Ever since 3-D printing became a commercially available service, Defense Distributed has sought to use the technology to create firearms. And in their latest act of circumventing the law, the online, open-source, libertarian group has created another means of building homemade firearms. But unlike the Liberator – their previous single shot incarnation – this one doesn’t involve making guns from 3-D printed plastic.
The group’s latest invention is known as the Ghost Gunner – a small, computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine that they used to create an aluminum lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle. This device, which costs about $1200, allows people with no gunsmith training to assemble a working assault rifle at home with no licensing or serial number. And for the moment, it’s completely legal.
The Ghost Gunner itself is a small box that measures about one foot on each side and contains an Arduino controller and a custom-designed spindle that holds a steel carbide drill bit. It works like any other CNC machine – the drill spins up and moves in three dimensions to carve items out of blocks of metal. However, this machine is specifically intended to make an AR-15 lower receiver.
That’s the part of a gun that connects the stock, barrel, and magazine – and the part that’s regulated by the ATF and assigned a serial number. Selling it without a license is illegal, but making it yourself is perfectly fine. An untraceable gun built without a serial number is often called a “ghost gun” by gun control advocates. Hence why Defense Distributed chose to appropriate the term, to deliberately generate controversy.
This is just the latest example of Defense Distributed pushing the bounds of home manufacturing technology to make a point. Cody Wilson, the group’s founder, is an openly radical, libertarian who has repeatedly stated that mass shootings and gun-related violence are simply the price people pay for freedom. In addition, his group has openly stated that they would not allow tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting deter them.
Manufacturing homemade weapons has always been his way of showing that technology can evade regulations, thus making the state obsolete. The group’s previous weapons – the 3D-printed Liberator gun – was more of a political statement. The gun itself was neither effective or practical; but then again, it wasn’t meant to be. This proof-of-concept weapon was simply meant to show that a new era of manufacturing is upon us.
The Liberator itself is prone to failure and usually only manages a few poorly aimed shots before breaking down. In designing a cheap CNC machine specifically to make gun parts, Defense Distributed is delivering a viable weapon at a fraction of the cost of other CNC machines (which cost many thousands of dollars). If you can make a lower receiver, all the other parts can be ordered online cheaply and legally.
The Ghost Gunner is capable of making anything that fits in the build envelope, which accounts for several gun parts that go into assembling a working assault weapon or handgun. The only requirement is the parts be created with Defense Distributed’s Physibles Development SDK (pDev) and distributed as a .dd file. In that respect, it’s not much different than any number of 3D printers.
Once again, Defense Distributed has proven that, for better or worse, we live in an entirely new era of manufacturing. In the past, a person needed considerable training if they wanted to make their own firearm. Nowadays, one needs only the right kind of hardware, software, and access to the necessary files. And as always seems to be the case in the digital age, the law is miles behind the curve.
One can expect the law will be upon Defense Distributed once again and place a ban on their Ghost Gunner. However, it goes without saying that Wilson and his colleagues will simply try again some other way and the fight between regulators and home manufactures will continue. But regardless of the issue of firearms, this is an indication of the age we now live in, where distributed systems are making for some rather interesting and fearful possibilities.
Additive manufacturing has been a boon for many industries, not the least of which is medicine. In the past few years, medical researchers have been able to use the technology to generate custom-made implants for patients, such as skull and jaw implants, or custom-molded mouthpieces for people with sleep apnea. And now, a new type of 3-D printed spine cage has been created that will assist in spinal fusion surgery.
Used as a treatment for conditions such as disc degeneration and spinal instability, spinal fusion surgery is designed to help separate bones grow together into a solid composite structure. This is where the spine cage comes in, by acting as a replacement for deformed and damaged discs, serving to separate the vertebrae, align the spine and relieve spinal nerves from pressure.
Much like its strength in other areas of medicine, the potential of 3-D printing in spinal fusion surgery lies in the ability to tailor it to the patient’s anatomy. Medicrea, a Paris-based orthopedic implant manufacturer, used custom software and imaging techniques to produce a Polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) spine cage, customized to perfectly fit a particular patient’s vertebral plates.
The surgery was performed in May, with the surgeon since hailing the procedure a success, due largely to the role of 3D printing.Dr. Vincent Fiere, the surgeon who performed the procedure at Hospital Jean Mermoz in Lyon, France, explained:
The intersomatic cage, specifically printed by Medicrea for my patient, positioned itself automatically in the natural space between the vertebrae and molded ideally with the spine by joining intimately with the end plates, despite their relative asymmetry and irregularity.
While this particular process is patent-pending, Medicrea is hopeful the breakthrough will pave the way for the development of similar implantable devices that can replace or reinforce damaged parts of the spine. Much like other implants that can be made on site and tailored to needs of individual patient’s, it will also speed up the delivery process for potentially life-saving surgeries.
C0mbined with the strides being made in the field of biomedicine (where it is used to create tailor-made organic tissues), 3-D printing is helping to usher in a future where medicine is more personalized, accessible and cost-effective.
Though it is already home to the world’s largest building – in the form of the New Century Global Center in Chendu – China is seeking to create the world’s tallest structure as well. Designed by UK-based Chetwoods Architects and known as the Phoenix Towers, this tower concept is slated to be built in Wuhan, Central China. But equally impressive is the fact that this building will be suck pollution out of the air and water and will host more than the usual building features.
The larger of the two towers reaches a total of 1000 meters (3,280 ft) in height – beating the Burj Khalifa by 170 meters (558 ft) – and sports an ambitious list of sustainable technology. The towers cover 7 hectares (17 acres) of ground on a 47-hectare (116-acre) plot that sits upon an island in a lake. In an attempt to make the design of the towers more relevant to Chinese culture, Chetwoods drew upon the Fenghuang (or Chinese Phoenix) mythological bird and designated the larger tower Feng (male), and the smaller tower Huang (female).
The designers hope the building will serve as a catalyst for more sustainable design in the industrial city. Laurie Chetwood, chairman of U.K.-based Chetwoods, the architects on the project explained how the building’s water-cleaning features work:
The water goes up through a series of filters. We don’t use power to pull the water up, we’re using passive energy. As it goes through the filters and back, we’re also putting air back into the lake to make it healthier… Wuhan is an unusual city, dotted with huge lakes. Protecting the lakes could lead to other projects that protect them even more.
The towers also have pollution-absorbing coatings to help clean the air, vertical gardens that filter more pollution, and a chimney in the middle of the larger tower naturally pulls air across the lake for better ventilation. For the sake of generating energy, the building relies on a combination of wind turbines, lightweight solar cladding, and hydrogen fuel cells running on the buildings’ waste, giving it energy independence and even having enough left over for the local community.
