Soft Shoe Routine

When we travel, our mode of transportation is almost as important as our destination. Whether we're on our own two feet or seated aboard a jumbo jet, our level of comfort during travel can affect our health. Although shoe designs have changed, the need for a pair that is both functional and aesthetically-pleasing has remained constant. Recently, cutting-edge technologies have been meeting this need in a variety of unexpected ways.

My Adidas

For someone embarking on their first workout, simply choosing the right gear can be a daunting task. People frequently find themselves faced with a seemingly endless array of options. Of course, the choice is clear when the shoe is custom-made for your foot.

custom-made shoe
Image via Gizmodo.

One of the largest shoemakers in the world wants to make you a shoe designed to fit like a glove. Adidas has partnered with Belgian manufacturer Materialise to create a new custom running shoe, the FutureCraft 3D. This 3D-printed shoe is designed to fit the specs of the user's foot. According to a recent press release, the shoe "creates a flexible, fully breathable carbon copy of the athlete's own footprint, matching exact contours and pressure points." Although Adidas' shoe comes after that of rival Nike, which allows for 3D shoe-printing in one's own home, the FutureCraft 3D is the first to be designed around the user.

Nature Walk

There's no shortage of environmentally-friendly clothing materials. Nevertheless, it can be a task to find clothing that is not only environmentally-friendly, but strong and comfortable. That was the challenge one French shoe company decided to face head-on.

shoes on rocky terrain
Image via Wired

Sébastien Kopp and Francois Ghislain Morillion founded Veja in the mid-2000s with the sole purpose of creating athletic shoes in an ethically responsible way, using fair-trade labor and environmentally-friendly materials to create them. The company makes their shoes in their factory in Brazil and emphasizes making them visually appealing for potential buyers. As a reporter for Wired magazine put it, "Veja's brand of eco-friendly doesn't look eco-friendly."

Long Journey Ahead

We humans have been tinkering with shoes almost as long as we've been able to walk. The practicality of shoes makes them a perfect target for technological innovation. Ubiquitous as shoes are, their technological evolution will doubtless be felt the world over.

Tools for Learning to Learn

7. January 2016 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments

It's a lot easier to teach kids if learning is fun; these tools and toys are helping kids learn math and programming.

1 + 1 = Fun

Math and LEGOs are two things you might not expect to find together in the average classroom. One is an area of study that many people find intimidating; the other, a beloved children's toy. This 3rd grade teacher found a fruitful way of bringing the two together in her classroom.

LEGOs and fractions
Image via Scholastic.

Alycia Zimmerman admits that she wasn't fond of LEGOs as a child. The blocks' rigid design never appealed to her. Her opinion of LEGOs changed, however, when she discovered how effective they could be in teaching mathematical concepts to her students. "As a third grade teacher, I've spent hours and hours drawing arrays, modeling how to skip-count with arrays, deconstructing arrays, and building arrays with a myriad of tiny things," Zimmerman says. "Having a collection of LEGO pieces on hand during multiplication lessons is so useful. I whip a few out to reinforce the area model, to demonstrate square numbers, and to remind my students about the commutative property of multiplication."

Preschool Programmers

There's no disputing that computer code has become the most important language of the Digital Age. The question is when students should learn to code. If you ask the folks at Fisher-Price, the answer is, right away. Students could get started with coding as soon as preschool.

Code-a-Pillar
Image via Gizmodo.

At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, the renowned toy maker debuted the Code-a-Pillar. This adorable little app-assisted device was designed to teach young children the fundamentals of coding. Although the full specs won't be revealed until the 2016 Toy Fair in February, Fisher-Price promises that the device will help develop students' thinking and problem-solving skills, and get them started in some fundamentals of sequencing.

Familiar Lessons

This being an election year, the successes and shortcomings of current educational techniques are likely to be mentioned often. What should never be forgotten is the students' eagerness to learn. The tools of study evolve, but the goal of passing on information remains ever the same.

