3 Tech Areas in Which Engineers Are Having a Big Impact

We all know that technology has changed the world dramatically in recent years, and continues to disrupt industries of all types, in all locations across the globe. For engineers, and for businesses which employ them and/or use their developments, the meshing of engineering and technology is particularly powerful right now. By pairing humans with computers, some of the most exciting projects going around are currently being released, or are under development.

Whether you’re interested in control systems engineering, biomedical engineering, computer engineering, or another specialty, it’s important to stay up to date on the latest developments. Read on for three key tech areas in which engineers are having a big impact.

Robotics

Robotics is an area which is being heavily invested in by many different types of industries, and engineering is no different. One of the most exciting projects under development is a robotics system called “visual foresights.” While usually robots react to data in real time, responding to things as they happen, researchers at the University of California are working on making it possible for robots to imagine the future based on their actions.
This will mean that the tech will be able to interact proficiently with situations or items they haven’t seen before. For instance, they might be able to predict what their in-built cameras will see if they perform, in a set sequence, a certain set of movements.
At the moment, the predictions robots can make through this visual foresight are only quite limited, and reach into the future by just a few seconds. However, this step forward means that robots can now, and will soon be better able to, learn to perform jobs without having any prior knowledge, or help from humans. This will in turn open up a whole new avenue for how and where robots can be utilized.

3D Printing

Another topical subject is 3D printing. It is also going ahead in leaps and bounds, particularly when it comes to use in medicine. For example, 3D-printed anatomical models are being used more and more to help doctors improve the outcomes of their surgeries. This is because the models help surgeons to practice operations (on specially-created replicas of patient organs) in advance.
While these models have until recently been made of hard plastic, have a different feel to real living tissue, and are tough for surgeons to cut into, things are changing. A team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota has been developing 3D-printed organ models which are more advanced than the older plastic ones.
The new versions actually have the same feel and mechanical properties as living tissue. They’re also better because they can come equipped with soft sensors to provide feedback during practice options. This enables medicos to know when they’re applying the right amount of pressure without damaging fragile tissue. It also makes it easier for surgeons to plan surgeries effectively, and to predict how patient organs will react to and heal from operations. Eventually it’s believed that bionic organs may be able to be printed on demand as required for transplants.

Another big 3D project in the works is the creation of printed objects which can connect to Wi-Fi without the need for electronics. At the University of Washington, teams are developing 3D-printed items, made from plastic, which can connect and talk to, and collate data from, other devices in a building. This is done via the internet, but without the usual need for electronic components.
The engineers at the University replaced some of the electronic functions typically performed by components with mechanical motion with pieces which can be 3D printed. This list includes buttons, springs, knobs, switches, and gears. It is hoped that consumers will one day be able to use their own, domestic 3D printers to create objects out of readily-available plastics, and have these devices communicate wirelessly. For example, a bottle of laundry detergent could sense when the soap is getting low, and automatically connect to the internet to order a refill.

Biomedical Advances

Biomedicine is another exciting field. Apart from the aforementioned 3D-printed organs, engineers in are working on many other developments.
A team of researchers at the University of Texas, in conjunction with others at the University of Reims, are concentrating on complex plasmonic nanovesicles. This is the term for minute capsules which can be taken as a pill. Once swallowed, they navigate the bloodstream and move to a set location in the body to deliver a drug in the exact spot where it’s needed. By hitting the pills with a short laser light pulse once they’re positioned, the researchers believe the nanoparticles will change shape and release their contents on demand.
This innovative drug-delivery system has enormous potential and could truly transform medicine. This is especially the case in the treatment of cancers and the study of the brain, where only certain parts of an organ need to be targeted.
 