Inspired by the Chinese symbols of the phoenix, and the concept of yin and yang, one tower feeds the other with renewable power in a symbiotic relationship. Spheres hanging between the two towers will also hold restaurants with views of the lake. Pending approval by the city’s mayor, construction may begin by the end of the year and could be completed by 2017 or 2018, a pace that the architects say would be unlikely in other countries.
According to Chetwood, construction in China obeys a different set of rules and parameters than his native Britain:
The most amazing thing for me is that in the U.K. we strive as designers to get things built, and there’s a lot of red tape, but the Chinese seem to have a different view of things. I think they’re incredibly optimistic. If you have an idea and you think, ‘Oh, is this going to be too exciting’, they’ll actually want it more exciting. It’s more ambitious. They’re quite keen to push the boundaries. For a designer, that’s fantastic. It’s a thrill.
Whereas the sheer size of the buildings is reflective of China’s aim to assert its national authority on the world stage, it’s focus on pollution-eating and green energy is reflective of the desire to create living spaces in a sustainable way. And it is one of many building concepts being considered by Chinese authorities that seeks to address pollution by achieve energy independence, while at the same time being part of the solution by incorporating pollution-eating features.
For instance, there’s China’s Shanghai Tower, which finished construction in August of last year. This building is currently the tallest tower in China, is one-third green space and a transparent second skin that surrounds the city in a protective air envelope that controls its internal temperature. In addition, vertical-axis wind turbines located near the top of the tower and geothermal vents located at the bottom will generate 350,000 kWh of supplementary electricity per year.
And then there’s Sky City, a building under construction (though currently on hold) in Changsha, Hunan province. Designed by Broad Sustainable Building, this 666m meter (2,185 ft) skyscraper incorporates numerous sustainable building features. These include modular design, recycled building materials, non-toxic building materials, insulated walls and quadruple glazing. Beyond China, there is also the Pertamina Energy Tower in Jakarta, which relies on geothermal, solar, and wind turbines to act as the very picture of energy independence.
Together, these concepts (and many others currently under consideration) represent the future of urban planning and architecture. In addition to being assembled with recycled material, fabricated using less wasteful methods (like 3-D printing), and seeing to their own energy needs in a clean and sustainable way, they will also incorporate carbon capture, air and water cleaning technology that will make urban environments healthier places to live.
Human life expectancy has been gradually getting longer and longer over the past century, keeping pace with advances made in health and medical technologies. And in the next 20 years, as the pace of technological change accelerates significantly, we can expect life-expectancy to undergo a similarly accelerated increase. So its only natural that one of the worlds biggest tech giants (Google) would decide to becoming invested in the business of post-mortality.
As part of this initiative, Google has been seeking to build a computer that can think like a human brain. They even hired renowed futurist and AI expert Ray Kurzweil last year to act as the director of engineering on this project. Speaking at Google’s I/O conference late last month, he detailed his prediction that our ability to improve human health is beginning to move up an “exponential” growth curve, similar to the law of accelerating returns that governs the information technology and communications sectors today.
The capacity to sequence DNA, which is dropping rapidly in cost and ease, is the most obvious example. At one time, it took about seven years to sequence 1% of the first human genome. But now, it can be done in a matter of hours. And thanks to initiatives like the Human Genome Project and ENCODE, we have not only successfully mapped every inch of the human genome, we’ve also identified the function of every gene within.
But as Kurzweil said in the course of his presentation – entitled “Biologically Inspired Models of Intelligence” – simply reading DNA is only the beginning:
Our ability to reprogram this outdated software is growing exponentially. Somewhere between that 10- and 20-year mark, we’ll see see significant differences in life expectancy–not just infant life expectancy, but your remaining life expectancy. The models that are used by life insurance companies sort of continue the linear progress we’ve made before health and medicine was an information technology… This is going to go into high gear.
Kurzweil cited several examples of our increasing ability to “reprogram this outdated data” – technologies like RNA interference that can turn genes on and off, or doctors’ ability to now add a missing gene to patients with a terminal disease called pulmonary hypertension. He cited the case of a girl whose life was threatened by a damaged wind pipe, who had a new pipe designed and 3-D printed for her using her own stem cells.
In other countries, he notes, heart attack survivors who have lasting heart damage can now get a rejuvenated heart from reprogrammed stem cells. And while this procedure awaits approval from the FDA in the US, it has already been demonstrated to be both safe and effective. Beyond tweaking human biology through DNA/RNA reprogramming, there are also countless initiatives aimed at creating biomonitoring patches that will improve the functionality and longevity of human organs.
And in addition to building computer brains, Google itself is also in the business of extending human life. This project, called Calico, hopes to slow the process of natural aging, a related though different goal than extending life expectancy with treatment for disease. Though of course, the term “immortality” is perhaps a bit of misnomer, hence why it is amended with the word “clinical”. While the natural effects of aging are something that can be addressed, there will still be countless ways to die.
As Kurzweil himself put it:
Life expectancy is a statistical phenomenon. You could still be hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow. Of course, we’re working on that here at Google also, with self-driving cars.
Good one, Kurzweil! Of course, there are plenty of skeptics who question the validity of these assertions, and challenge the notion of clinical immortality on ethical grounds. After all, our planet currently plays host to some 7 billion people, and another 2 to 3 billion are expected to be added before we reach the halfway mark of this century. And with cures for diseases like HIV and cancer already showing promise, we may already be looking at a severe drop in mortality in the coming decades.
Combined with an extension in life-expectancy, who knows how this will effect life and society as we know it? But one thing is for certain: the study of life has become tantamount to a study of information. And much like computational technology, this information can be manipulated, resulting in greater performance and returns. So at this point, regardless of whether or not it should be done, it’s an almost foregone conclusion that it will be done.
After all? While very few people would dare to live forever, there is virtually no one who wouldn’t want to live a little longer. And in the meantime, if you’ve got the time and feel like some “light veiwing”, be sure to check out Kurzweil’s full Google I/O 2014 speech in which he addresses the topics of computing, artificial intelligence, biology and clinical immortality:
One of the greatest benefits of additive manufacturing (aka. 3-D printing) is the way it is making everything – from finished goods to electronic devices – cheaper and more accessible. Modern medicine is also a beneficiary of this field of technology, with new tests and possibilities being produced all the time. In recent weeks, researchers have announced ways in which it might even help lead to a cure for cancer and combat one of the greatest health epidemics of the world.
