Go Download Me A Hoagie!

The title may be misleading. There is currently no way to download yourself a hoagie from the internet, at least not one you could eat. Your best bet is most likely to find your favorite sub shop nearby and give them a phone call to order some delivery. Downloading 3D objects however is entirely possible.

Rapid prototyping machines have been available in research and University settings for more than a decade. The technology is one that is rapidly (no pun intended) advancing even as we speak. It was curious however to find that a quick Google of “3D fax machine” left me with articles dating back to 2008, 2006 and even as far as 2001. Newer sensationalist journalism just isn’t as easy to come by as it used to be, it seems.

But this leaves me to wonder, just where is the technology promised us by the science fiction of Hollywood movies? I am able to design a 3D object in some basic AutoCAD software and send it to a rapid prototyper in the same room. I can just as easily e-mail that file to a friend in Budapest, Hungary and have them print out a nearly identical part to the one that I just created myself. The proof of concept works, it is simply in the materials these machines build with. Some use clay, foam or different types of sand and other materials to build their models on a compartmentalized process. I hope that in the near future, these machines are able to work with more materials and eventually even incorporate multiple materials in to the same model. Imagine ordering something like a remote control and watching the plastics, silicon and rubber all form in front of your eyes! The possibilities are really only limited byt he mediums available to work with. I look forward to spending my retirement fund of the future on a brand new 3D fax.

The Solar Wind, Came Rolling In…

Driving through western Pennsylvania on interstate 99, you will see large wind turbines perched atop the Allegheny Mountains. Driving east on the turnpike, you can see a dairy processing facility that uses solar energy collected on hundreds of panels in the pastures next to the plant. Both are examples of the forward thinking citizens of the fine state of Pennsylvania. Renewable energy sources have yet to yield an issue free replacement for fossil fuels, but they are getting better. The idea I had was why can’t these two things be combined?

We all understand that wind turbines have issues when the wind just isn’t blowing. The solar panels have the necessity of needing sun to do their job, something that is only available at most a little more than half the day. That pesky night time just always seems to get in the way. After some quick research, it seems a team at Liverpool University in the United Kingdom has had a similar idea.

While the problems associated with these are currently being worked on (such as glare on the panels blinding pilots and other drivers alike) there is also the fact that you must still pay for the raw materials to manufacture not one but two new generator types. The anti-glare technology will advance just as the efficiency of these machines rises and the price falls. The future is bright, and if we have any luck, a little windy too.

HUD Displays Not Just for Video Games

Anyone that has ever picked up a controller should know what a HUD is. HUD stands for Heads Up Display. When not displaying how much ammunition is left in that AK-47 your character is holding or how much longer you can go without a health pick up, they can actually provide some very useful information in real time.

Pilots have utilized HUD’s for years. Fighters would use them to target and track enemies while commercial pilots relied on them to keep their bearing, altitude and pitch. More recently some higher end auto makers have introduced them in to their products. GM was the first in 1998 but the technology has since come a long way. Today, you can buy a BMW that offers the speedometer, tachometer, built in navigation and even some night-vision elements directly in to a colored glass display. This technology has taken another advancement in the vehicle industry, but not where you might think.

The Reevu Motorcycle Helmet company has become the first to specialize in the manufacture of motorcycle helmets complete with HUD’s. Additionally they even offer helmets with rear facing cameras so that cyclists can now see in all directions simultaneously, allowing them to focus on the road ahead as well as other motorists behind them. This eliminates the need to turn their head which can often cause slight directional change in the upper body and therefore turning of the front wheel. For this reason, many motorcyclists rely on their signals and the vision of other motorists to avoid dangerous accidents. The advancements in HUD technology, while still pricey in comparison to other simpler solutions, are definitely a step in the right direction and an exciting one at that. Check out the designer of the Reevu helmet showing some of its innovative features here.

Google, You Crazy!

Actually, it’s not just Google. There have long been dreams of the driverless car. These vehicles have been movie fiction for more than four decades. Whether it was Knight Rider, Herbie, Timecop, the Batmobile or nearly every vehicle in I-Robot, these autonomous autos have been a dream. More recently however, many indivduals have made great strides to make driverless cars a reality.

Several competitions exist that sponsor a prize for teams that can create the best example of this idea. The ARGO Project in Italy and the DARPA Research project in the US have been traditionally the most prominent. Most recently Stanford University students won the

$2 Million prize at DARPA with their modified VW Passat shown.

Google however with their nearly infinite financial resources and brain power have taken to helping advance the idea. They have modified 7 different Toyota Priuses (which have already traveled over 140,000 combined miles) with a device that looks similar to the one used on their Google Streetview cars. The canister shaped sensor is able to detect it’s surroundings, process the information in real time through it’s on board “suped” up computers and make decisions close to what a human brain would. Google is also able to integrate the information about its surroundings in to a database much like the ones they use for Google Maps and Streetview so that other cars in the system are able to draw on past sensor readings and make even more informed decisions about the world around them.

It is safe to say that this is the future. It will more than likely involve great improvements to existing infrastructure (and at what cost?) and many may be hesitant to give up the joys of the driving experience (as well as be weary of just how safe it is). Change though, however gradual, is seemingly unavoidable as long as the kinks can be worked out.

Check out this YouTube video of a Google vehicle (and it’s police motorcade escort) navigating the streets by its lonesome!

Edit: There has since been a TED talk on the subject. Click here for to check it out!

Snow Place Like Home, Unless You Live in Florida

Recently, on January 11th, 2011, many media outlets reported that there was snow on the ground in 49 of the 50 states in the United States of America. The lone hold out of course, turned out to be Florida. It’s as if snow was some new technology like email and text messaging that our grandparents in Florida never picked up. And for anyone at home thinking that Hawaii just can’t possibly be covered in the white stuff, well, you’re kind of right. It isn’t covered, but it has accumulated on the tops of two volcanic peaks responsible for the islands’ formation in the first place.

In reality, the fact of the matter is this kind of phenomenon is so rare in occurrence that it’s not even tracked. It is one of those stories that is only news because it is an anomaly. There is one report that this happened once last year in April, with Florida again being the remaining hold out. Another report places it happening in 1979, though with Florida and South Carolina trading roles. The whole fact of this report got me to remembering the family I have in Florida.

My sister’s family is from outside of Orlando. One Christmas, they traveled north to Pennsylvania to spend time with the extended family. It was this family holiday that my nephews both told me they had never seen snow before this visit, something that blew my mind. It’s really a fact that shouldn’t be a secret. As this piece has pointed out, Florida NEVER get’s snow! Maybe I had expected them to have traveled more in the winter. Maybe they would go somewhere to ski for a holiday. Then again, I live with snow all the time and haven’t picked up the necessary experience to stay upright on skis. Why would someone who has never even rolled a snow man or risked their life in a flimsy dollar store sled embark on an expensive trip that might result in a week of just drinking cocoa and watching the fire place with your arm or leg in a cast.

In earnest, we love trivial pieces of knowledge like the fact that it almost never snows in Florida, or that a small island state of Hawaii can have such disparities in elevation (and broad stretches in the midwest can have almost zero elevation variance relative to other states). I’d like to thank the two super storm cells that helped me realize just how random nature can sometimes be.