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.

The Future of Preserving Prints

Collecting and recreating images is a practice as old as humanity itself. From cave-wall paintings to Snapchat updates, our species has always found creative ways to preserve moments that would otherwise have faded from memory. As we advance the tools we use to preserve these images, the question arises: How long will a new format last until it must be replaced?

From Print to Pixels

London’s Cambridge University Library is home to some of the most important literary works in the history of the world. One such piece, The Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, is renowned not only for what it contains, but for being something only a few people have seen. The original 17th century Chinese tome, containing over 138 paintings and poems, is a rare book indeed. The Cambridge copy, considered too delicate to open, remains closed within its display. Fortunately, the book has been reprinted many times over the centuries, and those reprints paved the way for the new digital incarnation.

landscape painting
Image via MentalFloss

Since the book holds such historical significance, the library explored several options for making its pages available when the book itself couldn’t be opened. Using one of the older reprints, the library made digital copies of the pages that scholars and the public would be able to view at their leisure. Now everyone can see inside the book that helped revolutionize printing technology.

In a Snap

It may be hard to believe, but most of today’s youth have no idea what it’s like to hold an actual photograph in their hands. These days, posting a photo to a “wall” usually means sharing it on social media. Yet there’s a growing movement looking to bring back printed photographs in the digital age. The company leading the charge is one whose name is synonymous with “point and shoot.”

camera and snapshot
Image via Wired.

The Polaroid camera brought a much-needed simplicity to consumer photography. A camera that took and instantly printed photos, it did away with the need for professional development. Later, with the advent of digital photography, most people went without physical prints altogether.

Yet Polaroid has seen a revival in the Digital Age. Last year saw the introduction of the company’s Cube mini-camera and Zip instant mobile printer. This year will see an addition to their new digital line with the introduction of the Snap (see above). Although the Snap doesn’t have the extensive editing features of smartphone cameras and photo sites like Instagram, it does come with flash, timer, and instant ink-free printing.

The camera is scheduled to hit store shelves this winter for $99.

See what Develops

If the history of technology has taught us anything, it’s that no format is perfect or permanent. Even digital images are subject to degradation. But with each new advance comes the ability to preserve images for generations to come. We’ve come a long way from cave-wall paintings. Now we just need to make sure they're preserved for future tribes!

A Bridge to the Future

18. June 2015 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

Nature and technology are often seen as two contradicting forces whose collision is a sure sign of a changing world. This can be for better (technology discovers new medicines to fight natural illnesses and diseases) or for worse (deforestation displaces wildlife and destroys the ecosystem), but once it’s done, there’s often no going back. What symbol better represents both progression and the combination of two disparate entities more than a bridge?

Build Your Own Bridge

Dutch designer Jorish Laarman has big plans for Amsterdam. His research and development company, MX3D, has spent the last few years thinking up some of the most outlandish-yet-realistic uses for 3-D printing. And their latest plan is their most ambitious yet. They want to construct a 3-D printed bridge over an Amsterdam canal.

But this isn’t the usual case of people assembling a bunch of 3-D printed parts. No, Laarman and his team intend to leave all the work to a few robots. These robots will both create and construct the entire bridge mid-air, starting at one end of the canal and moving to the other.

Although the project still needs approval and the selection of a specific canal, Laarman expects to begin around September of this year. He says “This bridge will show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects and sustainable materials while allowing unprecedented freedom of form. The symbolism of the bridge is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the best of both worlds.”

MX3D-3-D-printed-bridge.jpg
(via Gizmodo)

What 3D-printed construction projects would you like to see in the future? Let us know in the comments.

And the Beat Goes On

23. April 2015 11:48 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments (0)

radio.jpg
(via Gizmodo)

 

In an earlier entry, we mentioned how the 2009 digital television transition not only changed how television was transmitted, but it also helped kick off a streaming television revolution that shows no signs of slowing down. Many of the world’s largest countries have already made the transition and it’s expected that – with few exceptions – every major country will have completed their own transitions by 2021. On a similar technological note, this week Norway announced that in 2017 they will become first country in the world to cease FM radio broadcasting in favor of fully Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).

Although the potential pieces are in place for a major change in radio, there are still many mitigating factors standing in the way.

Bit by Bit

Although the audio format MP3 was created in 1995, it didn’t catch on until the digital music boom years later (thanks, in part, to the controversial file-sharing service Napster). With the introduction of the Apple iPod in 2001, people slowly began to accept the idea of carrying their entire album collection right in their pocket. But even as the convenience of portable musical quantity grew, the quality of the audio sharply declined. Experts agree that the often-low quality of MP3s – which can be as low as 1/11th the quality of CDs – and the equally low quality of earbuds that are packaged with iPods and iPhones have led to the average consumer typically experiencing sub-standard audio. Not only has this diminished the work of the creators, but it’s also led to a rise in hearing loss – particularly amongst adolescents.

Although several strides have been made in recent years to increase audio quality on consumer devices, the issues of price and storage space remain major obstacles. Whereas the typical DRM-free MP3 can be as small as 3.5MB, a high-quality audio file can be 34.56MB, leaving little room for multiple files on a single device. What’s more, devices specifically created to play high-quality audio – such as Neil Young’s Pono Player and Sony’s high-quality digital Walkman – are often priced too high for the average consumer.

Who gets What?

Complicating matters further is the possibility of exclusivity. Just as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have begun producing their own original content, it stands to reason that music services like Pandora, Spotify, and Rhapsody could do the same. The question then arises as to who will get what. This past autumn, pop star Tayor Swift very publicly pulled her music from Spotify after claiming she wasn’t being appropriately compensated. She then became one of several high-profile musicians to put her music on the streaming service Tidal, owned by rapper Jay-Z. Similarly, Apple – which last year purchased Dr. Dre’s Beats Audio company – has begun its own streaming service with Beats Music. The service is also exploring the possibility of exclusive content with well-known musicians.

But as appealing as these exclusives appear on paper, they may be less so in practice. This is most apparent with Tidal, which has suffered a string of negative service reviews since being launched in March. Although both it and competitor Deezer boast having CD-quality sound service, both have been criticized for their expensive $20/month subscription prices. With similar services also active or on the way – including YouTube’s Music Key – the consensus appears to be that comfort, pricing, and ease-of-use are higher priorities than exclusive content or audio quality.

Tune In

Although the Norwegian digital changeover is still two years away, and the United States has made no announcement that it intends to follow anytime soon, it isn’t a far-fetched possibility. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2012 more than 90% of Americans still listen to AM/FM radio on a weekly basis, but are beginning to warm to internet-based services. With more and more traditional services switching to digital each day, it seems only a matter of time before the old-fashioned radio follows suit. How you get what music remains to be seen (or rather heard).

Are you using an online streaming service? Let us know in the comments.

Nike's Human Printing Press

27. September 2013 04:50 by Calvin Yu in   //  Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

 

Printing presses have been around in the Western world since 1450, but Nike has found a way to innovate printing press technology by making it come alive with athletes' individual sports. How, you must be asking, can human atheletes use their physical prowess directly in the printing process? Nike's branch located in Turkey launched "Made By Movement" to directly engineer a printing press to work with the activities athletes partake in. The result was a multi-faceted challenge to encourage physical health and show the beauty of each athletic skill through a video that documented the process. More...

Month List