When it comes to testing cancer drugs, researchers rely on the traditional two-dimensional method of seeing how they work on cancer cells within the confines of a Petri dish. If the drug works well, they move onto the next stage where they see how the drug deals with 3-D tumors in animals. If that goes well, then, finally, researchers start clinical trials on humans. But if it were possible to test these drugs in a 3-D scenario right away, time and money could be saved and effective treatments made available sooner.
And now, thanks to a team led by Dr. Wei Sun of Philadelphia’s Drexel University, this may be possible. Using the techniques of 3-D printing and biofabrication, the research team was able to manufacture tumors by squirting out a mixture of cancerous and healthy biomaterial, dollop by dollop, and create a three-dimensional replica of a living tumor. Because of this, the field of cancer research could be revolutionized.
According to Sun, there’s just as huge a disconnect between what works in two versus three dimensions as there is between what works in animals versus humans. These disconnects are what make developing new cancer drugs so time consuming and expensive. You can’t just rely on a formula when switching to each new environment, testing takes time, results must be documented along the way, and adjustments made at every step.
With Sun’s 3-D printing technology, a living tumor can be printed just as easily as cancer cells grow in a Petri dish. The machinery used is capable of printing with extraordinarily high resolution, which allows cells to be placed with incredible precision. The average cell is 20 microns, where as Sun’s system can place individual cells within two to three microns. That means Sun can print out extraordinarily specific, spheroid-shaped tumors in a multitude of different shapes and sizes.
But testing cancer drugs more easily is only one of the many uses of Sun’s technology. Since each tumor is different, there’s the possibility that the technology could be used to simulate individual patients’ cancers in the lab and see which drugs work most effectively on them. What’s more, Dr. Sun indicates that cancer testing is really just the beginning:
Doctors want to be able to print tissue, to make organ on the cheap. This kind of technology is what will make that happen. In 10 years, every lab and hospital will have a 3-D printing machine that can print living cells.
On another front, 3-D printing technology is offering new possibilities in the treatment of diabetes. Often referred to as a “rich man’s disease”, this condition is actually very prevalent in the developing world where nutrition is often poor and exercise habits are not always up to snuff. To make matters worse, in these parts of the world, the disease is not considered a serious health problem and proper means and facilities are not always available.
Enter the Reach, a cheap new diabetes test developed by a group of students from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Relying on 3-D printing technology, the device is aimed at urban “slum-dwellers” who may be threatened with diabetes, but very likely haven’t been checked for it. It’s one of six finalists for this year’s Hult Prize, which challenges students to create social good enterprises.
This year’s goal, which was set by Bill Clinton, is to reduce rates of non-communicable diseases among the urban poor. As part of their Social Enterprise Challenge, the 2014 Hult Prize is intended to address the challenge of building “a social health care enterprise that serves the needs of 25 million slum dwellers suffering from chronic diseases by 2019.” And as Dhaman Rakhra, one of the students on the York research team, put it:
We saw that diabetes is growing at the fastest rate among the slum population. It is also a disease that can be addressed, and where you can have an immediate impact. A lot of it is about a lifestyle change, if it’s detected early.
Roughly the size of a postage stamp, the Reach is similar to a home pregnancy test, in that it tests a patient’s urine. If someone’s urine has a certain level of glucose in it – indicating propensity for diabetes – the test changes color. Most importantly of all, the test can be printing out on a normal 3-D printer, making it unbelievably cheap (just two cents a pop!) The students plan to distribute the Square using the Avon business model, where local people will sell on the enterprise’s behalf.
The Schulich students, who are all undergraduates, plan to refine the idea over the summer, first spending time with a Hult accelerator in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then during a month-long pilot test at a large slum in Mumbai. If they should win the Hult Prize, they will be awarded one million dollars to further develop, refine and finance it. But as Rakhra claimed, the real fun comes in the form of bright minds coming together to come up with solutions to modern issues:
It’s exciting to really show that young people really can make a difference by creating a social enterprise that’s self-sustaining. It’s not something that many young business students really think about as a career path. But it’s definitely something we hope to influence.
The on-site manufacturing of cheap, effective drugs, prosthetics, and medical devices are undoubtedly one of the most exciting aspect of the revolution taking place with additive manufacturing. For starters, it is creating more cost effective ways to address health problems, which is a saving grace for patients and medical systems that are strapped for cash.. At the same time, it shows the potential that new technologies have to address social and economic inequality, rather than perpetuating it.
There’s seems to be no shortage of medical breakthroughs these days! Whether it’s bionic limbs, 3-D printed prosthetic devices, bioprinting, new vaccines and medicines, nanoparticles, or embedded microsensors, researchers and medical scientists are bringing innovation and technological advancement together to create new possibilities. And in recent months, two breakthrough in particular have bbecome the focus of attention, offering the possibility of smarter surgery and health monitoring.
First up, there’s the tiny bladder sensor that is being developed by the Norwegian research group SINTEF. When it comes to patients suffering from paralysis, the fact that they cannot feel when their bladders are full, para and quadriplegics often suffer from pressure build-up that can cause damage to the bladder and kidneys. This sensor would offer a less invasive means of monitoring their condition, to see if surgery is required or if medication will suffice.
Presently, doctors insert a catheter into the patient’s urethra and fill their bladder with saline solution, a process which is not only uncomfortable but is claimed to provide an inaccurate picture of what’s going on. By contrast, this sensor can be injected directly into the patients directly through the skin, and could conceivably stay in place for months or even years, providing readings without any discomfort, and without requiring the bladder to be filled mechanically.
Patients would also able to move around normally, plus the risk of infection would reportedly be reduced. Currently readings are transmitted from the prototypes via a thin wire that extents from the senor out through the skin, although it is hoped that subsequent versions could transmit wirelessly – most likely to the patient’s smartphone. And given that SINTEF’s resume includes making sensors for the CERN particle collider, you can be confident these sensors will work!
Next month, a clinical trial involving three spinal injury patients is scheduled to begin at Norway’s Sunnaas Hospital. Down the road, the group plans to conduct trials involving 20 to 30 test subjects. Although they’re currently about to be tested in the bladder, the sensors could conceivably be used to measure pressure almost anywhere in the body. Conceivably, sensors that monitor blood pressure and warn of aneurisms or stroke could be developed.
Equally impressive is the tiny, doughnut-shaped sensor being developed by Prof. F. Levent Degertekin and his research group at the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. Designed to assist doctors as they perform surgery on the heart or blood vessels, this device could provide some much needed (ahem) illumination. Currently, doctors and scientists rely on images provided by cross-sectional ultrasounds, which are limited in terms of the information they provide.
