’re Doing It Right
Croatia seems to have an infinite supply of side-of-the-road restaurants. “Right or left?” El asked me on our drive away from the beach. I said left, and that’s how we picked where to have dinner.
Someone got it into their mind to order steak tartare. Our waiter, a terribly smily man in gold jewelry whom Eleanor says she can tell “drinks a lot” kind of grimaced at the order.
"Well, the kitchen…um…I’ll have to put in an order. It might take a while."
"OK! No problem!" we said and sipped our delicious, inexpensive wine. A few minutes later he showed up wheeling an enormous metal cart. On its surface was a mixing bowl and a silver tray supporting a pretty mound of raw beef surrounded by no less than twelve tiny bowls of various ingredients: spices, mustard, chives, pastes, tabasco, pepper, vinegar, etc. etc.
Friuli- Honestly, You’ve Probably Never Heard Of It
No matter how much I want to hate Italy, it keeps being very charming and good-looking, and making it very hard. The landscape underneath me is disengagingly beautiful. It’s like a song one hears through the wall.
Rolling green hills sculpted with a kaleidoscope of farmy patterns and shades…this whole Earth has a way of grasping our eye in the kind of organic, totally real beauty that artists cannot recreate. That proves to me that we are made for each other, atavistically drawn-up and designed to get along. That being said, Italy is still the only country I’ve ever been robbed in, and I don’t trust any of these Romans farther than I can throw ‘em.
I’m staying with my sister Eleanor, and her husband Pierpaolo, in Cormons for the next month. It’s a small town in
The End of Phase Three
Well here I am at the Tunis airport. It’s the end of the line. 6:30 in the morning seems as good a time as any to wane reflective.
I can’t say traveling in Tunisia has been comfortable. There’s a lot of easier-to-get-to places with better food and prettier sights. What’s been great about Tunisia is the fact that three weeks ago I had barely heard of it. Now I’ve been a guest in someone’s home where they apologized for not cooking a grander meal. I knocked on the doors of this strange, Middle Eastern land and the people opened wide.
Before leaving for this trip, my Bulgarian friend Vlad said “Why would you go to Bulgaria? There’s nothing there.” He was wrong. Sandesh, Shimpei, and Sasho were there, waiting for me to make our little pack complete. The friend I’ve made along the way have been one of the most rewarding aspects of this entire trip. They exemplify the magical power of travel to bring people together at just the right moment, so everybody gets what they need.
Turkey, Israel, and Cairo were just the same; again and again strangers turned out to be friends. My man Osman took me across land and sea to show me how beautiful Istanbul is. When I wound up back there a few weeks later, destitute, frozen, and miserable, Engin gave me food, a bed, and brought me back to life. Ayel invited me over for Passover dinner in Tel Aviv. Juri and Lorenz let me join in on their travel plans to the Dead Sea. Hasan came out of absolutely nowhere to share the places and things he loves about Cairo. This whole trip, blog included, boils down to people taking a vested interest in each other’s lives, the idea being that we part ways wiser and happier than when we met.
As I traveled on to each new city, I tried to come up with reasons why this or that experience was good for me. What did I learn on that hot air balloon ride? How is this night train making me any more employable? I must have asked this question two hundred times since October, and finally came to the right answer: It’s not. None of this is preparing me for anything. It’s just life! It’s happening right now! Whatever it is I’m doing here won’t look good on a resume, but we don’t live so that we can write a resume about it. We live so we can write a letter about it, and have somebody to write it to.
Along with all the material knowledge of foreign cultures, travel teaches us open-mindedness, and worldliness. There were times, standing in some mosque or ancient pit, listening to someone explain why he thinks it’s important, that I could literally feel my mind expanding. The voices of everyone we meet will come up again and again to supply the answers to what John Green calls the “Test of Life.” In travel, we gain conscientiousness for those voices. Having people be good to us makes us good to other people. This was the change in me. And we’re calling that growth.
Flitting in and out of so many people’s lives, I can’t help but think about my own situation. Am I fulfilling my aspirations? What might those be? Putting them into words is too frightening, as that would constitute some sort of commitment. “I need some goals” I tell myself instead. LIFE GOALS: Come Up With Some Life Goals. It helps that I do recognize the mistakes that ultimately, lugubriously, brought me to this airport in Tunisia, rather than some office in Berlin. Something about “not actualizing my aspirations.” Something about not knowing I was supposed to.