THE INTERNET OF EATS

It was the Three-Course Dinner Gum that served as Violet Beauregarde’s downfall at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and also introduced multiple generations to the curious possibilities of food’s future. Now, more than fifty years’ since the publication of the Roald Dahl classic, we’re on the brink of innovations that might make twentieth-century fiction look more like a forecasting engine. As the way we cook, eat and interact with our food is evolving, what does the future eating look like?
Let’s start in the kitchen
Many an embroidered wall-hanging will tell you that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Today, that heart holds many possibilities for innovation, some of which are already in play. There are a growing number of smart refrigerators on the market, offering touch-screen, wi-fi enabled doors—yes, you can watch cat videos but you can also view how many eggs you have stocked while you’re at the market.
Similarly, wi-fi oven ranges are making it possible to adjust oven temperatures from afar and check if you left your burners on after you left the house. The connectivity plays out in a few different ways; some appliances will connect to your smartphone, but many are hooking up with smart home systems or digital assistants (see Whirlpool and Nest and GE and Alexa) and yet others plug into their own smart home systems (see Samsung’s Smartthings Hub).
But if you’re not ready to invest in new built-in appliances, there are other entry points to smarter cooking. Cuciniale, for example, promises to deliver perfectly cooked meats by connecting your steak to your smartphone through its multisensor probe. June Intelligent Oven also works with sensors to improve timing and preparation, but can also recognize what food it’s cooking.
These (as well as the bigger appliances) have the appeal of ease and convenience and may also elevate our cooking skills much in the same way digital has improved our photography. (Think of “seared” as a filter you can simply tap to apply to your tuna.)
Those holding out for a fully hands-off solution might find projects like UK startup Moley Robotics’ robotic kitchen of interest. Moley offers a pair of wall-embedded arms that can prepare and cook your meals. (No indication if it also does dishes.) Meanwhile, thanks to artificial intelligence, robots are learning how to cook the same way many humans are picking up tips: through Youtube. It’s all quite compelling, though, for now at least, it’s still more convenient to just order a pizza.
What about the actual food?
A more savory aspect of the future of food is, naturally, the food itself. One fairly easy trend to identify is the move toward a more health-conscious eating—there are plenty of studies to support this but you really only need to see that McDonald’s sells apple slices for confirmation. Technology is ready to enable this trend, with apps that offer calorie counts on pictures of food and devices like Nima that scan food for gluten and other allergens.  
In a way that mirrors the fragmenting of media experiences, we’re also moving toward an era of more customized meals. That’s not simply Ethan-won’t-eat-zucchini-so-make-him-a-hot-dog-customization, but rather food that is developed to mirror our specific preferences, adjust to allergies and even address specific nutritional deficiencies. Success here relies on access to dietary insights, be it through logged historical eating patterns, blood levels and/or gut microbiome data. (New York Magazine has an interesting piece on the use of microbiome data to create your own personal food algorithm.)
And while it’s easy to imagine more personalized diets at home, we can count on technology to support that same customized approach while we’re eating out. Increasingly restaurants like Chili’s, Applebee’s, Olive Garden and Buffalo Wild Wings are introducing the table side tablet to increase efficiency and accuracy in orders and payments. As restaurant-goers take more control in how food is ordered, it will be easy to expect more customization in what is ordered.
Are we redefining food?
Given the rise of allergies and food intolerance, it’s not difficult to imagine a world of highly-customized eating. More unexpected in the evolution of eating is the work being done in neurogastronomy. This is a field that is approaching flavor from a neural level—actually rewiring the brain to change our perception of taste. In other words, neurogastronomy could make a rice cake register as delicious as ice cream cake. By fundamentally changing the types of food from which we derive pleasure, neurogastronomy could essentially trick us into healthier eating.
Then there is the emerging camp that eschews eating in favor of more efficient food alternatives. Products like provocatively-named Soylent and the much-humbler-sounding Schmilk offer a minimalist approach to nutrition (underscored by minimalist packaging), sort of like Marie Kondo for your diet. While this level of efficiency may have appeal in today’s cult of busy-ness, there something bittersweet about stripping food to the bare nutritional essentials, like eliminating the art of conversation in favor of plain, cold communication.
Another entry from the takes-some-time-to-get-used-to department comes from a team of Danish researchers. With the goal of addressing the costly challenge of food storage in space, CosmoCrops is working on a way to 3D-print food. There are already a number of products available that offer 3D-printed food (check out this Business Insider article for some cool food sculptures), but CosmoCrops is unique in its aim to reduce storage needs by printing food from bacteria. To that end, they are developing a ‘super-bacterium’ that can survive in space. (What could possibly go wrong?)
Where is the opportunity?
It’s probably too soon to tell if we’ll be more likely to nosh on bacteria burgers or pop nutritional powder pills come 2050. What is easier to digest today is the fact that connectivity is coming to eating. For the home kitchen, it won’t happen immediately—the turnover for built-in appliances isn’t as quick as, say, televisions and costs are still high. This means there’s still time for the contenders, both the appliance builders and the smart technology providers, to figure out which features will tip the kitchen in their favor.
From a dietary perspective, there is an opportunity in bridging the gap between our diet and technology. Restaurants will want to explore how to use technology to support more customized food preferences, but the broader question may be what will make it possible—and acceptable, in terms of privacy—to analyze personal data in order to develop meals that align with our unique food preferences as well as our specific nutritional needs? Maybe it’s a wearable that links your gut bacteria to ingredients stocked in the fridge, a toothbrush that reads your saliva, or (to really close the loop) the diagnostic toilet.
With innovation happening on many tracks, the possibilities for our future cooking and eating are both broad and captivating. What will lunch look like in next fifty, twenty, or even ten years? To borrow from Willy Wonka (who actually borrowed from Oscar Wilde): “The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last.”