As Degertekin explains:
If you’re a doctor, you want to see what is going on inside the arteries and inside the heart, but most of the devices being used for this today provide only cross-sectional images. If you have an artery that is totally blocked, for example, you need a system that tells you what’s in front of you. You need to see the front, back, and sidewalls altogether.
That’s where their new chip comes into play. Described as a “flashlight” for looking inside the human body, it’s basically a tiny doughnut-shaped sensor measuring 1.5 millimeters (less than a tenth of an inch) across, with the hole set up to take a wire that would guide it through cardiac catheterization procedures. In that tiny space, the researchers were able to cram 56 ultrasound transmitting elements and 48 receiving elements.
So that the mini monitor doesn’t boil patients’ blood by generating too much heat, it’s designed to shut its sensors down when they’re not in use. In a statement released from the university, Degertekin explained how the sensor will help doctors to better perform life-saving operations:
Our device will allow doctors to see the whole volume that is in front of them within a blood vessel. This will give cardiologists the equivalent of a flashlight so they can see blockages ahead of them in occluded arteries. It has the potential for reducing the amount of surgery that must be done to clear these vessels.
Next up are the usual animal studies and clinical trials, which Degertekin hopes will be conducted by licensing the technology to a medical diagnostic firm. The researchers are also going to see if they can make their device even smaller- small enough to fit on a 400-micron-diameter guide wire, which is roughly four times the diameter of a human hair. At that size, this sensor will be able to provide detailed, on-the-spot information about any part of the body, and go wherever doctors can guide it.
Such is the nature of the new age of medicine: smaller, smarter, and less invasive, providing better information to both save lives and improve quality of life. Now if we can just find a cure for the common cold, we’d be in business!
3-D printing is leading to a revolution in manufacturing, and the list of applications grows with each passing day. But more important is the way it is coming together with other fields of research to make breakthroughs more affordable and accessible. Nowhere is this more true than in the fields of robotics and medicine, where printing techniques are producing a new generation of bionic and mind-controlled prosthetics.
For example, 3D Systems (a an additive manufacturing company) and EksoBionics (a company specializing in bionic prosthetic devices) recently partnered to produce the new “bespoke” exoskeleton that will restore ambulatory ability to paraplegics. The prototype was custom made for a woman named Amanda Boxtel, who was paralyzed in 1992 from a tragic skiing accident.
Designers from 3D Systems began by scanning her body, digitizing the contours of her spine, thighs, and shins; a process that helped them mold the robotic suit to her needs and specifications. They then combined the suit with a set of mechanical actuators and controls made by EksoBionics. The result, said 3D Systems, is the first-ever “bespoke” exoskeleton.
Intrinsic to the partnership between 3D Systems and EksoBionics was the common goal of finding a way to fit the exoskeleton comfortably to Boxtel’s body. One of the greatest challenges with exosuits and prosthetic devices is finding ways to avoid the hard parts bumping into “bony prominences,” such as the knobs on the wrists and ankles. These areas as not only sensitive, but prolonged exposure to hard surfaces can lead to a slew of health problems, given time.
As Scott Summit, the senior director for functional design at 3D Systems, explained it,:
[Such body parts] don’t want a hard surface touching them. We had to be very specific with the design so we never had 3D-printed parts bumping into bony prominences, which can lead to abrasions [and bruising].
One problem that the designers faced in this case was that a paralyzed person like Boxtel often can’t know that bruising is happening because they can’t feel it. This is dangerous because undetected bruises or abrasions can become infected.In addition, because 3D-printing allows the creation of very fine details, Boxtel’s suit was designed to allow her skin to breathe, meaning she can walk around without sweating too much.
The process of creating the 3D-printed robotic suit lasted about three months, starting when Summit and 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichenthal met Boxtel during a visit to EksoBionics. Boxtel is one of ten EksoBionics “test pilots”, and the exoskeleton was already designed to attach to the body very loosely with Velcro straps, with an adjustable fit. But it wasn’t yet tailored to fit her alone.
That’s where 3D Systems came into play, by using a special 3D scanning system to create the custom underlying geometry that would be used to make the parts that attach to the exoskeleton. As Boxtel put it:
When the robot becomes the enabling device to take every step for the rest of your life. the connection between the body and the robot is everything. So our goal is to enhance the quality of that connection so the robot becomes more symbiotic.
And human beings aren’t the only ones who are able to take advantage of this marriage between 3-D printing and biomedicine. Not surprisingly, animals are reaping the benefits of all the latest technological breakthroughs in these fields as well, as evidenced by the little duck named Dudley from the K911 animal rescue service in Sicamous, Canada.
Not too long ago, Dudley lost a leg when a chicken in the same pen mauled him. But thanks to a 3-D printed leg design, especially made for him, he can now walk again. It was created by Terence Loring of 3 Pillar Designs, a company that specializes in 3D-printing architectural prototypes. After hearing of Dudley’s plight through a friend, he decided to see what he could do to help.
Unlike a previous printed limb, the printed foot that was fashioned for Buttercup the Duck, Loring sought to create an entire limb that could move. The first limb he designed had a jointed construction, and was fully 3D-printed in plastic. Unfortunately, the leg broke the moment Dudley pit it on, forcing Loring to go back to the drawing board for a one-piece printed from softer plastic.
The subsequent leg he created had no joints and could bend on its own. And when Dudley put it on, he started walking straight away and without hesitation. Issues remain to be solved, like how to prevent friction sores – a problem that Mike Garey (who designed Buttercup’s new foot) solved with a silicone sock and prosthetic gel liner.
Nevertheless, Dudley is nothing if not as happy as a duck in a pond, and it seems very likely that any remaining issues will be ironed out in time. In fact, one can expect that veterinary medicine will fully benefit from the wide range of 3D printed prosthetic devices and even bionic limbs as advancement and research continues to produce new and exciting possibilities.
And in the meantime, enjoy the following videos which show both Amanda Boxtel and Dudley the duck enjoying their new devices and the ways in which they help bring mobility back to their worlds:
The new year is just flying by pretty quickly, and many relevant stories involving life-changing tech developments are flying by even faster. And in my business and haste to deal with my own writing, I’ve sadly let a lot of stories slip through my fingers. Lucky for me that there’s no statute of limitations when it comes to blogging. Even if you cover something late, it’s not like someone’s going to fire you!
That said, here is one news item I’m rather of ashamed of having not gotten to sooner. It’s no secret that 3D printing is offering new possibilities for amputees and prosthetic devices, in part because the technology is offering greater accessibility and lower costs to those who need them. And one area that is in serious need is the developing and wartorn nation of Sudan.
