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As noted by the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and other major technology conferences, focus on 3D printing has grabbed consumer attention. Despite promising breakthroughs, many technology industry followers feel 3D is nothing more than a gimmick, though that is a mindset that 3D supporters continue to fight against.
"Now everybody knows about it and CEOs are telling their organizations to find out about 3D printing and how they're going to adopt it," said Bruce Bradshaw, Stratasys Marketing Director, when speaking to journalists. "That's the dynamic that has changed."
There is renewed focus on 3D printing as recent technological breakthroughs indicate hardware is a major step closer to mainstream. 3D printing gives designers the ability to conceptualize products and create real-world 3D renderings before going to mass production, with 3D renderings created layer by layer.
Looking ahead, 3D printing speed will increase, and the complexity of items printed will also mature as companies continue to push the boundaries.
The 3D printing movement will see a strong boost from the biopharmaceutical industry, and that will bring about ethical and moral issues that need to be sorted out. Major ethical debates will likely take place by 2016, according to research firm Gartner, as developing nations and emerging markets should drive 3D demand.
Companies that have the ability to print human tissue and organs, for example, are well-intentioned, but there is very little medical precedent.
"3D bioprinting facilities with the ability to print human organs and tissue will advance far faster than general understanding and acceptance of the ramifications of this technology," claims Pete Basiliere, Gartner Research Director, in a statement. "These initiatives are well-intentioned, but raise a number of questions that remain unanswered. What happens when complex 'enhanced' organs involving nonhuman cells are made? Who will control the ability to produce them? Who will ensure the quality of the resulting organs?"
As 3D printing continues to increase, with increased health and biopharma implications, the debate needs to begin sooner rather than later.
Companies are testing the potential of 3D printed food in what could evolve into one of the biggest 3D market segments moving forward. During the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, a number of different companies showed off 3D printing technology, including several food-based products.
There are a number of different types of 3D-printed foods currently in various phases of development, and it will be an industry to watch in the future.
Chocolate maker Hershey's also teamed up with a 3D company to produce 3D printed chocolate, which will be a major draw for the company's gift shop. Cornell Creative Machines Lab has developed printers that can dough-based corn chips, while sugar candies also are available courtesy of 3D Systems' Chefjet.
NASA contractor Systems & Materials Research is working on a pizza printer that provides taste, nutrition, and less waste in the space shuttle and at the International Space Station (ISS).
The fashion industry is embracing 3D technology at an accelerated pace, offering an early glimpse into what consumers can expect to see on store shelves in the years to come.
San Francisco clothing maker Continuum already offers wearable 3D printed clothing products, while running shoe maker New Balance is dabbling with printed shoes. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show has also demonstrated the latest generation of 3D clothing, which will help influence 3D printing in the fashion industry.
The cost of 3D printing is still extremely expensive, so average consumers likely won't print their own clothing, socks and shoes in the immediate future - but it's a fascinating market that continues to evolve at an accelerated rate.
Around 10 percent of all consumer products by 2025 will be 3D-related, according to recent industry estimates, though seems to be of interest to technology enthusiasts at this point. It will take additional time for 3D printing technology to develop - and clothing manufacturers to test 3D internally - before all retail stores offer 3D-printed clothing.
Cody Wilson, the person responsible for releasing the first fully 3D printable gun blueprint in 2013, has signed a $250,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster. Wilson approached several book publishers about Negative Liberty, the working title of the book, though some publishers felt he was trying to circumvent gun laws.
"The whole point to me is to add to the hacker mythology and to have a very, very accurate and contentious portrayal of what we think about the current political situation, our attitude and political orientation, a lasting remark," Wilson recently noted. "It won't be a manifesto. But culturally I hope to leave a couple of zingers... a touchstone for the young, disaffected radical towards his own political and social development, that kind of thing."
