Compositions From Composites: New 3D-Printing Materials To Include Wood, Stone, Iron

The concept of creating objects on demand using 3D-printing technology has caught the eye and imagination of artists and designers worldwide.  The scope of what can be made - from mud huts to human skin to prototype motorcycle parts - grows by the day.  Now, the palette of available materials for 3D printing expands still further, and will soon include composite filaments of wood, stone, iron, and bronze.

L-R:  Bronze, limestone, iron, and maple:  the remix.
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According to, the MakerBot 3D-printing company is moving past plastics and by late 2015, will have developed printable composite filaments of maplewood, limestone, iron and bronze.  The items created with these materials retain the visual look and some of the strength of the main material, but the plastic that also comprises the composite lends a lighter feel.

The cavemen would be so proud of how far we've come.
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The physical elements of the source material retain several characteristics that would make prototype printed parts much more accurate to the real thing.  Metal composites can be magnetized.  Wood composites smell like wood, and can be stained, sanded and treated as normal nature-grown wood would.

Can't carve?  No worries, just print!
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Other filaments can glow in the dark or change color by temperature, but these new composites are good for more than just novelty.  The wood and iron filaments create a convincing hammer (although the functionality of such a hammer is still being improved on.)  The iron filaments can create nuts and bolts. All that's required to print the different materials are swappable "Smart Extruders", which manipulate the filament composites into your desired items.

As reported by, MakerBot CEO Jenny Lawton expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming year, telling fans at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show that "...for 2015, we are focused on enhancing the overall MakerBot 3D Ecosystem by listening to our users, fine-tuning our 3D printers, iterating our software and apps to unlock their full potential, and launching new MakerBot PLA Composite Filaments as well as services that will make 3D printing even more interesting and accessible.”

What could these new artistic abilities create for you?

3D-printing in limestone could make for some very ambitious projects...
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3D-Printed "Exo" Prosthetics Give A Lightweight Leg Up

With America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan apparently concluded, a major source of the horrors our servicemen endured - losing body parts to improvised explosive devices - will hopefully now be curtailed.  But for the many whom these injuries have affected, as well as for those who have biological, accidental, or other medical issues that would cause the loss of a limb, art and science have combined to help rebuild the missing pieces.

The Exo, not alive, but definitely kicking.
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As reported by, artist William Root (of NYC's Pratt Institute) has teamed up with MIT to produce effective, comfortable, and cool-looking prosthetics that are created via 3D printing.  Root's desire to combine form and function sacrificed nothing from the aesthetic nor biomechanical sides of the prosthetic process, which is in itself an innovative task.  “Prostheses are not aesthetically pleasing, extremely expensive, and difficult to produce,” he noted.

Using MIT's "Fitsocket" technology from their Biomechatronics Lab, a scan of the prospective recipient's leg is taken.  The Fitsocket technology adeptly gauges the strenth or give of the recipient's remaining tissue, then forms a perfectly specialized "socket" to join the wearer to the limb.  This data is then also used by Root to create a 3D model of the recipient's leg, using a stress analysis tool to determine where the new "Exo" limb would need the most weight support and how to avoid weak points.  A mesh structure is then rendered using this information.

Yes, it will eventually probably be used to make robots in your own image.  We'll deal with that later.
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The sintered titanium-powder (or heavy-duty plastic) mesh gives a minimalist yet realist visual impression of a leg.  While not as traditionally inconspicuous-acting as a flesh-toned limb trying to blend in, Root feels part of the part's new power is its unwillingness to appear as an imposter appendage like something that "crosses into the Uncanny Valley."  Eventually he plans for wearers to be able to fashionably customize their hot new legs to their personal tastes.

Unfortunately they're not yet available in "Crazy Stilts" version yet.
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Root's business proposal for the Exo, as cited by, illuminates the scope of his hope both in quantity and quality, stating, “There are over 2 million amputees in the United States with 185,000 amputations each year. Over 90% of those amputations are lower extremity amputations; millions of Americans are suffering from hindered mobility. Prostheses enable patients to regain their freedom and much of the functionality they had lost. At the same time they help to restore the amputees’ spirit and help with the psychological recovery from having lost part of oneself.”

