- When it comes to mass-customization, enabled by additive manufacturing and other automated processes, the limiting factor is no longer the means of production, but the means of creating the machine input. In the past getting the object you want has required CAD skills, commissioning someone with them, or accepting a rather narrow range of outputs from scripted tools. A research paper from Nobuyuki Umetani presents a compelling 4th choice: a highly tunable interface for developing a model that is derived from training the tool on an existing data set. Creating such a bounded "play space" for generating new forms seems like the most viable option to date, offering a plethora of options with minimal expertise required. Perhaps most critically for business, the practice would allow them to preserve a specific corporate or designer style by limiting the development data to their own assets, preventing the errant ugly object from sporting their logo, implying approval without meeting their lofty aesthetic standards.
- 'Eating your own dogfood' or using product or service company employees as user testers fails as an adequately deep method of research and development because the wide world of real life users is far more varied and complex than even a very large organization can really represent.
- Police body cameras have increased the clear documentation of excessive force and extrajudicial killings, but despite the high-fidelity mountains of evidence that they provide, there's faint signal of any meaningful change in how cops engage with communities. Time and time again, the U.S. position of envisioning an optimized technological future sets up the solutionist trap: that if we can simply deploy the right widget, we can undo deep systemic problems of culture and politics that have plagued generations. The reality of course is more complex, with real solutions requiring more powers of political will than powers of computation.
- China is undergoing an unprecedented social-engineering program that is almost literally straight out of the tech-dystopian series Black Mirror: a universal rating system to grade citizens, with a score impacting everything from credit lines to employment opportunities. For now, this is an opt-in system, but there are explicit plans to make it mandatory in the near future.
- The strange story of Minnesota's attempt to build an experimental city from scratch, seeking to solve complex urban planning issues in one fell swoop.
- The filament based variety of 3D printing is often what first comes to mind when picturing a 3D printer: a thin rope of plastic being pushed through a heated nozzle and deposited as a molten bead of plastic. While there have been huge technological leaps in the last 5 or so years for non-extrusion based printers, like the expanding material libraries for SLA machines, extrusion systems have lagged behind. A new ‘micro-extruder’ that works with pelletized plastic in a manner similar to injection molding machines is aimed at changing that, opening up new material options (many plastics are difficult to convert to a robust filament but are easily pelletized) and increasing the rate of printing, delivering up to 20 lbs. of material per hour to the printhead. While resolutions and step lines will likely be comparable to existing filament systems, the combination of speed and expanded material selection could make it a compelling tool for production of certain end use industrial components.
- A good profile of Fanuc and its history, the company that creates machines to make almost anything (including their renowned Robodrill line of milling machines, which power some of Apple's manufacturing lines). The media tends to focus on the charismatic megafauna of the robotics world: fancy multi-axis arms, humanoid robots, AI that experiments with crafting images, but the real heft behind automation are the boxy manufacturing cells produced by companies like Fanuc: the stout, reliable constructions that are more reliable, unrelenting, and exacting than any human worker. The company's long history of numerical control developments that underpin automated fabrication means that more than half of industrial robots (including their competitors) are driven by their systems. In an increasingly automated future, few companies seem better positioned to benefit than Fanuc.
- Regina Dugan is leaving Facebook after running their consumer hardware program Building 8 for less than two years. Prior to joining Facebook, Dugan was in charge of Google's ambitious ATAP group, known for pursuing some fairly oddball hardware products that were met with almost equal parts wide-eyed praise and dismissive criticisms. Whatever she does next, it's almost certain to be big enough to cast ripples throughout the world of hardware.