The march of technology is both rapid and relentless. Every time you pick up your mobile phone to browse the web, read the latest news and share your pictures, you are writing the death song of the traditional PC and laptop computer. The watch is also headed the same way, what with the ability to know the exact time on almost every device with a display. If watches weren’t so valuable as decorative pieces and statements of wealth, they may have already gone. On the flip side the watch may just about see a resurgence in the form of connected smart watches like those already pioneered by Sony and Samsung, with unique interpretations available too like the Pebble watch. However it is Apple’s rumoured move into the iWatch that has geeks and the lay consumer all in a frenzy.
Technology is also making inroads into the living room. We just got ourselves a connected TV with a ginormous LED display. The only thing that we didn’t want was the available 3D TV since there just isn’t enough 3D content out there. The last time we bought a TV seems a generation ago, where the main selling point was a full HD display. In the realm of televisions a game of catch me if you can is on between the hardware manufacturers and content providers. I’ld expect that our next purchase in a few years will be of an Ultra HD TV with 3D.
Even if you don’t look too far into the future, you can see a lot happening both in the home and around us at play and work. We are embracing small screen devices like the mobile phone and tablets for reading books. While you could argue that with less books being printed we are doing our bit to save trees and the environment, won’t all the extra hardware, batteries and the continuing obsolescence of devices do more harm?
The advance of e-commerce, networked environments and instant communication has actually reduced paper consumption in traditional markets. Fewer newspapers are printed, magazines are switching to an e-paper route and even the humble office printer sees less documents being generated. At some stage we may evolve into a paperless society but that time is far in the future.
Speaking of printers, the new leading edge in consumer technology revolves around them. 3D printing has become a fact. We’ve seen the early days in rapid prototyping – I saw it in operation almost 15 years ago in a Ford design facility. Those machines cost a million dollars, occupied a room and finally produced parts that were perfect in form but couldn’t be used in the function they were designed for – but today it’s completely different.
3D printing has reached a level between the professional and amateur consumer levels. Printer costs are dropping along with the size of the equipment. The volume of the printer is now only dictated by the volume of the end product that has to be generated. And the material used to print can range between a hard polymer to one with a metallic composition. Of course 3D printing is in the news currently because a US based activist posted the designs of a 3D-printable gun online and the designs were downloaded more than a 100,000 times. In the US an extra 100,000 guns will make no difference to the equation, but it is the danger associated with having an open source means of printing death that scares governments and rightly so.
3D printing is not all bad. If you can get it to print organic material or human tissue, we could print prosthetics and replacement organs. Scientists have already been postulating sending 3D printers to the moon and Mars where they can be used to create the tools and devices needed by explorers on the spot. 3D printing will also mean that you and me will download spare parts, accessories and even tools as we need them, print them out and use them on the cars that we buy. Talk about disruptive technology and it’s here already. So what do you want to print today?