3D Printing – Fad or Practical Tool?

For a while, it seemed as if 3D printing would take the world by storm and that we’d all have 3D printers in our homes pumping out anything we needed. However, since my last article on the topic, 3D Printing Done Faster and Better, the number of articles about 3D technology have decreased noticeably. In fact, the trade press has been a lot quieter on the topic, which makes some people wonder whether 3D printing is actually a fad. The problem with much of the new technology that becomes available is that people initially think there are all sorts of uses for it, but then discover that those uses aren’t practical or that they’re too expensive, and they end up dropping the technology (rather than revise their vision).

You can still find some fanciful uses for 3D printers. For example, the Washington Post recently ran an article recently ran an article on how 3D printers can change the presentation of food. The idea is that you really can have the food presented in a manner that is both pleasing and unique. The idea is to make food in unusual shapes, sizes, and colors, so that it appeals to a larger group of people. However, the original vision was to combine ingredients to actually make the food—this application scales the idea down to a more practical level.

It also looks like 3D printing will see practical use for various higher end needs that aren’t quite professional, but are out of reach of the home owner. Think of printers like the da Vinci 1.0 Pro 3D as a middle ground for experimenters (see the ComputerWorld review). The price is out of reach for the general consumer, but definitely within the range for experimenters and early adapters. Again, the vision is scaled down, more practical, and infinitely more usable.

The military is also using 3D printers to perform practical tasks. Having been a sailor myself, I can tell you without reservation that I would have loved to have been able to print some of the items I needed. Waiting to get back to port before I could even order parts meant serious delays and downed equipment. Imagine having the ability to print a new drone or other needed items while out to sea, rather than waiting for a supply ship or in port visit.

Of course, the medical and other high end uses for 3D printing continue to evolve. For example, 3D printed hands are becoming ever more usable. Expect to see all sorts of new medical uses for 3D printing evolve because humans are notoriously difficult to fit. I envision a day when it becomes possible to print just about any body part needed in the right size, color, shape, and characteristics. New printing strategies may even make the use of organ replacement drugs a thing of the past.

The point is that 3D printing is expanding, growing better, becoming more practical, and still evolving. Yes, you might eventually have one in your own, but don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. Practical uses for 3D printing are becoming more common. Until 3D printing becomes a must have technology for industry, science, military, medical, and other industries, the price won’t come down enough for the home user. To answer my initial question, 3D printing is becoming more practical tool than an interesting new technology, which is why you hear a lot less about it today. Let me know your thoughts about 3D printing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Technology Hoaxes Galore

Looking for insane uses of technology has given me no limit of mirth in the past. Whenever I need a good laugh, I’ll look at someone’s interpretive use of technology that couldn’t possibly ever work. Sometimes it makes for good entertainment, as in futuristic movies (where it can’t be proven that the technology won’t work that way someday), but some offenders just look silly.

I read an article some time ago and recently read it again today because it really did bring home the absurd use of technology in some situations. In this case, the author is pointing out the odd and nonsensical uses of technology in crime shows. You can read 6 Howlingly Unrealistic Hollywood Portrayals of Law Enforcement Using Computers for yourself to see if your favorite show makes obvious errors in computer use. The fact is that most people buy into these computer usage scenarios, even if they know better. There is a point where artistic license for the sake of making a show or movie entertaining ends and these shows definitely jump the shark. It would be just as easy to create a convincing scenario that might not be precisely true, but close enough to reality to make for a better program. (I recently did a review of Gravity—a movie that does the job right.)

However, you don’t have to look to the entertainment industry for examples of technology hoaxes (or gimmickry, such as Google Glass, that should be a hoax). The most recent example of such silliness is the Amazon.com plan to deliver packages less than five pounds via drone. A number of industry pundits enthusiastically embraced the technology—I’ll spare them the embarrassment of a public mention here. One person who wasn’t fooled in the least is John Dvorak who lampoons the attempt as nothing more than an advertizing stunt (and he does name names).

The act of perpetrating technology hoaxes isn’t new and you can count on more of them appearing in the future because people will remain gullible enough to believe them. (If I’m really concerned about a particular hoax, I’ll check it out on Hoax Busters or Snopes.com.) Using artistic license to explore what could be true is entertaining and definitely within the purview of good fiction. Purposely creating a hoax for the purpose of fooling the public into believing something that can’t ever work is something else.

At some point you have to point out the hoax for what it is. What is your view on technology hoaxes? Which technology assertions do you see as a potential hoax today? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.