During the time I’ve been traveling/writing, people I know have started actual careers. I get LinkedIn emails with the subject line CONGRATULATE ELLIE JONES ON HER NEW JOB AS MARKETING DIRECTOR FOR CHIK-FIL-A. I assume this means my friends are doing well. They’ve found what they want to be doing. I assume it means they have apartments, and kitchens, and a little shelf filled with spices that they bought knowing they would be somewhere long enough to use them. The great news is that I’ve got volumes of life lessons here in my backpack. In order to make this whole experience count as an achievement, however, I’ll need somewhere I can sit down and put them into practice. NEW LIFE GOAL: Get A Spice Rack.
The bad news is I still don’t know anything about business. Or Python, or online marketing, or whatever it is my fellow American 20-somethings have spent the last year learning how to do. That used to really worry me. I lack marketability, but perhaps with the right spin I can sell this new worldview I’ve accumulated. It’s a worldview that will allow me to appreciate my new spice rack, and the new people I will meet, and the boundless other options I’m sure to encounter whenever this plane comes to pick me up, and take me over there, somewhere.
Thanks for reading :) Stay tuned for our next segment on OTS: Diary of a WWOOFER!
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Plus it was my birthday last week.
Saturday Market, Tozeur
Have had a thorn in my heel for three days now. Ever since Zied, Zaher and I snuck onto the golf course to play cards.
They sell all kinds of stuff at the Saturday street market. There’s bins of mismatched sandals, spices piled up on the ground, random remote controls encased in plastic bags. From what I’ve seen in Zied’s house, those remotes will stay in their bags forever. Even indoors, the dust finds its way in, clogging up the buttons and ruining your investment.
Today’s my last day in Tunisia. Will take the night bus to Tunis, which’ll put me in at 6 AM tomorrow morning. From there I’ve got a 10 o’clock plane to Venice, and then, finally, blessedly, into the loving arms of my sister, and some semblance of a home.
I’ll tell you one neat thing about Tozeur: they all use the hamam here. Having seen the shower facilities in some of these homes, I’d probably seek external hygiene options as well. The Hamam sits on the ground floor of a nondescript yellow building, on a nondescript yellow street next to an empty sand lot. It’s a solid, low-slung maze of marble corridors and increasingly unbearable heat. Each chamber is tiled floor to ceiling in a different color- blue, green, aqua, purple… They echo and drip sweat in co-misery with me, the unsuspecting tourist, who has been brought here to die. Cruddy wood and brass taps pour water continuously onto the floor. There’s a few in each chamber, and you get to choose between either scalding, deadly hot or shockingly, deadly cold. You have to be a mixologist to make sure you don’t end up peeling all your skin off! Or stopping your heart.
I went with Zied and his friend Mahar, who led us straight to the hottest room in the back (lime green). We started by soaking our feet in plastic buckets while I clung to consciousness. I didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of my new friends (especially since Mahar used to be the kung-fu champion of Tunisia, no joke) so I pretended it was super relaxing .
Actually, aside from the dizzying heat I rather liked the process of what amounts to showering for over an hour inside a facility the size of an apartment. You walk from room to room, collecting water in various buckets. Then you can sponge it onto yourself, or use a ladle, or do what I did and just pour it straight over your head. It’s a much more engaging process to cleanliness. ‘Take your tiiiiiiiime’ the old men’s fat rolls seem to say. ‘Lather uuuuuuuup.’
Unlike the German sauna I went to in Konstanz, nobody here was naked. I’m not sure if it’s modesty or religious imperative that makes them bathe in swim trunks, but it suited me just fine. If I had asked my penis if he wanted to come out into the steam, he probably woulda been like “Nah dude. I’ll wait for you outside” and hopped off my lap. I hallucinated a little peach worm squeegying itself across the floor. Or did that actually happen? God it’s so hot!
Earlier in the evening I had gone with Mahar to collect the bath accessories from his house. He lives in the center of town, and ushered me through the front gate with a bow and an enormous smile. His mom was in the kitchen, sitting on a bed and peeling potatoes. “He’s American!” he yelled to her, and I finally found someone who didn’t care. “I find the stuff. You can wait here!”