The Seven Wonders of the Business Tech World

Just over 2000 years ago, Philo of Byzantium sat down and made a list of the seven wonders of the world at that time. Like any such subjective list, it was met with criticism in its own time. The historian Herodotus couldn’t believe the Egyptian Labyrinth was left off and Callimachus argued forcefully for the Ishtar Gate to be included.
At Gigaom Change in September (early adopter pricing still available), we will explore the seven technologies that I think will most affect business in the near future. I would like to list the seven technologies I chose and why I chose them. Would you have picked something different?
Here is my list:
Robots – This one is pretty easy. Even if you make your trade in 1’s and 0’s and never touch an atom, robots will still impact some aspect of your business, even if it is upstream. Additionally, the issue of robots has launched a societal debate about unemployment, minimum wage, basic income, and the role of “working for a living” in the modern world. We have dreamed of robots for eons, feared them for decades, and now we finally get to see what their real effect on humanity will be.
AI – This is also, forgive the pun, a no-brainer. AI is a tricky one though. Some of the smartest people on the planet (Hawking, Gates, Musk) say we should fear it while others, such as the Chief Scientist of Baidu say worrying about AI is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars. Further, the estimates to when we might see an AGI (artificial general intelligence, an AI that can do a wide range of tasks like a human) varies from 5 years to 500 years. Our brains are, arguably, what make us human, and the idea that an artificial brain might be made gets our attention. What effect will this have on the workplace? We will find out.
AR/VR – Although we think of AR/VR as (at first) a consumer technology, the work applications are equally significant. You only have to put on a VR headset for about three minutes to see that some people, maybe a good number, will put this device on and never take it off. But on the work front, it is still an incredibly powerful tool, able to overlay information from the digital world onto the world of atoms. Our brains aren’t quite wired up to imagine this in its full flowering, but we will watch it unfold in the next decade.
Human/Machine Interface – Also bridging the gap between the real world and the virtual one is the whole HMI front. As machines become ever more ubiquitous, our need to seamlessly interface with them grows. HMI is a wide spectrum of technologies: From good UIs to eye-tracking hardware to biological implants, HMI will grow to the point where the place where the human ends and the machine begins will get really blurry.
3D Printing – We call this part of Gigaom Change “3D Printing” but we mean it to include all the new ways we make stuff today. But there isn’t a single term that encapsulates that, so 3D Printing will have to suffice. While most of our first-hand experience with 3D printing is single-color plastic demo pieces, there is an entire industry working on 3D printing new hearts and livers, as well as more mundane items like clothing and food (“Earl Grey, hot”). From a business standpoint, the idea that quantity one has the same unit price as quantity one-thousand is powerful and is something we will see play out sooner than later.
Nanotechnology – I get the most pushback from nano because it seems so far out there. But it really isn’t. By one estimate, there are two thousand nanotech products on the market today. Nano, building things with dimensions of between 1 and 100 nanometers, is already a multi-billion dollar industry. On the consumer side, we will see nano robots that swim around in your blood cleaning up what ails you. But on the business side, we will see a re-thinking of all of the material sciences. The very substances we deal with will change, and we may even be said to be not in the iron nor stone age, but the nano age, where we make materials that were literally impossible to create just a few years ago.
Cybersecurity – This may seem to be the one item that is least like all of the others, for it isn’t a specific technology per se. I included it though because as more of our businesses depend on the technologies that we use, the more our businesses are susceptible to attacks by technology. How do we build in safeguards in a world where most of us don’t really even understand the technologies themselves, let alone, subtle ways that they can be exploited?
Those are my seven technologies that will most effect business. I hope you can come to Austin Sept 21-23 to explore them all with us at the Gigaom Change Leader’s Summit.
Byron Reese
Publisher
Gigaom