And thanks to Mick Ebeling, co-founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, 3D printed prosthetics are now being offered to victims of the ongoing war. After learning of a 14-year old boy named Daniel who lost both arms in a government air raid, he traveled to the Nuba Mountains to meet him in person. Having already worked on a similar project in South Africa, he decided to bring 3D printed prosthetics to the area.
Ebeling was so moved by Daniel’s plight that he turned to a world-class team of thinkers and doers – including the inventor of the Robohand, an MIT neuroscientist, a 3D printing company in California, and funding from Intel and Precipart – to see how they could help Daniel and kids like him. Fittingly, he decided to name it “Project Daniel”.
And now, just a year later, Not Impossible Labs has its own little lab at a hospital in the region where it is able to print prosthetic arms for $100 a pop, and in less than six hours. Meanwhile, Daniel not only got his left-arm prosthetic in November, but he is currently employed at the hospital helping to print prosthetics for others children who have suffered the same fate as him.
Ebeling says the printed arm isn’t as sophisticated as others out there, but it did allow him to feed himself for the first time in two years. And while Daniel won’t be able to lift heavy objects or control his fingers with great precision, the prosthetic is affordable and being produced locally, so it also serves as an economically viable stand-in until the tech for 3D-printed prosthetics improves and comes down in cost.
Not Impossible Labs, which has already fitted others with arms, says it hopes to extend its campaign to thousands like Daniel. It’s even made the design open source in the hopes that others around the world will be able to replicate the project, setting up similar labs to provide low-cost prosthetics to those in need. After all, there are plenty of war torn regions in the developing world today, and no shortage of victims.
In the coming years, it would be incredibly encouraging to see similar labs set up in developing nations in order to address the needs of local amputees. In addition to war, landmines, terrorism, and even lack of proper medical facilities give rise to the need for cheap, accessible prosthetics. All that’s really needed is an internet connection, a 3D printer, and some ABS plastic for raw material.
None of this is beyond the budgets of most governments or NGOs, so such partnerships are not only possible but entirely feasible. For the sake of kids like Daniel, it’s something that we should make happen! And in the meantime, check out this video below courtesy of Not Impossible Labs which showcases the printing technology used by Project Daniel and the inspiring story behind it.
And be sure to check out their website for more information and information on how you can help!
Gauging what life will be like down the road based on the emerging trends of today is something that scientists and speculative minds have been doing since the beginning of time. But given the rapid pace of change in the last century – and the way that it continues to accelerate – predicting future trends has become something of a virtual necessity today.
And the possibilities that are expected for the next generation are both awe-inspiring and cause for concern. On the one hand, several keen innovations are expected to become the norm in terms of transportation, education, health care and consumer trends. On the other, the growing problems of overpopulation, urbanization and Climate Change are likely to force some serious changes.
Having read through quite a bit of material lately that comes from design firms, laboratories, and grant funds that seek to award innovation, I decided to do a post that would take a look at how life is expected to change in the coming decades, based on what we are seeing at work today. So here we go, enjoy the ride, and remember to tip the driver!
Housing: When it comes to designing the cities of the future – where roughly 5 of the worlds 8.25 billion people are going to live – meeting the basic needs of all these folks is complicated by the need to meet them in a sustainable way. Luckily, people all across the world are coming together to propose solutions to this problem, ranging from the small and crafty to the big and audacious.
Consider that buildings of the future could be coated with Smart Paint, a form of pigment that allows people to change the color of their domicile simply by pushing a button. Utilizing nano-particles that rearrange themselves to absorb a different part of the spectrum, the paint is able to reflect whatever wavelength of visible light the user desires, becoming that color and removing the need for new coats of paint.
And consider that apartments and houses in this day could be lighted by units that convert waste light energy from their light bulbs back into functional ambient light. This is the idea behind the Trap Light, a lamp that comes equipped with photoluminescent pigments embedded directly into the glass body. Through this process, 30 minutes of light from an incandescent or LED light bulb provides a few hours of ambient lighting.
And in this kind of city, the use of space and resources has come to be very efficient, mainly because it has had to. In terms of low-rent housing, designs like the Warsaw-inspired Keret House are very popular, a narrow, 14-sqaure meter home that still manages to fit a bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. Being so narrow, city planners are able to squeeze these into the gaps between older buildings, its walls and floors snapping together like Lego.
When it comes to other, larger domiciles (like houses and apartment blocks), construction is likely to become a much more speedy and efficient process – relying on the tools of Computer-Assisted Design (CAD) and digital fabrication (aka. the D-process). Basically, the entire fabrication process is plotted in advance on computer, and then the pieces are tailor made in the factory and snapped together on site.
And lets not forget anti-gravity 3-D printing as a means of urban assembly, as proposed by architecture students from the Joris Laarman Lab in Amsterdam. Using quick-hardening materials and dispensed by robot-driven printers, entire apartment blocks – from electronic components to entire sections of wall – within a few days time. Speedier, safer and more efficient than traditional construction.
Within these buildings, water is recycled and treated, with grey water used to fertilize crops that are grown in house. Using all available spaces – dedicated green spaces, vertical agriculture, and “victory gardens” on balconies – residents are able to grow their own fruits and vegetables. And household 3-D food printers will dispense tailor-made treats, from protein-rich snacks and carb crackers to chocolate and cakes.
And of course, with advances in smart home technology, you can expect that your appliances, thermostat, and display devices will all be predictive and able to anticipate your needs for the day. What’s more, they will all be networked and connected to you via a smartphone or some other such device, which by 2030, is likely to take the form of a smartwatch, smartring or smartbracelet.
Speaking of which…
Smart Devices and Appliances:
When it comes to living in the coming decades, the devices we use to manage our everyday lives and needs will have evolved somewhat. 3-D printing is likely to be an intrinsic part of this, manufacturing everything from food to consumer products. And when it comes to scanning things for the sake of printing them, generating goods on demand, handheld scanners are likely to become all the rage.
That’s where devices like the Mo.Mo. (pictured above) will come into play. According to Futurist Forum, this molecular scanning device scans objects around your house, tells you what materials they’re made from, and whether they can be re-created with a 3-D printer. Personal, household printers are also likely to be the norm, with subscriptions to open-source software sites leading to on-demand household manufacturing.
And, as already mentioned, everything in the home and workplace is likely to be connected to your person through a smart device or embedded chips. Consistent with the concept of the “Internet of Things”, all devices are likely to be able to communicate with you and let you know where they are in real time. To put that in perspective, imagine SIRI speaking to you in the form of your car keys, telling you they are under the couch.