From the Ground Up: New Architecture Technology

31. December 2015 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments

As real estate continues to recover from the collapse in 2008, those who aren't incredibly rich struggle to find residences that are affordable yet spacious. In response to this, architects have been using new technology to experiment with building designs that are as functional as they are eye-catching.

Space-making Software

One of the drawbacks of using computers to design living spaces is their inability to factor in human comfort. How can programmers get people to believe that a computerized design could just as easily have come from human hands?

colorful computerized architectural design
Image via Gizmodo.

Miguel Nóbrega, recently a grad student at UCLA, created Superficie with the intention of giving the cold, calculating design of coded blueprints a more human touch. Using CNC markers that are standard for blueprint artists, the program designs geometrically functional residences in ways that are remarkably human. Nóbrega's groundbreaking program demonstrates that even a machine can account for personal needs.

Breaking the Mold

It's said that a true innovator can look at seemingly unremarkable things and see limitless possibilities. But the real question is always whether the innovator will create something that is actually useful and not simply creative. It was that challenge which Finnish designer Janne Kyttanen decided face head-on when he created his 3D-printed furniture.

3D-printed table
Image via designboom.

Kyttanen's inventions were influenced by naturally occurring elements and forces, from rock formations to volcanic eruptions. He has even used volcanic obsidian to create coffee tables, trays, and stools. "If we're able to use explosion-welding to join materials that wouldn't naturally fuse together," Kyttanen says, "what would happen if we could control this force digitally? What kind of hybrid matter could we create?"

Warm Hearth

Our ability to create shelters of our own is one of the most intriguing human instincts. While we've come a long way from dwelling in mud huts and caves, our perennial need to paint the walls and keep our loved ones near remains. As the way that homes are built changes with technological advancements, our ability to make them uniquely ours stays ever the same.

Inclusive Art and Fashion

24. December 2015 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments

So many things are designed to be all-inclusive, but there will always be those who are unable to partake fully. This is especially true of works of art. Several mitigating factors: language, region, even sensory perception, can keep the little details from getting through. Fortunately, cutting-edge advancements in technology are helping matters considerably. The following two stories are about disabled individuals using modern technology to share in the same experiences as their peers.

The World's Most Famous Face

The Mona Lisa has long been one of the most revered portraits in history. The painting has been studied, copied, and parodied so many times, it's hard to imagine what the world was like before it was created. Nevertheless, its two-dimensional nature makes it almost impossible for visually impaired persons to experience its detail and beauty. Thanks to a group of Finnish artists, that may soon change.

3D art print
Image via Gizmodo.

The Unseen Art project is based out of Helsinki and operates with the goal of making traditionally two-dimensional works of into 3D prints that one can touch. The prints are to be open-sourced, allowing for printing all over the world. Although the project is still trying to raise funds through an IndieGoGo campaign, it has already created a prototype of the Mona Lisa. The ultimate goal is create a full gallery's worth of prints, so that blind art patrons will have a collection of their very own.

Comfort and Function

For those with disabilities, even the mundane task of selecting clothes can be a chore. Whereas most people select clothing based on comfort and design, autistic individuals find themselves struggling with size, shape, and patterns. One mother made simplifying clothing options for her autistic son her personal cause.

young adult clothing models
Image via mental_floss.

Former CNN anchor Lauren Thierry created Independence Day Clothing after years of helping Liam, her autistic son, struggle with clothing. Thierry's clothing line, designed for both adults and children, eliminates the need for buttons, zippers, and tags, and that lowers the risk of injury. The clothes are also designed in a way that eliminates any specific front or back, allowing wearers to put the clothes on however they like.

For the millions who deal with conditions like autism, Thierry's clothing line gives a welcome sense relief and independence. "We really changed the conversation," Thierry says. "They can get up, get dressed, and feel good about themselves."

One Step at a Time

One important thing to remember about people with disabilities is that, just like those without disabilities, they have their learning curves. The ultimate goal of learning, whether we're learning to speak a new language or to walk again after a debilitating accident, is to have what is being learned become second nature. Technology is making that goal more and more attainable.