Exploring the world’s first 3D-printed cars

3D printing technology has made a lot of advancements lately, prompting people to create more useful objects. People have always dreamed about being able to select a car online, download a design, and print it in the privacy of their own home. That dream is quickly becoming a reality thanks to developments from Local Motors. Innovative technology has made it possible for the car manufacturer to create the world’s first ever working 3D-printed vehicle.
Strati_overall

The Strati

The idea of a 3D-printed car is not a new one. Before the LM3D Swim, Local Motors built the world’s first ever 3D-printed car, the Strati. Built and printed in Detroit, this electric car was the first step in mass producing printed cars.
Strati changed the way the world thought about 3D-printed vehicles. In 2010, printed cars were created, such as the Urbee, but they weren’t as mechanically involved as the Strati. In the past, car panels and features were printed, then placed on a traditionally-built structure. This meant that important components, such as the battery or motor, were not created using the 3D-printer. The Strati used direct digital manufacturing for the majority of the components.
Building a 3D car isn’t easy. To “print” a Strati, Local Motors had to first create the body using a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAM) machine. After the body was printed, subtractive manufacturing using a computer numerical control routing machine, or CNC, was used. That still didn’t include all of the features. Additional components were added over the course of several days. Manufacturing took a total of five days, with 44 hours of printing.
Local Motors plans on using this innovative process to further explore car customization and, eventually cut manufacturing costs. While the Strati was a small electric car, the company hopes to appeal to a wider audience by offering several different 3D-printed vehicles. Sport versions of the LM3D Swim, for example, are expected to be produced in the future.

Local Motor's new LM3D Swim.

Local Motor’s new LM3D Swim.

The LM3D Swim

Expected to be released in 2017, the Local Motors LM3D Swim uses a unique manufacturing technique. While the Arizona-based company isn’t a household name yet, it does have a history of working quickly to create innovative designs. The LM3D prototype has already been produced, but future models will have a slew of customizable features.
Because each vehicle is being 3D printed, buyers will be able to select from several different aesthetic features. Removable panels are a possibility, which would allow buyers to have much more control over the design they choose. Despite the advanced 3D capabilities, all vehicles would have the same powertrain and electronic engine.
Not all of the components will be 3D printed in the comfort of your own home. Body panels and the chassis would likely need to be traditionally manufactured. Local Motors has been working on a way to have as many parts printed as possible. As much as 90 percent of the car will be printable using a composite ABS plastic and carbon fiber material.
Even upgrades wouldn’t likely be performed at home. Local Motors claims it plans on melting each car from time to time in order to provide key upgrades. By melting unwanted components, the company can easily recycle them, cutting down on costs and waste.

Can you print a car at home?

While 3D printing technology does make it possible for buyers to print a car at home, it is impractical for them to do so. Local Motors is currently constructing a new microfactory to print and assemble the vehicles in. Construction in Knoxville, Tennessee is expected to be complete early next year, allowing the company to continue to focus on car designs and capabilities.
Local Motors is striving to get the LM3D series on the market. While each car has a hefty price tag of $53,000, the company is expecting several pre-sales. Preorders for the vehicles will start in 2016, but it will still be at least a year before anyone gets their 3D printed vehicle.
Because the manufacturing process and car style is still untested, federal regulations will require several tests to be performed before sales can begin. Standard crash testing is expected to start in 2016, with highway certifications quickly following.
3D printing technology has a lot to offer the automotive industry. The innovative technology that Local Motors is using will pave the way for more designs and advancements in the future. With successful pre-sales and testing, Local Motors can become a household name.
Matthew Young is an automotive reporter from Boston. As a freelance journalist with a passion for vehicles Matthew writes about everything on 4 wheels, be it race cars, SUVs, vintage cars, you name it. When he is not at his desk writing he can be usually found helping his dad in the garage. You can reach Matthew @mattbeardyoung.