He grabbed a chair and let me sit in the courtyard, the massive open-air square around which the single rooms of his house create a border. It was a nice place, simple and clean. His grandmother was in one of the rooms, laying on cushions on the floor watching a tiny television set. I watched him flit from room to room, weaving inside and out, stuffing everything into an overnight bag. There were towels of various sizes, bottles of soap (scented and un-), plastic shovels and ladles, one of those castle molds for sandcastle building, and a tooth brush. The most formidable object in his bag was a brush-glove. It’s got a soft side and a rough side, and slips over your hand for maximum cleaning power. Later on, he would use the brush-glove to scrub the back of my and Zied’s necks. And when I say scrub, I mean he scrubbed the shit out of the back of my neck. There’s no dirt left cuz there’s no skin left. It was the exact opposite of sexy. But still kinda sexy ;-)
The whole evening cost about two dollars, which Zied demanded he pay for. This was disappointing because Tunisian money is really fun. The coins are big and heavy, exactly like pirate gold, and I enjoy handing it over to people and pretending I have an eyepatch. We recuperated by drinking Fantas brought to us by some man in a bath robe. In the lounge area up front, we sat on cushions under the open window, and waited for the cool, desert air to re-inflate us.
OK, am getting kind of tired of being Tozeur famous. Cannot walk ten paces without someone stopping me on the street to practice their English on me. And then there’s the staring. Have bought hat and glasses so as to appear invisible.
Zied took me to the Muslim Community Center after school. The “Gymnasium”. This is a place where young Tozeurians go for group drum lessons, ping-pong tournaments, vase painting, etc. It would be the same thing American youths would do if they didn’t have so much goddam stuff.
Breakdancing’s a big deal here. Everyone is either in a breakdancing troop (“a B-boy”), or has a friend who should be the greatest B-boy in the world if only MTV and Red Bull would bring the championship to Tunisia. This afternoon, a camp counselor-like character named “B-Boy Jeff” taught us some starter moves. 1-2-3-and-4-and, 1-2-3-and-4-and. Swing your legs. Throw your arms out. Be a gangsta! Don’t point your toes, this isn’t ballet. 1-2-3-4…wait what happened? Why am I on the floor?
Jeff said in time I can be a B-boy too. “B-boy Grant!” And then he laughed really hard. The three or four simple steps I failed to master only confirmed my belief that I should take some time to learn how to dance. And also that I am terrible at dancing. Doubtless I could have done better if that pack of pre-teens hadn’t been staring at me from the doorway.
"America Is Our Dream"
The kids I’m hanging with here in Tozeur are the privileged bunch- “the kids on the hill.” Literally. Their parents have jobs as engineers and public authority figures. They live in an expansive neighborhood at the top of town, where each house has a home computer and a gate (but still no paved roads).
They all love America. And that’s not an inference. “America is our dream!” Zied told me while a few of us sat around a hookah bar. His girlfriend came to life at the very thought. “Oh I would give anything to visit Miami” she said, her voice practically breaking with the thrilling hopelessness. Someone used the word paradise, and one boy kept telling me how lucky I am.
As a traveling American, I’ve passed over pretty much countless borders and never thought twice about it. In Turkey last month, an Australian guy was talking to me about how he wanted to visit Kiev. “But it would take months for me to get a visa.” Out of curiosity I googled what kind of a visa an American needs to visit Ukraine. None. In line at passport control, I would walk right past him. Despite the fact that, between the two of us, he’s definitely the one you’d rather have visiting your country.
Holders of a Tunisian passport have a very, very limited range of mobility. Of the 196 countries currently on Earth, only Turkey, Algeria, and Japan have decided they want Tunisians walking around unchecked. “It’s like a prison here” Zied said sadly. I’ve heard that before, from Egytpians, Turks, people who don’t have a golden eagle riding in their pocket. For most people in the world, travel is not just a matter of buying a plane ticket. It’s a problem with which I can sympathize, but not empathize.
