Amazing Attachments

29. October 2015 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments

Regular readers of this blog will know that we've shared many wonderful stories about the use of 3D printing in the field of medicine. The technology has quickly been adopted for everything from the growth of replacement organs to the creation of prosthetic limbs. The processes associated with 3D printing could become one of the most revolutionary advances in the history of modern medicine.

With all the advances made so far, perhaps the most pleasant surprise is that they're showing no signs of slowing. Thanks to this technology, ailments and disabilities previously thought to have no treatment could have possible cures. The following stories document the latest advances of medical 3D printing, and it's safe to say they won't be the last.

Homegrown Hearts

Scientists at the University of Florida recently made headlines when they revealed that they'd created a new gel-based 3D-printing process. Printed using this process, the final product is less likely to fall apart after printing is complete. The University had successfully printed complex shapes with a variety of materials, including living cells from human blood vessels and canine kidneys. Although this would seem to be the perfect prelude for the printing of replacement organs, the university's team was unable to keep the living cells alive within the gel. That's where Carnegie Mellon comes in.

cells in gel
Image via IFL Science.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have long been working on their own process for 3D-printing organs. They recently had a major breakthrough when they concluded that they could successfully print a working human heart. Using a chemical-based gel process of their own design, the researchers began printing arteries and veins.

The heart being an organ that is unable to repair itself when injured, the importance of the Carnegie process was not lost on its creators. Although printing a complete organ is still expensive and time-consuming, the idea that it may become a commonplace process isn't so far-fetched anymore.

Heavily Armed

The ability to procure a prosthetic limb isn't only a matter of restoring physical ability. Social stigmas associated with being an amputee must be overcome. Great strides have been made in making modern prosthetics as visually appealing as they are functional. Yet, as appealing as the new designs are, they still lack sensation, and may draw unwanted attention to the amputee. It has long been the goal of prosthetic designers to create a skin-like covering that would look as real as organic skin and provide a sense of touch to the wearer. Science has just moved one step closer to attaining these goals.

prosthetic hand
Image via Gizmodo.

Researchers at Stanford University, led by electrical engineer Benjamin Tee, have created a system they call DiTact (The Digital Tactical System). It uses a series of sensors in the prosthetic which sends signals back to the optical nerves in the brain, restoring a sense of touch to the amputee. What's more, the artificial skin is made from flexible material. The next step will be to recreate the look of organic flesh. This is, however, only a long-term goal for the Stanford team.

As inspiring as the above stories are, it's too soon to say that made-to-order organs will be readily available. But with 3D-printing technology being used to create everything from fire arms to human teeth, don't be surprised if printed replacements come sooner than you'd expect.

Building your own LEGO Land

For more than sixty years, LEGOs have allowed children all over the world to create worlds of their own. Although most sets come with a predetermined set of specs to follow, much of the fun lies in veering away from those designs. You might start out making a fire station and wind up constructing a small fortress. Or you might begin with a mansion and then add on propellers. The appeal of LEGOs has always been that the possibilities are endless. What begins as a simple pile of bricks can easily turn into a complex work of art. Wouldn't it be great if you could create life-size things with LEGOs? It used to be a dream, but now it's one step closer to becoming reality. The following stories are about how professionals use LEGOs and 3D printing to create real-world designs.

Building a City

Many factors have to be considered in urban planning: location, population, environmental concerns, potential growth. In addition to those factors, planners must consider the design area. Architects want their buildings to be aesthetically pleasing in addition to being functional. The difficulty lies in getting a clear idea of the visuals from a static set of blueprints. That's where LEGO comes in.

lego city
Image via City Lab

At the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a new public display allows Boston residents to shape a city as they see fit. MIT's display features a 3D projection of the city laid out on an interactive board. Citizens then use LEGO pieces to shape an area of the city, to which the projection automatically adjusts itself. This allows Boston citizens to see very quickly how construction proposals would positively or negatively affect the city.

According to Chris Zegras, professor of Transportation and Urban Planning at MIT, the purpose of the project is to bridge the gap between city planners and the average citizen. "Our ultimate objective is this idea of co-creation," explains Zegras. "Having producers and consumers work intimately together in the production of a good creates a better good. We would like that to happen in how we produce 21st-century transit systems."

Happy Camper

When kids create LEGO automobiles, they're usually variations of the cars their parents drive or re-creations of vehicles from films and television shows they've watched. Whatever the design, both parents and kids wish they could build their own vehicle and take it for a test drive. At the recent Motorhome and Caravan Show in the United Kingdom, one such vehicle really was taken out on the road.

lego camper
Image via Guinness World Records

One of the highlights of the show was the display of life-sized caravan camper built from 215,158 LEGO pieces, setting a Guinness World Record for the largest caravan built with interlocking bricks. The camper was built over 12 weeks, and required more than a thousand man hours. As impressive as it is in design, what really sets the camper apart is that it's fully functional. It features a sink with running water, a working refrigerator, and even a bed, among other amenities. The camper will next be shown alongside its real-life counterpart at BRICK, a British LEGO fan event, in late October, before being displayed in London in early December.

Did you play with LEGOs as a kid? How about as an adult? Share your stories in the comments below!