Autodesk is now selling an open-source 3D printer

Autodesk’s first foray into hardware is here: The Ember 3D printer is now available for anyone to order.

At $5,995, the printer isn’t exactly a steal. Autodesk more so built it to be the perfect exhibitor for its open-source Spark 3D printing software, which is currently in beta.

Ember in the middle of a print.

Ember in the middle of a print.

People married to Autodesk’s suite of software might find that pairing of interest, but the greater 3D printing industry might buy Ember because Autodesk plans to release exactly how it is built and operates. MakerBot, the best known desktop 3D printer brand, gave rise to an entire class of printers because its first machines were similarly open source. Ember could do the same for a different desktop technology.

I had the chance to see Ember in action at Autodesk’s Pier 9 manufacturing space in San Francisco. It’s a digital light processing machine, which means it uses a projector similar to those found in those bulky classroom machines. Light hits a shallow tank of liquid plastic and cures it one layer at a time, slowly building up an entire 3D object.

Ember after a print, displaying a completed object.

Ember after a print, displaying a completed object.

Unlike most desktop machines, which print layers of melted plastic that then hardens, DLP machines print upside down. The printed object’s base adheres to a flat metal sheet that slowly raises out of the tank of liquid. The platform raises slightly between each layer to separate the already-printed layers from the liquid, a necessary step in DLP printing.

The Ember printer handles that last step in an unusual way. The tank is shaped like a cashew; a half-“C” instead of the square shape used by every other DLP printer. After each layer is printed, the print platform raises slightly and the tank whips around the curve of the machine before returning to its home position.

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Autodesk chose the unusual tank design because it requires the machine to use a lot less force, according to Autodesk 3D printing research scientist Andreas Bastian. Each time the projector cures a layer, it creates a huge amount of suction between the 3D printed object and the bottom of the resin tank. Bastian likened Ember’s system to removing a suction cup from a window by sliding it across the surface instead of pulling directly up.

He said that has the added benefit of exerting less force on the 3D printed object, making it easier to print delicate structures that can’t take a lot of strain.

The Ember is expected to ship by mid-March, pending approval from the FCC. Autodesk has yet to release the actual open-source documentation for the machine, or even footage that shows that goofy tank in action, but my personal run-in with the printer at Pier 9 was welcome confirmation that Ember really exists, and really works.

This post was updated at 4:45 p.m. with more details on the Ember’s resin tank.

Until bioprinters are reality, 3D printing can still save lives

A two-year-old girl born with a hole in her heart had a life-saving operation in London last month thanks to a 3D printer. Perhaps equally astounding is that she’s not the first.

Mina Khan was born with a hole in the wall between two chambers of her heart, a condition that left her exhausted and unable to gain weight or even grow hair. The deformity was so severe doctors said it likely couldn’t be repaired – but by creating an exact 3D replica of her heart using MRI and computerized tomography scans, surgeons at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London were able to design a bespoke patch, practice and perfect how to stitch it into place, and ultimately perform the surgery successfully on the girl’s actual heart.

“The 3D printing meant we could create a model of her heart and then see the inside of it with a replica of the hole as it looked when the heart was pumping,” Professor David Anderson, who led the operating team, recently told the Sunday Times. This meant that even though Mina had a “very complex” hole in her heart that posed a “huge intellectual challenge,” the team was able to enter the operating room with a “much better idea of what we would find.”

Mina isn’t the first tiny tot to benefit from these “practice” organs fashioned from a 3D printer. Just last year in New York, surgeons performed a similar surgery on a 2-week-old infant, whose congenital heart defect left several holes in his heart.

“It made a huge difference because the baby went from needing 3 or 4 surgeries to needing just one,” the head surgeon said at the time. “For people like us in congenital heart surgery, who deal with complex 3D structures, it’s a huge advancement because now we don’t have any more surprises. We go to the operating room, confident that we know exactly what the anatomy is like, so our outcomes are obviously going to be better for the benefit of the patients.”

3D-printed models of organs are just the tip of the iceberg. For a few years now scientists have been hard at work building 3D-printed organs for actual transplant. So far, the key drawback has been lifespan because of the need for 3D-printed veins and arteries that nourish the transplanted organs and keep them alive beyond, say, the current benchmark of 40 days, as achieved by California startup Organovo. Organs are, let’s face it, a step beyond prosthetics.