Best of all, Root's current designs allow the limbs to be printed for as little as $1,800, where traditional prostheses could cost ten times that.  While specialized knee, ankle, or added-mobility joints will cost more, overall costs would likely fall as 3D technology escalates ever more rapidly.  Though the current "Exo" models are not tested to bear full human weight yet, this problem is being analyzed, with the Fitsocket computer program experimenting with where different points could feasibly be augmented to bear more of the burden.

The Fitsocket testing hardware has got your legs, and it knows how to use them.
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The specialized socket fits, lightweight lift, unique design and ever-decreasing manufacturing costs could make life a lot happier for thos requiring prostheses.  And just as soon as the proper weight ratio is figured out on the Exo, you could use one to help jump for joy.

A closeup of Exo's mesh-meat.  This kind of cage means freedom!
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Fueling The Future: Toyota Releases Hydrogen Fuel Cell Patents Royalty-Free

Working together to achieve a goal works best when there are no secrets, and now, a major technological tenet of this has manifested.  This week, Toyota made serious strides into a future that could help benefit humanity's greater good.  The automobile company released the the patents to its new fuel cells for all to learn from, hopefully as a means of escalating sustainable technology in the overall auto industry.

A 2016 Toyota vehicle with a hydrogen fuel cell that you can learn all about.
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According to, during a presentation on Toyota's new vehicle, the Mirai (which is Japanese for "future"), senior vice president of automotive operations Bob Carter announced the release, stating, "By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies, and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically."

Some 5,680 patents were released for royalty-free use, all concerning the nature of hydrogen fuel cells.  Reminiscent of an earlier move by the Tesla electric car company (who also made public their patents), the move could generate interest, innovation, transparency and collaboration to herald in a new way of working alongside the slated upcoming boom of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Even famed physicist Michio Kaku agrees: sharing smarts can bring about even more great ideas.
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Carter admitted that the next five years will be a critical testing ground across the board for the new style of vehicles, no matter who makes them, requiring "a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers."  Maybe this meeting of minds will make multifaceted technological projects more likely to be achieved via teamwork in the future, perhaps even bringing the drive to integrally innovate to even more fields.

Sharing is daring, but possibly better-faring.
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Give 'Em Enough Belt: New "Awareable" Belt Senses Your Gluttony, Adapts Accordingly

Is one of your New Year's resolutions to lose weight?  Have you yet been able to maintain that goal?  If you've already given up on having a freshly trim waistline, but don't want to admit the extent of the possible damage, now there's a new belt for you!

Meet the Belty, created by the French group Emiota.  It functions as a regular belt, however it is embedded with enough technology to autonomously decide whether to tighten or not.  An onboard accelerometer and gyroscope track your activities for the day, and adjust the belt as required, whether you're practicing fitness or fatness.

Unfortunately, no alarms are yet rigged to off if you exceed a certain donut-feasting capacity.
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According to, Belty uses a "high end" series of small motors to control this gatehouse to your gut.  Instead of shaming you into a set size, you'll be able to wear the ever-expandable Belty theoretically until you're so large you no longer have a need for belted pants and just constantly wear a muu-muu.  

Belty was a standout hit at the recent 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  According to, despite the niche crowd that would desire a brutally judgmental belt, Belty has already made waves by being a flagship example for the new term "awareables."  This designation describes any element of wearable fashion that also serves to gather specific information to help the user, such as the Google glasses that will be punched off of many more faces in 2015. 

How many awareables does it take before they all become self-aware?
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Emiota co-founder Bertrand Duplat explained this new modern marvel in strict terms of what it means to innovate for the future, explaining that, "the belt experience hasn't changed in centuries"...but now, there's Belty.  What item of your clothes will technologically quantify your fatness next?  Could modern compression socks actually tell you you're putting too much pressure on your feet?  We'll just have to wait for more of the future and see.  

