No sooner do I begin to get my head around something, than I read another post or article and it all becomes unclear again (such as the complex issues associated with sustainability, FairTrade and other certifications).
I had finally declared an uneasy truce with co-generation and tri-generation systems that can produce electricity from natural gas and capture the waste heat to provide heating and/or cooling (mentioned in my post about green buildings) – only to discover that there are now ‘quattro-generation’ systems (which combine power, heating and cooling as well as fire suppression).
Scientists and engineers are probably already working on ‘cinque-generation’ systems. Perhaps these will be able to treat wastewater as well?!
And who isn’t excited about 3D printing and its potential to manufacture objects in plastic, metal and other materials – with no waste – based on computer models and freely downloadable files?
3D printing has already produced millions of hearing aids and many orthopaedic and dental implants (e.g. here). It has also been used to create beneficial items such as prosthetic masks (e.g. here) and robotic hands and fingers that are more comfortable and functional than standard prosthetics. (Check out this video about Robohand – here. They are currently seeking funding to develop a low cost RoboLeg – here).*
And bio-printing techniques are being developed that aim to turn organic tissue into skin, heart valves, ears, kidneys and other body parts.
3D printing has also been used to quickly and safely build cheap houses layer by layer from common construction waste materials (e.g. here) and may be able to produce whole eco-friendly neighbourhoods using ‘contour crafting’ in the future (e.g. here).
It may even speed up the development of other innovative technologies by making it easier to do complex modelling, build prototypes and collaborate on technical projects over long distances.
By connecting the digital and physical worlds, anyone with access to a 3D printer can now make and modify a growing selection of their own objects. As such, this technology has the potential to disrupt existing consumer and manufacturing paradigms – especially with printers becoming cheaper and the range of materials that can be used expanding.
3D printers can clearly help us to do lots of good – but, unfortunately, they can also be used to print things like guns.
(Check out this Global News video about 3D printing – here.)
I learnt recently that 4D printing is already on the drawing board.
The goal of this latest experimental technology is to make products that can change their shape or behaviour over time or in response to their environment (e.g. self-opening/closing air conditioning vents; and medical stents and infrastructure pipes that can contract or expand in response to variable flows, move fluids via peristalsis without relying on pumps, valves and remote computer controls, and perhaps even fix their own leaks).
Imagine being able to buy 4D products that are easy to ship and can self-assemble when they come into contact with stimuli such as heat, movement, pressure or moisture. (These will be especially good for people like me who have an aversion to do-it-yourself furniture instructions – but can handle ‘Just add water’!)
And ‘smart’ clothing, car interiors and other products made from special materials that customise themselves to suit the individual end user or the type of activity and specific conditions at the time of use.
Perhaps 5D printing will produce shoes that can tie their own laces?
(Check out this great summary video about 4D printing by FW: Thinking – here.)