Telepresence, teleconferencing and touchscreens made out of every surface are also likely to have a profound effect. When a person wakes in the morning, the mirror on the wall will have displays telling them the date, time, temperature, and any messages and emails they received during the night. When they are in the shower, the wall could comforting images while music plays. This video from Corning Glass illustrates quite well:
And the current range of tablets, phablets and smartphones are likely to be giving way to flexible, transparent, and ultralight/ultrathin handhelds and wearables that use projection and holographic technology. These will allow a person to type, watch video, or just interface with cyberspace using augmented reality instead of physical objects (like a mouse or keyboard).
And devices which can convert, changing from a smartphone to a tablet to a smartwatch (and maybe even glasses) are another predicted convenience. Relying on nanofabrication technology, Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) technology, and touch-sensitive surfaces, these devices are sure to corner the market of electronics. A good example is Nokia’s Morph concept, shown here:
Energy Needs: In the cities of the near-future, how we generate electricity for all our household appliances, devices and possibly robots will be a going concern. And in keeping with the goal of sustainability, those needs are likely to be met by solar, wind, piezoelectric, geothermal and tidal power wherever possible. By 2030, buildings are even expected to have arrays built in to them to ensure that they can meet their own energy needs independently.
This could look a lot like the Strawscraper (picture above), where thousands of fronds utilize wind currents to generate electricity all day long; or fields filled with Windstalks – where standing carbon-fiber reinforced poles generate electricity by simply swaying with the wind. Wind farms, or wind tunnels and turbines (as envisioned with the Pertamina Energy Tower in Jakarta) could also be used by buildings to do the same job.
In addition, solar panels mounted on the exterior would convert daylight into energy. Assuming these buildings are situated in low-lying areas, superheated subterranean steam could easily be turned into sources of power through underground pipes connected to turbines. And for buildings located near the sea, turbines placed in the harbor could do the same job by capturing the energy of the tides.
Furthermore, piezoelectric devices could be used to turn everyday activity into electricity. Take the Pavegen as an example, a material composed of recycled tires and piezoelectric motors that turns steps into energy. Equipping every hallway, stairwell and touch surface with tensile material and motors, just about everything residents do in a building could become a source of added power.
On top of that, piezoelectric systems could be embedded in roads and on and off ramps, turning automobile traffic into electrical power. In developed countries, this is likely to take the form of advanced materials that create electrical charges when compressed. But for developing nations, a simple system of air cushions and motors could also be effective, as demonstrated by Macías Hernández’ proposed system for Mexico City.
And this would seem like a good segue into the issue of…
Mass Transit: According to UN surveys, roughly 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by the year 2030. Hopefully, the 5.1 billion of us negotiating tight urban spaces by then will have figured out a better way to get around. With so many people packed into dense urban environments, it is simply not practical for all these individuals to rely on smog-emitting automobiles.
For the most part, this can be tackled by the use of mass transit that is particularly fast and efficient, which are the very hallmarks of maglev trains. And while most current designs are already speedy and produce a smaller carbon footprint than armies of cars, next-generation designs like the Hyperloop, The Northeast Maglev (TNEM), and the Nagoya-Tokyo connector are even more impressive.
Dubbed by Elon Musk as the “fifth form” of transportation, these systems would rely on linear electric motors, solar panels, and air cushions to achieve speeds of up to 1290 kilometers per hour (800 mph). In short, they would be able to transport people from Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes, from New York to Washington D.C. in 60 minutes, and from Nagoya to Tokyo in just 41.
When it comes to highways, future designs are likely to take into account keeping electric cars charged over long distances. Consider the example that comes to us from Sweden, where Volvo is also working to create an electric highway that has embedded electrical lines that keep cars charged over long distances. And on top of that, highways in the future are likely to be “smart”.
For example, the Netherlands-based Studio Roosegaarde has created a concept which relies on motion sensors to detect oncoming vehicles and light the way for them, then shuts down to reduce energy consumption. Lane markings will use glow-in-the-dark paint to minimize the need for lighting, and another temperature-sensitive paint will be used to show ice warnings when the surface is unusually cold.
In addition, the road markings are expected to have longer-term applications, such as being integrated into a robot vehicle’s intelligent monitoring systems. As automated systems and internal computers become more common, smart highways and smart cars are likely to become integrated through their shared systems, taking people from A to B with only minimal assistance from the driver.
And then there’s the concept being used for the future of the Pearl River Delta. This 39,380 square-km (15,200 square-mile) area in southeastern China encompasses a network of rapidly booming cities like Shenzhen, which is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It’s also one of the most polluted, thanks to the urban growth bringing with it tons of commuters, cars, and vehicle exhaust.
That’s why NODE Architecture & Urbanism – a Chinese design firm – has come up with a city plan for 2030 that plans put transportation below ground, freeing up a whole city above for more housing and public space. Yes, in addition to mass transit – like subways – even major highways will be relegated to the earth, with noxious fumes piped and tunneled elsewhere, leaving the cityscape far less polluted and safer to breathe.
Personal cars will not be gone, however. Which brings us to…
Personal Transit: In the future, the majority of transport is likely to still consist of automobiles, albeit ones that overwhelmingly rely on electric, hydrogen, biofuel or hybrid engines to get around. And keeping these vehicles fueled is going to be one of the more interesting aspects of future cities. For instance, electric cars will need to stay charged when in use in the city, and charge stations are not always available.
That’s where companies like HEVO Power come into play, with its concept of parking chargers that can offer top-ups for electric cars. Having teamed up with NYU Polytechnic Institute to study the possibility of charging parked vehicles on the street, they have devised a manhole c0ver-like device that can be installed in a parking space, hooked up to the city grid, and recharge batteries while commuters do their shopping.
And when looking at individual vehicles, one cannot underestimate the role by played by robot cars. Already, many proposals are being made by companies like Google and Chevrolet for autonomous vehicles that people will be able to summon using their smartphone. In addition, the vehicles will use GPS navigation to automatically make their way to a destination and store locations in its memory for future use.
And then there’s the role that will be played by robotaxis and podcars, a concept which is already being put to work in Masdar Eco City in the United Arab Emirates, San Diego and (coming soon) the UK town of Milton Keynes. In the case of Masdar, the 2GetThere company has built a series of rails that can accommodate 25,000 people a month and are consistent with the city’s plans to create clean, self-sustaining options for transit.
In the case of San Diego, this consists of a network known as the Personal Rapid Transit System – a series of on-call, point to point transit cars which move about on main lines and intermediate stations to find the quickest route to a destination. In Britian, similar plans are being considered for the town of Milton Keynes – a system of 21 on-call podcars similar to what is currently being employed by Heathrow Airport.