In the meantime, if Belty's not getting tighter, like a noose that wants to help you rather than punish you...maybe it's time for a walk.

And if you max out Belty, there's only one belt left for you, you champion...
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Space Station Sunday: Success And Space Jams

Good evening, space fans!  It was a calm but productive week on the ISS.

New Year's celebrations got multiplied 16-fold for our orbiting adventurers, who got to see a dozen-and-a-quarter daybreaks from their perfect perch.  As alcohol is not allowed on the ISS, no champagne toasts were made, but that's a fair price to pay for saying you got to literally party around the world on New Year's Eve.

With much Martian goodness to follow...
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According to NASA, approximately 3,575 hours worth of research on some 300 different projects were conducted by the space station crews during 2014 alone, bringing more insight and innovation into the micro-g lifestyle as well as new developments for all the rest of us who remain ground-bound.

Over the course of the 2014, nine different unmanned vehicles visited the ISS (four Russian Progress ships, two SpaceX Dragons, two orbital Cygnus craft, and one final flight of Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle.)  Four Russian Soyuz crafts spirited up three new crew members apiece to join the stellar ranks of the ISS team, and eleven of the astronauts and cosmonauts participated in seven different spacewalks over the course of the year.  By all accounts, this helped make 2014 a tremendously productive year in space.

Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore, the NASA astronaut currently commanding the space station, got to celebrate a little extra on this successful year, as his 52nd birthday fell a few days previous on December 29th.  The Flight Control team in Houston was even on hand to sing him Happy Birthday from mission control!

Butch's ISS comrades also helped him age in style.
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From an earthly perspective, the ISS captured the imagination of Israeli photographer Gadi Edelheit, who tracked the station using the HeavensAbove astronomy site and captured images of the ISS as it was in transit past the face of the moon.  The video of the flyby, made famous via Gizmodo, puts into dramatic perspective how small our space force is in the face of all that space.  

And as for snaps from the other direction, NASA astronaut Terry Virts maintains a fascinating Instagram account of his space voyage, with station life and earth life all getting examined via his lens.  With the astronauts adopting an ever more lively presence on social media, the imagery and intrigue from space can touch even the most remote corners of earth!

Want more?  There's a unique ISS Instragram as well!  

This image of the Viedma glacier was captured from the ISS as part of  the Expedition Earth And Beyond program,
which provides space-based earth photos to students.
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And if you'd like a spacey soundtrack to go along with all the excellent imagery, check out the "80UA" collection of remixed space sounds  - everything from rocket blasts to ambient cosmic noise - made by Italian artists Fabrica Musica.

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next time for more from our stars in the stars.  Don't let gravity get you down...have a great week and remember to watch this space!

Hold Onto Your Hat: New Bulletproof Caps Can Help You Keep Your Mind In One Place

It's a dangerous world out there, but who can plan to wear a helmet everyplace they go?  Now, you don't have to sacrifice fashion for security thanks to a new kickstarter endeavor,  the Bulletsafe bulletproof cap.

Unfortunately they are not yet available in Stetson style.
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Bearing a 7-oz. hard ballistic panel that sits in the front of the cap to protect the wearer's forehead and frontal lobes, the caps appear to sit as normally as your favorite baseball teams' would.  The caps are not only a fraction of the weight but also a fraction of the cost of a full SWAT helmet, which would be around $400, compared to the Bulletsafe's $129.

A Bulletsafe cap with its internal armor removed.  33% head coverage might not sound like a lot, but it's better than 0% when it comes to your brain.
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Offering "Protection Without Intimidation" is another major feature, alleviating the need for police or other security personnel to be overtly armored.  This aids not only in covert operations but also for keeping relative overall peace thanks to the appearance of a non aggressively-militarized force.  Maybe, just maybe, having officers look a little less threatening might make everyone act in a similar fashion.  Riot helmets, consciously or not, presuppose riots.