The Future: Foldable and Functional

It’s hard to say which invention came first, the paper airplane or the real thing. Did some poor soul suffering from boredom folded a piece of paper to mimic an actual airplane, or did aerodynamic pioneers create paper models as prototypes? It may be easier to create an artistic rendition of a functioning device, but that doesn’t mean the rendition has to remain unable to function. The following stories prove that one doesn’t need state-of-the-art technology to create a workable piece of machinery.

Paper Pictures

From tourists to traffic stops, it seems every step we take these days is captured on a camera. Cameras are now standard on mobile devices. As the lenses get smaller, and the images more detailed, it's easy to forget the long journey image-capturing technology has taken. One inventive designer took such an interest in that history she decided to write a book about it.

cameras
Image via designboom.

Kelli Anderson’s book, This Book is a Camera, is one of the few literary works whose titles can be taken literally. In addition to explaining the process of pinhole photography—a method that hasn’t been regularly employed since the nineteenth century—the pages of the book itself fold into a working pinhole camera. Although the book isn’t likely to replace any top-of-the-line electronic model, it serves as a contemporary adaptation of a method that paved the way for the devices we use every day.

Cardboard Beats

For nearly 70 years, the Fender brand has served as the worldwide standard for electric guitars and has become a staple of rock music. The guitars can be found everywhere from suburban garages to the stages of sold-out arenas. After decades of refining their design and function, the builders wanted to see if they could actually build a fully functioning model out of packing material. The experiment was a treat for the eyes and ears alike.

cardboard rock guitars 
Image via mental_floss.

The Fender team visited the packing plant for Signal Snowboards, in Los Angeles, in hopes of trying their experiment with high-quality materials. The result was Fender Stratocaster, made entirely from cardboard except for its strings and electrical attachments. The guitar is just one of many cardboard designs from Signal.

Souped-Up at Six Millimeters

Some people can go their entire life without looking under the hood of a car, secure in the belief that the engine is functioning properly. But the intricacies of a six-hundred-pound V8 engine are not lost on those who have popped the hood. The complex design has powered hot rods for nearly a century with barely any decrease in size—until, that is, one creative designer made one no bigger than his thumb.

6-millimeter engine model
Image via Gizmodo.

Craftsman Aliaksei Zholner decided to have some fun with the design of the engine, and built one out of paper and glue. The six-millimeter model of the engine features a side handle that allows the person holding it to turn the small gears inside.

Designing Dreams

The above examples give one a glimpse into the creative process. So many of history’s great inventions started with someone examining something ordinary, making a few adjustments, and tapping into a need.

Personalized 3D Printed Medical Advances

3. December 2015 10:26 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments

The idea of push-button medicine has always seemed like the sort of idea destined to remain more “fiction” than “science”. Every day brings new headlines about bureaucratic battles over insurance premiums that do little to improve health for the average citizen.

But as the political battles over medicine rage on, medical science continues to make strides. Recent innovations in 3D printing have lead to advancements in surgery, prosthetics, and even medicine, giving health professionals more options for treatment. The following stories reflect how 3D printing continues to be one of the most revolutionary tools in the history of health care technology.

Just-for-Me Medicine

One of the most frustrating aspects of seeking medical care is to be thought of as one-of-many rather than an individual. Medical professionals in highly-populated areas are often fighting against time in an attempt to see everyone; personal care catered to the specific needs of each patient can sometimes seem like a luxury rather than the necessity it is. Fortunately, personal care in an expeditious manner may be closer than we think.

3D Printed Heart Model for Surgery
Image via Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Researchers for the American Heart Association recently created a computer algorithm for a personalized pill. The ingestible medication would be 3D printed based on a specific patient's medical history. The researchers say their method increases the effectiveness of the medication and reduces the chances of side effects.

A similar heart-related breakthrough was made at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where researchers have created a method of turning MRI scans into 3D printed models of the heart. The system was created to give heart surgeons a physical model of the heart to interact with before surgery takes place. Both the personal pill and the 3D heart model are still in their experimental stages, but they represent great strides in health care.

