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.

Silicon Labs to buy Ember for $72M for Internet of things

The over a decade-old company that makes the building blocks — chips, gear and software — for ZigBee-based wireless networks is finally being acquired. Austin-based chip company Silicon Labs announced on Monday that it has acquired Boston-based Ember for $72 million.

Ember: An Online Design Scrapbook

When I recently came across Ember, a service similar to Scrnshots but with more contemporary features, a smarter interface and cleaner design, I was keen to try it out.

Green Growth: It’s In the Wireless Networks

Spring has sprung and could be ushering in the very early beginnings of new growth in the cleantech world thanks to the stimulus package. And which sector will see a massive influx of spending and buildout? Well, the smart grid of course (tired of it yet?) — and that makes wireless communication companies particularly happy.
At CTIA, one of the biggest telecom industry conferences, former VP-turned-cleantech-investor Al Gore told wireless executives in the audience last Friday that wireless technology will be one of the key tools used to fight climate change: “This is one of those rare times we all agree that the government needs to build out a green infrastructure that will free us from foreign oil and draw on clean energy.” It’s one of the themes we touched on at our recent Green:Net conference.
Wireless sensor networks and communication networks placed on the grid will help utilities monitor and control the flow of energy better and more effectively address power outages. At the edge of the grid, consumers will use wireless networks to better manage their energy consumption. Investors are starting to make more investments in these wireless technology pieces: Just today Ember told us it has raised $8 million to help it deploy more of its wireless sensor network technology. Traditional telcos, too, like AT&T (s T) are also repositioning themselves to sell into the smart grid, and AT&T says it is working with smart-meter maker SmartSynch to provide its wireless network for residential installations.
A wireless network buildout means the promise of more jobs, too. At the National Smart Grid Conference, today U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell emphasized how a smart grid boom will give a boost to local employers in the Washington area and in a release quoted figures from the GridWise Alliance, predicting that the stimulus funds “could generate over 75,000 new jobs across the nation in just one year.” Of course, not all of those will be in wireless, but anything helping connect one of the planned 40 million smart meters to a utility will need some sort of wireless communication tech involved.

Stimulus Starting to Warm Up Cleantech Funding

Despite the fact that cleantech investment fell off a cliff in the first quarter of the year, talk of the “seeds of revival” (i.e. investment) is starting to creep back into both clean power projects and cleantech ventures thanks to the funds from the stimulus package. While layoffs are still hitting industries like solar and wind, and biofuels are struggling across the board, if this morning’s funding news is any indicator, then it looks like the federal funds are actually starting to thaw the pocketbooks of the capital holders. Just a little bit.
This morning we’ve heard about three different cleantech investments in smart grid, distributed clean power and even, gasp, next-gen biofuels. GE and a group of investors including Altira, Rockport Capital Partners, NGP Energy Technology Partners, and the venture capital arm of Chevron Technology Ventures, have invested $10 million into small wind builder Southwest Windpower. The stimulus package allocates $872 million over 10 years for federal tax credits for distributed clean power generation like small wind.
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Zoho Takes a Page from Google: Adds Notebook Import, Plug-In


Quick, where’s that important note you need right this second? If it’s in Google Notebook, you might want to consider looking at Zoho. They’re taking a page right out of Google and seizing an opportunity. Last week Google announced they were shutting down several services: Jaiku, Google Video, and Dodgeball to name a few. Google Notebook is on the list as well, although it’s not shutting down at this time. It won’t see any additional development however, nor will the browser extension work with it. Effectively, you could keep jotting notes with it but without an expected future for the application or usable plug-in, do you want to?

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