Despite the obviously bad idea, you probably want to fight this guy more than some random dude in a ballcap.
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Interested parties can aid the Bulletsafe's development by pledging various amounts, including a special startup price of $99 per cap.  If you have absolutely no need for such gear but appreciate the idea, for $50 one can aid in the donation of a cap to a Detroit-area police officer.  Your name will be written inside so that the recipient can appreciate their "guardian angel."

"Aww gee thanks, CopsSuck420!"
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The product has successfully completed prototype testing and is aiming for NIJ Level IIA security ratings for the headwear.  This means the hat is capable of stopping .40, 9mm, and .38 caliber rounds, which is a considerable achievement for what by all appearances is a lightweight, normal baseball cap.

Can the appearance of peace help the people and police?  Let's hope 2015 doesn't have to find out the hard way.  But, like firearms themselves, a little discreet security can go a long way when it counts.

Check out Bulletsafe's kickstarter for more information!

For an additional donation, you can get one embroidered for your specific job, such as "POLICE", or if you're really daring, a Boston Red Sox logo for your trip to Yankee Stadium.
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Evolution Comes Full Circle As NASA Develops "RoboSimian" Robot

As of this morning, it is 2015, and therefore further into the future.  And what future is fun without new space gadgetry?

As reported by CNN, NASA has developed a new robot to navigate the adventures of interplanetary exploration...or even just to help out around the home planet.  Designed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) facility, the new RoboSimian bot doesn't mess around with any of those cheesy humanoid-droid elements and skips straight to having seven cameras mounted all around a headless, dexterously multi-limbed body.

Don't freak out if you see this thing in a disaster situation; it's trying to come help you.
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RoboSimian's four jointed limbs can function as either arms or legs, enabling walking or even rolling over various surfaces.  The limbs can also pick up and manipulate objects, making the robots useful not just to rescue themselves from far-flung planetary problems, but also to aid in earthly disaster scenarios (for example, RoboSimian is dexterous enough to turn off valves.)  If after a nuclear event or other catastrophe, RoboSimian could be sent in to help where rescuers can't reach.

RoboSimian and other robo-siblings will be put to the test in June as part of DARPA's Robotics Challenge, an eight-event challenge that will discern which bots are the most badass.  RoboSimian and its 18 challengers will have to attempt to drive a car, use tools, navigate rubble and climb stairs, all without a human pilot.  A $2 million prize awaits for the robot that can function at the level of what DARPA compares to "as competent as a 2-year-old child."

A two-year-old-child, minus the puking and screaming, plus serious survival skills.
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JPL already has a huge winner in its wheelhouse with the interplanetarily-famous Mars Rover, currently still on task on the red planet.  The difficult communications gap between Earth and Mars helped to lead to the technology that allows for RoboSimian's autonomous achievements.  This thorough, classic-NASA cautious "consciousness", coupled with RoboSimian's adaptability, makes for a slow but steady robo-rover.

"It is intentionally the tortoise relative to the other hares in the competition," said Brett Kennedy, JPL's supervisor of the Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group. "We feel that a very stable and deliberate approach suites our technical strengths and provides a model for one vital element of the 'ecosystem' of robots that we expect to be deployed to disaster scenarios in the future."

RoboSimian (left) will progress to the DARPA Robotics Challenge as JPL's entry after, among other victories, beating out fellow contender Surrogate (right) in a robot dance contest.
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Kennedy also noted that due to the nature of the search/rescue/explore jobs that RoboSimian will hold, this intent was instilled in RoboSimian's design.  "Basically, we wanted the perceptual equivalent of a St. Bernard," he said.

Yes, someday your life might be saved by a robot-monkey-St. Bernard...if it's not busy working on a comet or Mars.  Welcome to a little further in the future!

R2-D2 and C3P0 have a new buddy in town, and he means business.
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