"If I want to go to America, first I have to have thirty thousand dollars, and paper work. I researched it. It’s impossible." Zied can’t come visit me if he tried. He can’t go to Italy. Or Canada. Or China. Just Turkey, Algeria, and Japan. The fact that I have the money and ability to see any place I want firsthand is a miracle that has just recently come to my comprehension. For the kids I’m hanging out with here in Tozeur, travel is a dream in the strictest sense of the word.
"So come on. Tell me about America," one of the boys said to me. He was wearing a backwards NY Yankees cap and had made a big stir recently by buying an iPhone. There’s no internet to service it with, but he cares more about the back of the phone than the front, if you know what I mean. "I already know everything about American life, but I want to know the details. You are so lucky!"
Haven’t I spent the last few months having my ear torn off by people griping to me about what a shitty job my country does of existing? Don’t we not take care of our citizens or play nice with the rest of the world? Didn’t a Canadian man in Tel Aviv say to me “You know everyone hates you guys, right? I mean…everyone.” Yet here’s this group of kids who would likely have started a fight the night my friend Michael said to me “Don’t go back to the shitty US! You’ll just wind up doing something boring!”
"A person could never be bored in America," the NY Yankee said. I hesitated to point out that a person could be bored just about anywhere. I wanted to help them see that America is not the Activity Theme Park they’ve been led to believe from teen movies. But then again, maybe it is.
"Let me ask you a question" a smiley guy named Mohammad said. His English is flawless, honed by diligent study and every American film BitTorrent has to offer. His friends rag on him him because he’s been to France and Turkey, and his parents are rich (meaning they own an SUV). "Is high school really like what they show in the movies?" My mind played a reel of scenes showing ivy-covered castles with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alicia Silverstone eating gourmet lunches in the sun-dappled quads.
"No," I said. "We see those schools and we think ‘where the hell do these kids live that they go to a school like that?!’ It’s just for show."
He looked disappointed. “Oh, but I thought all the schools had, like, science labs and computers and stuff.”
"Well, yeah, I mean, we have that…but…" what was I going to say? But they’re not that great? "Do you guys have school newspapers and yearbooks?" I asked.
Mohammed’s favorite human being is Jim Carrey, and it shows every time he opens his mouth. “You tryin’a hurt me?” he said, comically. “Are you trying to hurt me? There’s nothing- nothing- like that at school in Tunisia. We go in at 7, get lectured at until 12, go home for lunch because the school doesn’t feed us, go back until 6, and then go home.” Where we stand in the dust to wait for the sun to cool down.
"What about sports teams?" I asked. "Or theater or…" The look on his face stopped that train of thought too.
'Do schools where you come from really have things like silk-screening laboratories and drafting courses?' one could ask me. 'Do you really have hot lunches? Printers? Clubs? Organized sports? Is America really a land of such means and opportunity that its high school students are fostered in their creative exploration and higher thinking? Is it true you don't just go to school to memorize facts and dates for eight hours a day? Is it true that the citizens of your country demand the states to prioritize things that make you want to come early and stay late? At school? Does that really exist in America, or is it all made up, like freedom of speech and 24-hour burrito restaurants, to give people like us something to dream about?'
A Little Joke
I’ve played a trick on the town of Tozeur. One of Zied’s friends got it into his head that I am Zied’s cousin from the US (he has an uncle who is a State Farm agent in Maryland, apparently). That friend told everyone at school, and seemingly overnight the “news” was ubiquitous. We played along, and now wherever we go people call out “Zied! Is that your cousin?!” and we laugh and laugh and laugh.
"But it’s also for your protection," Zied explained.
"Oh, so if they think I’m related to a local, maybe they won’t bother me to buy stuff or rob me?" Not quite.
"It’s good they think you’re related to me because otherwise they might think you are a gay."
My inference here is that the spooked villagers of Tozeur would assume I am homosexual and beat me in the streets. As if gay men are zombies out of The Walking Dead who wander into town from time to time and need to be dealt with.
It’s a truly homophobic group. Each new person I’m introduced to is followed by the line “But he’s gay.” I say “Oh” and they say “Just kidding!” and they laugh and laugh and laugh. “He’s an M-boy” they say. M-boy meaning fag, slang taken from the Arabic word mibun, homosexual.