But scientists at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Sydney made a major breakthrough last year when they bioprinted a network of tiny fibers coated with human endothelial cells, enabling them to remove the original print and leave just the capillaries in their place.

The developments may seem like strictly good news given some 18 people die every day in the U.S. because of a shortage of donated transplant organs, but the emerging field of 3D-printed organs and tissue is growing so rapidly it’s leaving several ethical and logistical questions unanswered in its wake.

“These initiatives are well-intentioned, but raise a number of questions that remain unanswered,” one researcher at Gartner said in a report last year about the “inflection point” of 3D printing. “What happens when complex ‘enhanced’ organs involving nonhuman cells are made? Who will control the ability to produce them? Who will ensure the quality of the resulting organs?”

Still, researchers are pushing ahead. One small kidney printed in China lasted a whopping four months (caveat: in a lab), while a 2-year-old girl in the US received a working windpipe grown using her own stem cells.

In fact, stem cells and biopsied tissues form the basis of this first experimental crop of printed organs – these cells are fed into 3D printers that arrange them by cell type, just as they are organized in our bodies. If all goes well, these cells signal to one another and begin to fuse into a coherent system.

Still, many researchers say that 3D-printed organ transplants are at least a few years out, and regulatory hurdles are likely to push that timeline back at least another few years.

Cambrian Genomics wants to make it 10,000 times cheaper to synthesize DNA with a laser-based system. Photo courtesy of Cambrian Genomics.

Cambrian Genomics wants to make it 10,000 times cheaper to synthesize DNA with a laser-based system. Photo courtesy of Cambrian Genomics.

Jennifer Lewis, professor of biologically inspired engineering at Harvard, said at EmTech last year that the holy grail, bioprinting functioning human organs, is a “really long moon shot.” But she also acknowledges that the vasculature printing breakthrough has prompted colleagues at Harvard and beyond to move forward quickly with their eyes on very complex organ parts – including kidney components (kidneys because they comprise 80 percent of the current waiting list demand).

To do so, researchers are having to devise 3D printing inks and nozzles to allow them to print different types of cells that help connect other cells. One ink enabled the Harvard group to construct tunnels inside tissue, which the researchers lined with blood vessel cells – an approach they’re also using to build blood-filtering tubes inside kidneys.

Meanwhile, a two-year-old boy in Kentucky last year became one of a growing list of kids born with devastating congenital defects whose life has been saved by a 3D printer. Like Mina Khan, Roland Lian Cung Bawi’s defective heart was rendered using a 3D printer by University of Louisville engineers and physicians, and he is alive and well a full year after his February 2014 surgery.

“A lot of it really has to do with the imaging capability being much better,” Timothy Gornet, part of the self-described “nerd herd” that built the model at the University of Louisville, told me. “It’s much harder to get a picture of a moving organ like a heart than, say, a bone … Most surgeons tend to be very tactile, are used to touching and feeling, so while you can get a good idea of what’s going on [with digital imaging], it’s hard to grasp exactly where everything is, especially when you think of the size heart of an infant.

“I’ve been in the 3D printing business since the late ‘80s, and almost everything we work on is stuff and things – parts for aircrafts, snowboards, inanimate objects. But when you can really do something in your job and actually touch someone’s life, change how they live their life, it’s one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked no.”

As for little Roland, living with a fully functional heart is not a bad way to celebrate two of his first Valentine’s Days.

New Matter raises $6.5M to deliver on its crowdfunded 3D printer

New Matter’s MOD-t, one of the hit crowdfunded 3D printers of 2014, is nearing its shipment day, and the startup announced today it will finish out development and production with the help of $6.5 million in Series A funding.

Alsop Louie Partners led the funding round. First Round Capital, Dolby Family Ventures and frogVentures also participated.

CEO Steve Schell said New Matter will use the funding to hire more people and firm up a product and manufacturing line that will allow the company to deliver its 3D printer to its 2,000 Indiegogo backers and anyone who bought it after the campaign’s close. New Matter expects the MOD-t to have all the features promised on Indiegogo, but will announce a small delay in shipping this week, Schell said.