From the Knees on Up

Injuries to the knees and legs are some of the most common amongst athletes, with some losing entire seasons or careers to these ailments. But as common as these injuries are, they’re also some of the most difficult to treat; a slight miscalculation can leave permanent damage. With that in mind, scientists have begun exploring the idea of replacing a damaged cartilage rather than repairing it.


Image via PBS.

Researchers at Duke University have developed a method for 3D printing human cartilage to replace its damaged counterpart. The procedure would weave the patient’s own stem cells into a specific shape to be used in the damaged area. The Duke researchers are currently experimenting on large animals and have already begun planning human trials for the future.

Give Me a Head with Hair!

From our earliest days, we’re told that one of the inevitabilities of growing older will be noticing changes to our hair. Hair replacement is a billion-dollar industry with no signs of decreasing anytime soon. But the bottles of scalp stimulant in your medicine cabinet may soon be replaced by a high-quality substitute.

3D printed hair
Image via Gizmodo.

Bad wigs and loose toupees may be a thing of the past thanks to new experiments in 3D printing synthetic hair. A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created a technique that allows a printer to craft strands that resemble of a human crop. The technique is currently being worked for flaws – the printed hair is much more fragile than organic hair – but the idea of a hair piece that resembles the unnatural texture of a doll’s head may soon become a thing of the past.

Only One of You

Although the political battle over medicine seems to have no end in sight, both the political and scientific issues exist because of the patient. As long as patients continue to make their concerns heard and their conditions visible, both senators and scientists will eventually take notice.

3D Printing Is a Big Help for Little Guys

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

As we get older, we tend to accept that there are some things in life that are out of our control; the best we can do is try to be prepared for them. Although we can't be prepared for every injury, we can learn from those we've already had and try to help those who are unable to help themselves.

Fortunately, the ways we can help others are being greatly improved by advances in technology. Conditions thought to be permanent just a few years ago can now be mended in a variety of ways. The following stories are about little ones who got big help from advances in 3D printing.

Puppy Love

From the moment Tumbles was born, his life wasn't easy. This adorable pup was born without his two front legs, and could not be nursed by his mother along with the rest of his litter. Hopes weren't very high for Tumbles when he was brought to an animal shelter in Athens, OH. But when a photo of the puppy went viral, his chances for a better life improved.

puppy in wheelchair
Image via IFLScience.

When the Ohio University Innovation Center learned about Tumbles, they saw a way they could help. Within fourteen hours, the Innovation Center designed and 3D-printed a special wheelchair-style apparatus for him. Tumbles is still getting used to being so mobile, but everybody is impressed by how quickly he's adapted. As shelter president Angela Marx put it, "He's a little sweetheart and doesn't act as if he has any limitations."

Hands Together

Before John Shull joined the Rochester Institute of Technology, he was put off by how prohibitive it was to procure prosthetics, especially for children. With the average attachment costing upwards of forty thousand dollars, many never received the help necessary to simplify their daily lives.

prosthetics and a laptop computer
Image via PBS.

At the Rochester Institute of Technology in Upstate New York, Shull and his associates have dedicated themselves to creating free, fully functional 3D-printed prosthetics for children. Although the materials used aren't as high-grade as those used in expensive, top-of-the-line models, Shull says that they're more adaptable to children who are still growing. "It doesn't make sense to spend $40,000 on something they're going to outgrow in a year."

It's important to Shull that the children receiving the prosthetics not be solely defined by them. The bespectacled inventor says, "If I didn't have glasses in a world in which there's lots of fine print, I would be disabled. As it is, I'm just a guy who wears glasses."

Little Things Matter Most

Youths adapt to their environment and circumstances far more quickly than adults, and it's that sort of adaptation that inspires people of all ages to achieve more. Although unforeseen factors can inhibit one's abilities, they can also inspire the very innovations that enable us to overcome those conditions.

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.

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