I’m a celebrity around town. People want to meet me and shake my hand. They stop me on the street to practice saying “Hello, how are you?” to which I obligingly answer “Fine. How are you?” because I know that’s what they expect to hear. Many, many people get a kick out of this.
One guy gave me a flower. He was working behind the counter at a pizzeria and was absolutely thrilled to see me, not just because I was a paying customer. “You’re English?” he asked, and when I said “No. American” his smile doubled in intensity. ‘I’m American’ is the magic password that opens up a whole new level of adoration and privilege for Tozeurians. When I said this to the pizza guy, he gave me a free bottle of water and a pretty red flower from the pot next to the cash register. “I’m make you a great pizza!” he exclaimed. “Everything!” Later, while I was eating the delicious pizza, he plopped himself down at my table and started making chit chat.
"I’m sorry to hear about Boston" he said. A lot of people know about the Boston Marathon bombing. "And Waco." They knew about that one before I did.
The Tunisians I’ve met are hands down enamored with American life and culture. I wonder what they would say if I told them that, for gays, America is practically a paradise. How would they respond to know that making gay jokes in the US is looked down upon? How would they respond if I told them I am gay? After getting to know and like a genuine American homosexual, would it make a positive change on their perceptions?
When I told Zehar that his hero, Barney Stinson, is played by a gay man, it ruined his day. “That can’t be. He’s so cool.”
"You don’t think a gay guy can be cool?" I asked. He thought for a second and said "No."
We laugh at the joke we’ve played, Zied, Zehar and I. How funny it is that we have the whole town fooled as to my true identity. I guess it’s best to avoid aspersions. I guess the smart thing for me to do is to go on smiling and waving and saying things about Maryland. Otherwise the people of Tozeur might get wise, and figure out who I really am: just some stranger who wandered into town and started telling lies.
The Sahara Desert and Star Wars
The Sahara! So awesome. That’s a big check off.
The Sahara Desert is huge. It could swallow Europe like Chex Mix. The US is more comparable in size. So when I say I went into the Sahara, I mean that purely technically. I went into the Sahara like an airplane goes into space. But hell, it’s good enough, right?! On a topographical map of Africa, the sea edge is all green for a few inches, and then fades off suddenly into that pale brownness that fills up half the continent. It was from the green to the brown that we drove that day, heading out of Tozeur’s natural palm tree oasis, to where the green tapers off IRL.
This whole desert excursion kind of came out of nowhere. We were sitting around, Zied, his best friend Zaher, a couple of other guys, and I, smoking chicha, when their friend with the 4-wheelers showed up. “Oh! Do you want to go into the desert today? It’s no problem. As you wish.” If my new catchphrase is ‘sure’, the Tunisian catchphrase is ‘as you wish’. Just like the Turks say ‘why not?’ and the Israelis say ‘fuck you, terrorist’. Here’s a picture of me in a dune buggy:
It was decided that for 120 dinars (80 dollars), Zied, Zaher, the guide, and I would take a 4-hour cruise into the Sahara. “We can go see the Star Wars location!” Zaher said, hopping off his chair. Zaher’s a little cutie, really. He’s skinny and tall with a great poof of hair held up in stylish waves by mountains of gel. He’s got an impish grin to go along with his impish personality.
Kind of humorously when I asked the table of five where I could go to buy sunscreen, nobody knew. None of them had ever been sunburnt before. I didn’t want to be the nerd who has to stop to search for sunscreen! The buggy had a roof that could shade me a little bit. Maybe.
For the first hour or so we drove on a “road”, sliced out of a bushy green landscape. “Aw, there’s plants here,” I wined to Zied. “WHAT?!” he yelled. It was very loud in that buggy. “THERE’S PLANTS!” I waved my arms all around. “JUST WAIT!” he shouted back, smiling. On the other 4-wheeler ahead of us, the driver drove straight while Zaher tied his shirt into a turban and pretended to be a terrorist by shooting us with increasingly large imaginary guns.
The longer we rode, the less roady the road became. Up over a ridge we went, and when we came down the other side it was only sand. It was really cool. I knew that from this lip on, for as far as any human or beast could possibly walk on foot, it would look like this. Our guide opened up and we went swooping and swerving across the flatness, carelessly.