But of course, not all future transportation needs will be solved by MagLev trains or armies of podcars. Some existing technologies – such as the bicycle – work pretty well, and just need to be augmented. Lightlane is a perfect example of this, a set of lasers and LED lights that bikers use to project their own personal bike lane from under the seat as they ride.
And let’s not forget the Copenhagen Wheel, a device invented by MIT SENSEable City Lab back in 2009 to electrify the bicycle. Much like other powered-bicycle devices being unveiled today, this electric wheel has a power assist feature to aid the rider, a regenerative braking system that stores energy, and is controlled by sensors in the peddles and comes with smart features can be controlled via a smartphone app.
On top of all that, some research actually suggests that separating modes of transportation – bike lanes, car lanes, bus lanes, etc. – actually does more harm than good to the people using them. In Europe, the traffic concept known as “shared spaces” actually strips paths of traffic markings and lights, and allow walkers and drivers to negotiate their routes on their own.
Shared spaces create more consideration and consciousness for other people using them, which is why the Boston architecture firm Höweler + Yoon designed the “Tripanel” as part of their larger vision for the Boston-Washington corridor (aka. “Boswash”). The Tripanel features a surface that switches among grass, asphalt, and photovoltaic cells, offering a route for pedestrians, bikers, and electric cars.
When it comes to schooling ourselves and our children, the near future is likely to see some serious changes, leading to a virtual reinventing of educational models. For some time now, educators have been predicting how the plurality of perspectives and the rise of a globalized mentality would cause the traditional mode of learning (i.e. centralized schools, transmission learning) to break down.
And according to other speculative thinkers, such as Salim Ismail – the director of Singularity University – education will cease being centralized at all and become an “on-demand service”. In this model, people will simply “pull down a module of learning”, and schooldays and classrooms will be replaced by self-directed lessons and “microlearning moments”.
In this new learning environment, teleconferencing, telepresence, and internet resources are likely to be the main driving force. And while the size and shape of future classrooms is difficult to predict, it is likely that classroom sizes will be smaller by 2030, with just a handful of students using portable devices and display glasses to access information while under the guidance of a teacher.
At the same time, classrooms are likely to be springing up everywhere, in the forms of learning annexes in apartment buildings, or home-school environments. Already, this is an option for distance education, where students and teachers are connected through the internet. With the addition of more sophisticated technology, and VR environments, students will be able to enter “virtual classrooms” and connect across vast distances.
According to Eze Vidra, the head of Google Entrepreneurs Europe: “School kids will learn from short bite-sized modules, and gamification practices will be incorporated in schools to incentivize children to progress on their own.” In short, education will become a self-directed, or (in the case of virtual environments) disembodied experienced that are less standardized, more fun, and more suited to individual needs.
Health: Many experts believe that medicine in the future is likely to shift away from addressing illness to prevention. Using thin, flexible, skin-mounted, embedded, and handheld sensors, people will be able to monitor their health on a daily basis, receiving up-to-date information on their blood pressure, cholesterol, kidney and liver values, and the likelihood that they might contract diseases in their lifetime.
All of these devices are likely to be bundled in one way or another, connected via smartphone or other such device to a person’s home computer or account. Or, as Ariel Schwatz of CoExist anticipates, they could come in the form of a “Bathroom GP”, where a series of devices like a Dr.Loo and Dr. Sink measure everything from kidney function to glucose levels during a routine trip.
Basically, these smart toilets and sinks screen for illnesses by examining your spittle, feces, urine and other bodily fluids, and then send that data to a microchip embedded inside you or on a wristband. This info is analyzed and compared to your DNA patterns and medical records to make sure everything is within the normal range. The chip also measures vital signs, and Dr Mirror displays all the results.
However, hospitals will still exist to deal with serious cases, such as injuries or the sudden onset of illnesses. But we can also expect them to be augmented thanks to the incorporation of new biotech, nanotech and bionic advances. With the development of bionic replacement limbs and mind-controlled prosthetics proceeding apace, every hospital in the future is likely to have a cybernetics or bioenhancement ward.
What’s more, the invention of bioprinting, where 3-D printers are able to turn out replacement organic parts on demand, is also likely to seriously alter the field of medical science. If people are suffering from a failing heart, liver, kidney, or have ruined their knees or other joints, they can simply put in at the bioprinting lab and get some printed replacement parts prepared.
And as a final, encouraging point, diseases like cancer and HIV are likely to be entirely curable. With many vaccines that show the ability to not only block, but even kill, the HIV virus in production, this one-time epidemic is likely to be a thing of the past by 2030. And with a cure for cancer expected in coming years, people in 2030 are likely to view it the same way people view polio or tetanus today. In short, dangerous, but curable!
Buying/Selling: When it comes to living in 2030, several trends are expected to contribute to people’s economic behavior. These include slow economic growth, collaborative consumption, 3-D printing, rising costs, resource scarcity, an aging population, and powerful emerging economies. Some of these trends are specific, but all of them will effect the behavior of future generations, mainly because the world of the future will be even more integrated.
As already noted, 3-D printers and scanners in the home are likely to have a profound effect on the consumer economy, mainly by giving rise to an on-demand manufacturing ethos. This, combined with online shopping, is likely to spell doom for the department store, a process that is already well underway in most developed nations (thanks to one-stop shopping).
However, the emergence of the digital economy is also creating far more in the way of opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship and what is often referred to as the “sharing economy”. This represents a convergence between online reviews, online advertising of goods and services, and direct peer-to-peer buying and selling that circumvents major distributors.
This trend, which is not only reaching back in time to reestablish a bartering economy, but is also creating a “trust metric”, whereby companies, brand names, and even individuals are being measured by to their reputation, which in turn is based on their digital presence and what it says about them. Between a “sharing economy” and a “trust economy”, the economy of the future appears highly decentralized.
Further to this is the development of cryptocurrencies, a digital medium of exchange that relies solely on consumer demand to establish its value – not gold standards, speculators or centralized banks. The first such currency was Bitcoin, which emerged in 2009, but which has since been joined by numerous others like Litecoin, Namecoin, Peercoin, Ripple, Worldcoin, Dogecoin, and Primecoin.
In this especially, the world of 2030 is appearing to be a very fluid place, where wealth depends on spending habits and user faith alone, rather than the power of governments, financial organizations, or centralized bureaucracies. And with this movement into “democratic anarchy” underway, one can expect the social dynamics of nations and the world to change dramatically.
Space Travel!: This last section is of such significance that it simply must end with an exclamation mark. And this is simply because by 2030, many missions and projects that will pave the way towards a renewed space age will be happening… or not. It all comes down to whether or not the funding is made available, public interest remains high, and the design and engineering concepts involved hold true.