New Matter is still focused on delivering a low-cost printer (likely just below $400 at retail) that’s simple to use and paired with a library of 3D printable models, Schell said. While other inexpensive printers have continued to enter the market, Schell said New Matter continues to see confirmation it is on the right track.

“We see more and more competitors coming into existence,” Schell said. “It’s healthy competition; it shows it’s a market of interest. I still feel we’re offering the most compelling product.”

Katy Perry’s lawyers demand takedown of 3D printable Left Shark

While the nation identifies with the Super Bowl’s insta-star Left Shark, Katy Perry’s lawyers are apparently more the Right Shark type. They issued a cease and desist letter (see below) to on-demand 3D printing service Shapeways on Tuesday, demanding a 3D model depicting Left Shark be taken down.

Shapeways complied, and Fernando Sosa, the designer behind the model, has now posted it on Thingiverse. Unlike on Shapeways, Thingiverse models are free and must be 3D printed by the downloader.

Left Shark, as it appeared Thursday on Thingiverse.

Left Shark, as it appeared Thursday on Thingiverse.

Shapeways confirmed the letter and takedown, stating:

It’s a shame because we love our community and always want to be able to support their designs. That’s part of the reason why our work with Hasbro is so fun! It’s allowing fans to create products truly inspired by the things they personally enjoy. We know these things can happen when you have a lot of user-generated content, but hopefully more brands (and celebrities!) will take note and want to work together with fans to create amazing products!

NYU law professor Christopher Sprigman tweeted that he believes Left Shark is not copyrightable because it qualifies as a “useful article,” which would mean it is not protected the same way as an artistic work.

Both Thingiverse and Shapeways are home to scores of ostensibly copyrighted models, including memes. While it’s hard to say who has the rights to sad Keanu or doge, Pokemon figurines are a little more black and white. Both sites have received takedown requests in the past, but designs tend to stay up until a letter arrives.

The Joseph Ducreux, AKA "Disregard females, acquire currency", meme, 3D printed by Shapeways.

The Joseph Ducreux, AKA “Disregard females, acquire currency”, meme, 3D printed by Shapeways.

IP law finds itself in an unchartered space with the rise of 3D printing, though new models are beginning to emerge. Shapeways has entered into partnerships with a few companies like Hasbro that allow anyone to model their characters, and then funnel some of the sale proceeds back to the copyright holder.

If you absolutely must get your hands on a 3D printed Left Shark, Sosa is urging people to download it from Thingiverse before the site receives a similar letter.

Left Shark rose to fame during the Super Bowl halftime show Sunday. Katy Perry sang “Teenage Dream” among dancing beach balls, trees and two sharks. While Right Shark had the dance down, Left Shark had to improvise a bit. But that didn’t stop him from dancing with everything his little shark heart had to give.

3D print like lawyers aren’t watching, dance like Left Shark.

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This story was updated at 2:15 p.m. PT with more details on copyright and Left Shark.

3D printing: Who’s investing now and what’s coming next

Printing has come a long way since Gutenberg and the first printing press in 1439. The printing industry has evolved from the golden age of printing blocks to modern 2D printers capable of mass-producing documents in minutes. We have seen these devices become an integral part of our lives, but today’s technology is taking them even further for the everyday consumer. What once seemed like science fiction is now a reality, with 3D printers creating anything from mechanical parts to prosthetics.

The 3D industry itself is not new. A few companies, such as 3D Systems and Stratasys, have been around for decades, and hundreds more have emerged since then.

However, it has taken over 20 years for the industry to gain traction and attract real interest from investors. Historically, this could be attributed to the fact that, in the beginning, there were only a handful of companies worth mentioning. From 2011 to the present day, though, 3D printing companies have raised close to $4 billion in public offerings vs. $300 million raised in the 23 years from 1987 to 2010. There is a clear correlation between the recent increase in interest by public investors, who have become laser-focused on the 3D printing sector, and the number of companies formed and acquired.

The deals: Tapping into the market

If current trends are indicative of the 3D printing industries’ prospects, then the industry is positioned to thrive. Based on disclosed deals only, the number of M&A deals has been accelerating, with 2014 activity being greater than any year since 2009. More than that, according to our data, deal sizes have increased with four out of every five significant deals (defined as having a value above $100 million) closing in 2012 or later.

