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There has been a lot of development with regards to 3D Printers.  This year alone we have seen the technology used to build anything from buildings to bionic arms.  While some printers can create something as unique as a pizza, most printers create objects out of plastic.


It is amazing what you can do with plastic.  But, what if you want to print a pair of pants or need to replicate your child’s favorite stuffed animal?  The answer may have just come from the Walt Disney Company and their fabric 3D printer.  The little fabric rabbit created by the printer is a bit primitive, but I am sure as the technology is refined, you will be able to print your own unique version of your favorite character.  


It turns out I know a guy, Karsten Agler - HP Ambassador & Technical Product Manager for Sprout to be precise.  So I managed to get invited over to HP Labs in Palo Alto, CA recently for a demo of their new Sprout computer.



I arrived at HP Labs on a fine Friday morning and I only got lost once on the way.  I managed to find the visitor’s parking area (and a spot therein) pretty easily.  Luckily, I arrived my standard level of fairly early, because I ended up waiting until the longest Benny Goodman song in history ended before I locked up my car and headed into the lobby.






Signing in was done via computer at the receptionist station.  All done with a touch screen.  You had to put who you were, what company you were with, who you were there to see, etc. That process generated a badge that one is supposed to wear the entire time one is beyond the badge-controlled sliding doors. (As this is HP labs, there was also a sign informing folks that no photography was allowed.)  I got said badge from the receptionist, clipped it onto my sweater, and sat in on of the various comfy chair dotted about.



While I was waiting for my escort, the largest order of pizza I have ever seen arrived.  Seriously.  It took the driver three trips for the pizza alone, and two of the bags were huge.  I’m guessing that HP is doing pretty well.



Once Karsten collected me, and I was in HP Labs proper, I had the opportunity to see the offices of the founders of HP, Hewlett and Packard themselves.  The offices have been kept just as those two gentlemen left them.  Even from this, it was easy to see how different those two must have been.  One of them had a bunch of change on the corner of their blotter, the other had a profusion of awards on a table, all evenly spaced out.  I would have loved to stay and look around a little longer, but I had somewhere to be.



Our next stop was the demo lab, and to get there we had to descend a few flights of stairs, deep into the depths of the building.  Except not really, as the building is built into a hill, so even though we had descended a couple of stories, we could have then gone outside at any level. Clever design!


The Sprout Demo lab itself was very interesting.  They had a lot of things about to use as part of the demo, such as a frog mask, a Styrofoam potato, shells, drawings, etc.  Several Sprouts lined the walls, with a few other computers scattered about. It looked like the sort of plce you’d hold a group demo, but for this it was just us.



The Sprout is, at its most basic, an all in one Windows box (the one I saw ran Windows 8.1) with a touch screen.   But it also has a shell just for the Sprout, so you can log directly into that, and thus bypass the Windows start screen if you like. (To see more specific specs, go here



Both the screen, and the mat/pad are touch screens.  The monitor part has ten touch points, while the mat has twenty.  Just enough to play a duet on the piano app if you want to.  In this scenario, the sheet music in on the monitor and the dual keyboards are on the mat.


The mat is connected to the computer with a magnetic USB.  A keyboard, mouse, and stylus all come with the computer.  



But you can also call up a digital keyboard on the mat.  The mat itself is thin enough that if you were to stick your hand under it, you could see where your fingers are pressing up from the top.  The stylus can be attached to the side of the monitor, and the keyboard and mouse can hang out pretty much wherever you want them to, as they are wireless.




HP is going for an immersive computing experience.  In this case, that experience deals with blended reality.  You can scan an item, say a starfish, and it creates a digital version that appears on the mat.  Half ghostly image, half photographic copy, that appears right underneath the item you’ve scanned.  That image can then be edited and interacted with.



Collaboration from a distance is possible using the MyRoom software for conferencing. You can actually conference a huge number of people together, and they don’t all need to be on Sprouts. If you are on a Sprout, you can show both the person and their mat in the conference.  You can create a collaborative environment where more than one person can work with the images on the mat at a time.



Their concept of blended reality started with a guy who was trying to improve the scanning workflow.  Historically, if you wanted to scan something you had to take your pages to the scanner, scan them, check the resulting scan on your computer, then get up and fix anything that was wrong.  God help you if you had to hand feed the whole stack.  With the Sprout, you can scan your document right there on the mat.  Then you can crop, sign, and email all in one place.  You can even load the document into Word as an editable document.  Then you could have it open on your monitor, and say Powerpoint open on the mat, edit the doc and stick it in your powerpoint.  All in one place.


I’ve done a fair amount of document scanning in my time, and just watching how quickly and easily my friend scanned in and manipulated a document...well, I was mightily impressed.


Apparently, HP is currently working on the possibility of a 3D scanning to printing workflow.  They have identified two areas of interest: scanning to share and scanning to print.  They hope to make both available in the near future.  Right now they have about 180 degrees of scanning but they are working on 360. Stronger, better, faster versions of the Sprout are on their way too, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with.  


The current computing environment shown in the demo is fascinating.  I can only imagine what the next steps might be.


...I want a Sprout now.


(I never did see where that pizza ended up, by the way.  It must be the real way they power HP Labs.)





Limbitless Solutions, a nonprofit organization started last May by Albert Manero with the goal of making affordable, 3-D-printed bionic limbs for children with amputations, helped build an “Iron Man” themed bionic arm for Alex Pring, a 7-year-old boy who was born with a partially developed limb.  Alex received his new arm from non-other than Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr.

 Like all true bionics, the prosthetic is controlled directly by the mind.   The arm works via surface electromyography.  Electromyography (EMG) reads the electrical signal from the brain and transmits it to the arm, producing a signal that triggers the opening and closing of the hand. 

 Manero said he was inspired by Ivan Owen, a special effects artist and puppeteer in Bellingham, Wash., who developed the first 3-D printed hand. Owen posted his design and instructions on Thingiverse, an online community to share 3-D designs.


“Alex’s arm is 3-D printed on a Stratasys printer, which takes approximately 40 to 50 hours to manufacture,” Manero said. “Assembly and the electronics take some additional time. Each arm is uniquely tailored for the user, both in fit and in expression.”




UC Berkley brings a new definition to the term “custom home.” The Bloom Pavilion measures 9 feet high, 12 feet wide and 12 feet deep, and has a traditional Thai floral motif design.  Unlike other 3D printed buildings which extruded wet cement through a nozzle, this new building was printed using dry powder cement.  According to team leader Ronald Rael, they "are mixing polymers with cement and fibers to produce very strong, lightweight, high-resolution parts on readily available equipment; it's a very precise, yet frugal technique."

There sure has been a lot of rapid development with regards to the 3D printer.  A Chinese company built 10 houses in less than 24 hours and in January finished a 5 story apartment block.  How soon before we work or live in a 3D printed building?