However, other things are likely to become the norm, such as space tourism. Thanks to visionaries like World View and Richard Branson (the pioneer of space tourism with Virgin Galactic), trips to the lower atmosphere are likely to become a semi-regular occurrence, paving the way not only for off-world space tourism, but aerospace transit across the globe as well.
Private space exploration will also be in full-swing, thanks to companies like Google’s Space X and people like Elon Musk. This year, Space X is preparing for the first launch of it’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a move which will bring affordable space flight that much closer. And by 2030, affordability will be the hallmarks of private ventures into space, which will likely include asteroid mining and maybe the construction of space habitats.
2030 is also the year that NASA plans to send people to Mars, using the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and a redesigned Saturn V rocket. Once there, the crew will conduct surface studies and build upon the vast legacy of the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity Rovers to determine what Mars once looked like. This will surely be a media event, the likes of which has not been seen since the Moon Landing.
Speaking of media events, by 2030, NASA may not even be the first space agency or organization to set foot on Mars. Not if Mars One, a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, get’s its way and manages to land a group of colonists there by 2023. And they are hardly alone, as Elon Musk has already expressed an interest in establishing a colony of 80,000 people on the Red Planet sometime in the future.
And Inspiration Mars, another non-profit organization hosted by space adventurist Dennis Tito, will have already sent an astronaut couple on a round-trip to Mars and back (again, if all goes as planned). The mission, which is currently slated for 2018 when the planets are in alignment, will therefore be a distant memory, but will serve as an example to all the private space ventures that will have followed.
In addition to Mars, one-way trips are likely to be taking place to other celestial bodies as well. For instance, Objective Europa – a non-profit made up of scientists, conceptual artists, and social-media experts – plans to send a group of volunteers to the Jovian moon of Europa as well. And while 2030 seems a bit soon for a mission, it is likely that (if it hasn’t been scrapped) the program will be in the advanced stages by then.
NASA and other space agencies are also likely to be eying Europa at this time and perhaps even sending ships there to investigate the possibility of life beneath it’s icy surface. Relying on recent revelations about the planet’s ice sheet being thinnest at the equator, a lander or space penetrator is sure to find its way through the ice and determine once and for all if the warm waters below are home to native life forms.
By 2030, NASA’s MAVEN and India’s MOM satellites will also have studied the Martian atmosphere, no doubt providing a much fuller picture of its disappearance. At the same time, NASA will have already towed an asteroid to within the Moon’s orbit to study it, and begun constructing an outpost at the L2 Lagrange Point on the far side of the Moon, should all go as planned.
And last, but certainly not least, by 2030, astronauts from NASA, the ESA, and possibly China are likely to be well on their way towards the creation of a permanent outpost on the Moon. Using a combination of 3-D printing, robots, and sintering technology, future waves of astronauts and settlers will have permanent domes made directly out of regolith with which to conduct research on the Lunar surface.
All of these adventures will help pave the way to a future where space tourism to other planets, habitation on the Moon and Mars, and ventures to the asteroid belt (which will solve humanity’s resource problem indefinitely), will all be the order of the day.
Summary: To break it all down succinctly, the world of 2030 is likely to be rather different than the one we are living in right now. At the same time though, virtually all the developments that characterize it – growing populations, bigger cities, Climate Change, alternative fuels and energy, 3-D printing, cryptocurrencies, and digital devices and communications – are already apparent now.
Still, as these trends and technologies continue to expand and are distributed to more areas of the world – not to mention more people, as they come down in price – humanity is likely to start taking them for granted. The opportunities they open, and the dependency they create, will have a very deterministic effect on how people live and how the next generation will be shaped.
All in all, 2030 will be a very interesting time because it will be here that so many developments – the greatest of which will be Climate Change and the accelerating pace of technological change – will be on the verge of reaching the tipping point. By 2050, both of these factors are likely to come to a head, taking humanity in entirely different directions and vying for control of our future.
Basically, as the natural environment reels from the effects of rising temperatures and an estimated CO2 concentration of 600 ppm in the upper atmosphere, the world will come to be characterized by famine, scarcity, shortages, and high mortality. At the same time, the accelerating pace of technology promises to lead to a new age where abundance, post-scarcity and post-mortality are the norm.
So in the end, 2030 will be a sort of curtain raiser for the halfway point of the 21st century, during which time, humanity’s fate will have become largely evident. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping things turn out okay, because our children are surely expecting to have children of their own, and I know they would like to leave behind a world the latter could also live in!
Since it’s inception, bioprinting has offered medical science and astounding range of applications, with new being added every day. In just the past few years, researchers have found ways to create 3-D printed cartilage, replacement skin, and even miniature kidneys and livers using stem cells. And now, with this latest development, doctor’s may be able to “draw” replacement tissue as easily as they scrawl their signatures on a prescription pad.
It’s known as the BioPen, a handheld surgical device that works a little like a mini-3-D printer may soon be used to help repair damaged bones. Developed by Austrian researchers, the pen allows a surgeon to draw layers of stem cells directly at the site of an injury. Much like a a 3-D printer deposits plastic one layer at a time, the BioPen deposits gel in layers to create a 3-D structure.
After filling the damaged bone with the cells – mixed with a biodegradable seaweed extract to hold everything together- an ultraviolet light on the pen sets the gel in place. After the cells are in place, they multiply and eventually form functioning tissue. The device can also be used to apply growth factors to stimulate cell growth and other drugs (like cortisone) directly to where they are needed.
University of Wollongong professor Gordon Wallace, one of the researchers who is working on the project along with a team from the University of Melbourne, expressed the benefits of the device this way:
Biology works in 3-D. The ability to provide an appropriate structural environment for the stem cells enables more effective development into the appropriate tissue.
In the past, surgeons might have just injected stem cells to the desired area. But now, using the pen to build a small scaffold out of the gel, the cells can be better protected and more likely to survive. The researchers say it’s also easier to be precise with the pen in hand, and the whole process takes less time than surgeries would have in the past.
To further illustrate the uses and applications of additive manufacturing, the prototype itself was built in the researchers’ lab using a 3-D printer. According to Wallace, next-generation fabrication techniques not only made it possible to easily build the pen, but they also make it possible to quickly iterate new versions of the hardware.
And while their partners at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne are working on optimizing the cell material, Wallace and his team of researchers will begin conducting animal trials with the BioPen, beginning later this year. If all goes well, the device could be undergoing human trials sometime in 2015, and available in hospitals in just a few years time.
And combined with other procedures that can generate replacement tissue (eyes, organs, skin), we will be looking at the age of biomedicine in full bloom!