In addition to robust M&A activity, the validating factor of big companies buying into the market is also boosting momentum. One such company is General Electric, which plans to introduce the first 3D printed parts in an aircraft engine platform by 2016. Perhaps the most significant validation of 3D printing’s commercial viability occurred when HP recently announced its first proprietary 3D printer due out in 2016.

Given its access to cash and capital, it isn’t surprising that the vast majority of acquisitions in the sector (around 70%) have been by 3D Systems. This doesn’t mean that 3D Systems is the only company in on the game. It is highly likely that incumbent companies are making deals that aren’t being publicized. Currently, M&A buying is highest among the service bureaus, but sectors such as software, industrial, medical and many more companies are buying into 3D printing as well. Aerospace companies, such as Boeing and Lockheed, are a definite must-watch as they are big users of 3D printing technology and will likely look to acquire more of the market. Greater diversity within the market means more value within the industry.

The financing: Filling the gap

Often the first question asked in any financing situation is “How much?” In 3D printing, the number isn’t nearly as interesting as how they are paying. Contrary to the public markets, in 2014, my firm, Mooreland Partners assessed the market landscape and found the number of active private investors (such as VCs and PE funds) to be negligible. The calculated methods of private investors don’t allow for hardware companies that are often perceived to be capital-heavy.

Strategic investors also currently consider 3D printing to be “non-investable” due to the long lead time for business development. Size plays an important role, too. 3D printing companies just don’t have the revenue or EBITDA necessary to fit the threshold requirements.

Of the eight major investors in 3D printing, only one — RRE Ventures — has made more than two investments. So from where is the money coming? In this case, crowdfunding is filling the gap. Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the like have allowed companies to get their business started without outside capital and jumpstart their business. It’s a welcome innovation that many companies have turned into a de-risking mechanism before raising institutional capital.

This is what our client, FSL3D, did before raising a growth equity investment in November 2014. Still, most companies are bootstrapped, and the growth of the sector over the last 25 years sans outside capital certainly proves its self-sustaining value proposition and makes 3D printing one of few industries that have managed to do so.

The future: 3D printing in 2015 and beyond

2015 is looking bright for 3D printing as mergers and acquisitions continue to rise in numbers. While smaller companies will continue to get their start through crowdfunding campaigns, an uptick in IPO activity will provide more choices for public investors looking to get their share of the 3D printing community.

We see even more potential as larger companies carve out their niche, in particular 2D printer companies like HP, Epson or Xerox getting in on the action. The prospect for growth of the 3D printing market is enormous, and we’re looking forward to tracking it. In the meantime, get an inside look at which companies are currently seeking funding.

Bryan Dow is an Executive Director at Mooreland Partners, a leading independent investment bank providing M&A and private capital advisory services to the global technology sector. He has over ten years of experience advising technology companies on strategic and financial transactions, completing over 50 transactions in his career. Follow @MoorelandGlobal on Twitter.

Full Spectrum Laser debuts 2 3D printers that fit on your desk

Full Spectrum Laser, the 3D printing company behind the Pegasus Touch printer, is back with its second line of desktop printers. And while other companies are expanding into larger machines, FSL is doing the opposite.

The new Phoenix Touch and Phoenix Touch Pro will have build areas measuring in at 3.78 x 2.13 x 3.94 inches and 2.5 x 1.6 x 3.9, respectively, compared to the Pegasus Touch’s 7 x 7 x 9 inches. Their overall size is similarly scaled down, making them a better fit for already-crowded desktops.

The Phoenix Touch Pro.

The Phoenix Touch Pro.

FSL’s printers use a more unusual 3D printing technology known as digital light processing. DLP uses almost the exact technology found in overhead projectors to project light onto a vat of liquid plastic. The light causes the resin to cure layer by layer, gradually building up a hard object.

Like stereolithography, a similar 3D printing technology that uses a laser to cure liquid resin, DLP is an excellent option for achieving super-fine detail in 3D prints. The new Phoenix Touch will be able to print layers as thin as 0.05 millimeters.

No prices have been released, but if the $3,499 Pegasus Touch is any indication, FSL is likely to keep the machines’ price tags on the lower end of the spectrum.

3D printed objects on the Pro's bed.

3D printed objects on the Pro’s bed.