The 3D printable gun blueprint quickly racked up more than 100,000 downloads in just two days, and captured mainstream media attention. Suddenly, 3D printing technology, which is still in its relative infancy, caused a major debate about legality and ethics related to 3D printing.
Expectant mothers can shell out between $200 to $600 for a 3D print model of their unborn child, thanks to the 3D Babies company. Using 3D and 4D ultrasounds and computer images leads to a 3D image in three different sizes: 2" Mini 3D Baby, 4" Halfsize 3D Baby, or the 8" Life size 3D Baby. The baby doll renderings can be made in two different positions, which allow parents to make a decision to disclose gender prior to birth.
"Our ultimate goal is to bring a smile to the faces of parents, grandparents, and other family members as they recall the day that they met their little one," the company's website reads. "This product will become a treasured family heirloom."
There is huge potential for 3D imaging, but an artist rendering of a fetus in the womb might creep some expectant parents out. 3D Babies is well short of its $15,000 crowdfunding goal, but decided to move ahead with production.
Chocolate maker Hershey's and 3D Systems recently announced a multi-year partnership to use 3D printers to create edible foods in the future. Hershey's is the only major food manufacturer to jump into 3D printing, as the overall cost of printing 3D food is still extremely expensive and remains difficult.
"We believe that innovation is key to delivering relevant, compelling consumer experiences with our iconic brands," said William Papa, Hershey's VP and Chief Research and Development Officer, in a statement. "Whether it's creating a whole new form of candy or developing a new way to produce it, we embrace new technologies such as 3D printing as a way to keep moving our timeless confectionery treats into the future."
3D printer technology is revolutionizing the industry at a rapid pace, and there is massive potential for 3D printed food and edibles down the road.
(Image courtesy: AFP/Getty Images)
Smart glass manufacturer Vuzix has entered a manufacturing partnership with a tier 1 partner to develop a new generation of see-through smart glasses. The undisclosed partner hasn't been announced, but the prototypes will use the Vuzix see-through optics engine, with the first phase to be completed in 2015.
Manufacturers are trying to develop new smart glasses that closely resemble designer eyewear, but additional research and development time is necessary.
"Many analysts and industry executives are expecting this space to exhibit continued rapid growth," said Paul Travers, Vuzix President, in a press statement. "This was evident at CES last week. With the anticipated growth in this sector, those wearable products that address the real needs of the customer stand to garner the largest market share."
Smart glasses and similar technologies were a big hit during the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and wearable computing devices are expected to ship 485 million units by 2018, according to ABI Research.
Television manufacturer IZON quietly showed off its own 3D high-definition TV capability during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), preparing consumers for glasses-free 3DTVs. The company unveiled 32-inch, 47-inch, and 55-inch 3DTVs that won't require glasses, which will be available to consumers sometime in the first half of 2014.
"IZON 3D TVs without glasses received an unprecedented response to its product line," said Joseph DiFrancesco, CEO of 3D Future Vision, which develops IZON TVs, in a press statement. "We experienced nothing but praise for the unparalleled picture quality of our products and look forward to executing our plans for a global roll-out during the coming year and beyond."
IZON used its HyperMix3D rendering technology to enjoy the hardware benefits of multi-core GPUs, and made sure to include a full 3D experience with minimal eyestrain.
HDTVs and 3D technology offered a big showing during CES, with a wide range of budget TVs to higher-end expensive models - and consumers have a wide variety of companies and products to choose from.
NVIDIA are having as Borat would describe "great success!" with their 3D Vision technology. Today NVIDIA have released a 3D Vision module which enables Web developers to easily build websites for streaming high-quality 3D video to 3D Vision-equipped PCs. The technology is designed as a plug-in for Microsoft's new Media Platform Player Framework Web development solution, it's also available for free and there's also a how-to-guide at http://www.3dvisionlive.com/apps
If you'd like to know more, NVIDIA have provided some information and a 'how-to' guide on how to stream 3D video on your website.