Remember to spray on your deodorant first, yeah?

Paul Raven @ 17-09-2010

A brief “hey, look, tech!” post, simply because it seems to be everywhere at the moment, and I’d totally jump off a cliff if all my friends were doing it too*: spray-on clothing!

The spray consists of short fibres that are mixed into a solvent, allowing it to be sprayed from a can or high-pressure spray gun. The fibres are mixed with polymers that bind them together to form a fabric. The texture of the fabric can be varied by using wool, linen or acrylic fibres.

The fabric, which dries when it meets the skin, is very cold when it is sprayed on, a limitation that may frustrate hopes for spray-on trousers and other garments.

“I really wanted to make a futuristic, seamless, quick and comfortable material,” said Torres. “In my quest to produce this kind of fabric, I ended up returning to the principles of the earliest textiles such as felt, which were also produced by taking fibres and finding a way of binding them together without having to weave or stitch them.”

Apparently it takes fifteen minutes to spray a T-shirt onto a model, which (for now at least) pretty much ruins the only practical selling point of spray-on clothing, namely convenience. But sensibly Torres has other (more sensible but less headline-worthy) applications in mind, e.g. medical. The cynic in me wonders if he didn’t think of the medical apps first and come up with the clothing thing as an effective marketing gambit… whether he did or not, it seems to have worked.

And your sf-nal pat-ourselves-on-the-back-for-prescience moment: Technovelgy points out that good ol’ Stanislav Lem wrote about spray-on clothes back in 1961. I dare say it’s been mentioned in fiction a few times since.

[ * That particular parental rejoinder has always bothered me. I remember responding to it once with something along the lines of “if I saw a trampoline at the bottom, then yes”. I think I may have been sent to my room afterwards. ]

Desktop economic disruption: personal portable 3D printer

Paul Raven @ 06-09-2010

Via Bruce Sterling, who rightly points out that at just US$1500, this thing’s cheap enough to end up in favelas worldwide; it’s made and sold by these people.

I can almost hear the street rubbing its hands together in anticipation of finding its own uses for this thing…

They’re printed out of meat

Paul Raven @ 23-08-2010

First came the 3D printer… then came the CandyFab. But the collision of food and fabrication technology continues apace, as Fab@Home devotees start using scallops and turkey “reduced to an extrudable form” (shudder) to print user-designed meat-shapes.

OK, so it’s much cheaper and easier (not to mention commonplace) to just mould reclaimed meats into shapes, and more sophisticated work is being done in the medical sphere toward ‘printing’ new organs (or just growing them [via SentientDevelopments]), but I just couldn’t resist the headline.

And one thing’s for certain: when some smart so-and-so does the first 3D printout of John Scalzi’s head made from bacon, the internet will explode.


Hyperlocal manufacturing: fabrication factory in a shipping container

Paul Raven @ 17-08-2010

It’s amazing what you can cram into a shipping container: a solar power generator, an internet cafe, a data centre… or a self-contained tooling workshop and fabrication unit [via GlobalGuerrillas – beware dodgy pop-ups on the linked page]:

The MPH was developed when the army realized that the easiest way to get the many rarely requested, but vital, replacement parts to the troops, was to manufacture the parts in the combat zone. In short order, this led to the construction of a portable parts fabrication system, called MPH, that fit into a standard 8x8x20 foot shipping container. The original version used two containers, but smaller equipment and more powerful computers eventually made it possible to use one container.

As John Robb and others have pointed out, this is a blueprint for hyperlocal manufacturing… though to make it economically practical you’re going to have to shave down the construction costs from the bloated levels of military contracting:

There are four MPH systems in service, two of them in Afghanistan. A fourth is being built, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Ouch. What do you actually need? If you’re going local, you just need a space the same size as a shipping container; should be a stuffed animal that’ll do the job. A fast broadband connection will stand in for the military satellite link (assuming you’re operating in an urban area); speed probably isn’t too crucial with non-military applications, so you might be able to cantenna yourself into a convenient local wireless node for big savings. Then you need CNC machines and raw materials; the former can probably be bought up pretty cheap from bankrupt stock (hell, you might not even need to move the kit if it’s still sat in a disused factory unit – two birds, one stone), and the latter scraped up from salvage and reclamation…

Anyone fancy running the numbers on this?

Fab another little piece of my heart now, baby: 3D printing human organs

Paul Raven @ 26-02-2010

The idea of printing replacement biological tissue and organs has been around for a while – we mentioned the development the pressure-assisted spinning system back in 2007, in fact – but it looks like it’s finally reached the point where people think they can make a profit from it on a commercial scale. Via io9, The Economist tells us about Organovo and their US$200,000-a-pop commercially-available bio-printer:

To start with, only simple tissues, such as skin, muscle and short stretches of blood vessels, will be made, says Keith Murphy, Organovo’s chief executive, and these will be for research purposes. Mr Murphy says, however, that the company expects that within five years, once clinical trials are complete, the printers will produce blood vessels for use as grafts in bypass surgery. With more research it should be possible to produce bigger, more complex body parts. Because the machines have the ability to make branched tubes, the technology could, for example, be used to create the networks of blood vessels needed to sustain larger printed organs, like kidneys, livers and hearts.

I can’t wait to see what uses the street will find for this technology once it gets cheaper…

… no, scratch that. I think maybe I can wait after all.

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