Modern Day Mapping

The practical purpose of maps has often overshadowed their artistic value. Maps are meant to be easy-to-read guides that lead you from Point A to Point B. At the same time, their design is the work of skilled illustrators taking great pains to make the maps not only practical, but visually appealing as well.

As technology advances and borders are redrawn, it's tempting to think of old maps as obsolete relics. But they provide a fascinating look at the world as it once existed, and the illustrative methods that were once considered state of the art. The following two stories show us how far we've come and perhaps provide a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Course Plotter

There are few people in the United States who can read an atlas as well as John Hessler can. A cartography expert for the Library of Congress, he's made it his life's work to chart the evolution of the visual guides that humans have used to get around. One of the most important things he's discovered is that the visual design of a map is just as important as the geographical data it represents.

Ptolemy Map
Image via Wired.

"What we're looking at whenever we're looking at a map is an abstraction," Hessler says. "Really what we're doing is like any visual art or design; were taking extreme complexity that takes place in the real world and abstracting it to simple visual images that help us understand complex interactions." Hessler showcases a great deal of his knowledge in the new Phaidon Publishing book Map: Exploring the World. The book collects over three hundred historical maps from all over the world.

Big Apple on the Tree

Although the isle of Manhattan is renowned for being a hub of cultural change, its place as a hub of geographical change can sometimes prove controversial. Both historians and casual New Yorkers have wondered what it would be like to see The Big Apple before the skyscrapers were built. Thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society, you can.

Green Manhattan
Image via Mental Floss.

The Welikia Project is a digital experiment by the WCS which takes satellite images of modern-day Manhattan and replaces them with realistic visualizations of how they would have looked in years past. This allows users to see the city covered entirely with flora and fauna.

It's impossible to predict how maps may be used in the distant future, because it's impossible to know what new areas will be discovered next. But, then, part of the fun of looking at maps is documenting how far you've come.

Hackers Use Drones to Steal Wireless Print Jobs

8. October 2015 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments

Wifi in the Sky

Researchers in Singapore recently proved that unsecured wireless data isn't safe - even if it's 30 stories in the air. The "hackers" attached a smart phone loaded with two different apps they designed to a drone. The first detects open wifi printers and alerts organizations that their device is open to attack. The second app actually intercepts the data being sent to the printer. The project was designed by students Jinghui Toh and Hatib Muhammad in part of a government-sponsored effort to defend against cyber attacks. 

The students were supervised by Yuval Elovici, head of iTrust, a cybersecurity research center at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. "The main point [of the research] was to develop a mechanism to try to patrol the perimeter of the organization and find open printers from outside the organization," Elovici says. "It’s dramatically cheaper than a conventional pen test."

A drone hovering outside your office window would be hard to miss, but a typical printer's signals are transmitted 30 meters. Combine this with the hacker controlling the drone from a half mile away, or an autonomous drone flying itself, and the thief is hard to track down. In the video above, researchers even attached a phone to a robot vacuum cleaner and left it to clean up data as it moved its way around the building.

You can read the rest of the details of this study on Wired.

Protect Your Printer

The biggest takeaway from this research is that no network is safe, whether it's your home wifi or the office printer network. If you don't have a dedicated IT professional or tech-savvy friend, here is some information from HP on the different types of networks and how to protect them. Tips include working behind a firewall, creating a network just for guests, and securing your printer account.

Take a few minutes to secure your networks now. It could save you a lot of time and hassle in the future!

 

Tiny Masterpieces

For centuries, scholars and commoners alike have debated what defines the word "art." Is the distinction between what is and isn't art made by financial valuation? Do people need to have training in order for their work to be considered legitimate art? Are artists truly artists if their work is not their sole occupation? These questions and more have kept history's greatest minds awake at night.

Still, if there's one thing humanity has proven throughout its existence, it's that there's no limit to the type of canvas people can use for their art. From etchings on cave walls to galleries of the modern metropolis, our species has shown its boundless creativity by designing with whatever materials are available and on whatever canvas can be found.

By the Spoonful

All parents have told their children at one time or another not to play with their food. Ioana Vanc was told the same thing growing up as a child in Romania, but her artistic sensibilities were hardly reined in. Now an adult and a professional artist, she has taken her messy childhood habit and turned it into a hobby that has brought her worldwide recognition.

zebras on a teaspoon
Image via Ioana.

Using nothing more than the most minimal of food scraps, Vanc creates colorful landscapes and recognizable portraits on the surface of a teaspoon. Her works include zebras in an open plain, as well as likenesses of celebrities Karl Lagerfeld, Iris Apfel, and even Kermit the Frog. Regular updates to Vanc's gallery can be found by following her Instagram page. They make for some of the more interesting food pictures one can find on the site.

Petri Paintings

With art being such a deeply ingrained part of the human experience, it isn't very far-fetched to think that artistic urges might be part of the very building blocks of our existence. Similarly, it isn't too great a stretch to imagine those very building blocks becoming works of art themselves. The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) recently launched the first-ever Agar Art competition, inviting challengers to use microorganisms and mold to create art pieces that fit inside of petri dishes.


Petri dish
Image via Hyperallergic.

The above stories show how, more often than not, art adheres more to vision than to tool or format. All it takes is a little imagination to transform something ordinary into something truly inspiring.

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