XYZPrinting announces the da Vinci Color Mini

XYZPrinting may have finally cracked the color 3D printing code. Their latest machine, the $1,599 da Vinci Color Mini is a full color printer that uses three CMY ink cartridges to stain the filament as it is extruded, allowing for up to 15 million color combinations. The printer is currently available for pre-order on Indiegogo […]

XYZPrinting may have finally cracked the color 3D printing code. Their latest machine, the $1,599 da Vinci Color Mini is a full color printer that uses three CMY ink cartridges to stain the filament as it is extruded, allowing for up to 15 million color combinations.

The printer is currently available for pre-order on Indiegogo for $999.

The printer can build objects 5.1″ x 5.1″ x 5.1″ in size and it can print PLA or PETG. A small ink cartridge stains the 3D Color-inkjet PLA as it comes out, creating truly colorful objects.

“Desktop full-color 3D printing is here. Now, consumers can purchase an easy-to-operate, affordable, compact full-color 3D printer for $30,000 less than market rate. This is revolutionary because we are giving the public access to technology that was once only available to industry professionals,” said Simon Shen, CEO of XYZprinting.

The new system is aimed at educational and home markets and, at less than a $1,000, it hits a unique and important sweet spot in terms of price. While the prints aren’t perfect, being able to print in full color for the price of a nicer single color 3D printer is pretty impressive.

New material design stores energy like an eagle

Auxetics are materials that store energy internally rather than bulging out. In this way they can store more energy when squeezed or struck and disperse it more regularly. Historically, however, these materials have had sharp corners that could break easily with enough pressure. Now researchers at Queen Mary University of London and University of Cambridge […]

Auxetics are materials that store energy internally rather than bulging out. In this way they can store more energy when squeezed or struck and disperse it more regularly. Historically, however, these materials have had sharp corners that could break easily with enough pressure. Now researchers at Queen Mary University of London and University of Cambridge have discovered a way to use auxetics in a more efficient and less fragile way. In this way you can create systems that store energy and release it mechanically multiple thousands of times.

“The exciting future of new materials designs is that they can start replacing devices and robots. All the smart functionality is embedded in the material, for example the repeated ability to latch onto objects the way eagles latch onto prey, and keep a vice-like grip without spending any more force or effort,” said Queen Marry University’s Dr. Stoyan Smoukov. For example, a robot using this system can close it’s hand over and object and keep it closed until its time to let go. There is no need to continue sending power to the claw or hand until it is time to open up and drop the object.

“A major problem for materials exposed to harsh conditions, such as high temperature, is their expansion. A material could now be designed so its expansion properties continuously vary to match a gradient of temperature farther and closer to a heat source. This way, it will be able to adjust itself naturally to repeated and severe changes,” said Eesha Khare, an undergrad who worked on the project.

The project used 3D printing to make small clips that grab a toothed actuator. To release the energy, you pull on the opposite sides of the object to release the teeth. While the entire thing looks quite simple the fact that this object stores energy without bulging is important. The same technology can be used to “grab” bullets as they strike armor, resulting in better durability.

This 3D-printed camp stove is extra-efficient and wind-resistant

I love camping, but there’s always an awkward period when you’ve left the tent but haven’t yet created coffee that I hate camping. It’s hard not to watch the pot not boil and not want to just go back to bed, but since the warm air escaped when I opened the tent it’s pointless! God! Anyway, the Swiss figured out a great way to boil water faster, and I want one of these sweet stoves now.

I love camping, but there’s always an awkward period when you’ve left the tent but haven’t yet created coffee that I hate camping. It’s hard not to watch the pot not boil and not want to just go back to bed, but since the warm air escaped when I opened the tent it’s pointless! Anyway, the Swiss figured out a great way to boil water faster, and I want one of these sweet stoves now.

The PeakBoil stove comes from design students at ETH Zurich, who have clearly faced the same problems as myself. But since they actually camp in inclement weather, they also have to deal with wind blowing out the feeble flame of an ordinary gas burner.

Their attempt to improve on the design takes the controversial step of essentially installing a stovepipe inside the vessel and heating it from the inside out rather than from the bottom up. This has been used in lots of other situations to heat water but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a camp stove.

By carefully configuring the gas nozzles and adding ripples to the wall of the heat pipe, PeakBoil “increases the contact area between the flame and the jug,” explained doctoral student and project leader Julian Ferchow in an ETH Zurich news release.

“That, plus the fact that the wall is very thin, makes heat transfer to the contents of the jug ideal,” added his colleague Patrick Beutler.

Keeping the flames isolated inside the chimney behind baffles minimizes wind interference with the flames, and prevents you having to burn extra gas to keep it alive.

The design was created using a selective laser melting or sintering process, in which metal powder is melted in a pattern much like a 3D printer lays down heated plastic. It’s really just another form of additive manufacturing, and it gave the students “a huge amount of design freedom…with metal casting, for instance, we could never achieve channels that are as thin as the ones inside our gas burner,” Ferchow said.

Of course, the design means it’s pretty much only usable for boiling water (you wouldn’t want to balance a pan on top of it), but that’s such a common and specific use case that many campers already have a stove dedicated to the purpose.

The team is looking to further improve the design and also find an industry partner with which to take it to market. MSR, GSI, REI… I’m looking at you. Together we can make my mornings bearable.

Formlabs goes unicorn with latest funding round

With its latest funding round, Formlabs has achieved unicorn status. The Massachusetts-based 3D printing startup just raised another $15 million. The latest round brings its total funding up to $100 million, and puts the company in the relatively rare air of hardware startups with valuations in excess of $1 billion. This latest funding, which follows […]

With its latest funding round, Formlabs has achieved unicorn status. The Massachusetts-based 3D printing startup just raised another $15 million. The latest round brings its total funding up to $100 million, and puts the company in the relatively rare air of hardware startups with valuations in excess of $1 billion. This latest funding, which follows a $30 million raise in April, is led by New Enterprise Associates.

The milestone is doubly impressive, given the state of 3D printing. After years of hype, the bubble burst, sending much of the competition scrambling. But Formlabs, which began life as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2012, set itself apart from the competition by offering industrial 3D printing in a desktop form factor.

That technology was quick to catch on among hardware prototypers looking to step up their game from the plastic depositing technology found on devices from companies like MakerBot. In recent years, the company has added more desktop manufacturing technologies and worked to push its existing tech into the burgeoning world of 3D printing for manufacturing.

Along with the new funding, Formlabs is also adding former GE CEO Jeff Immelt to its board of directors. 

“I’m excited to work with Formlabs at this pivotal time in the company’s development,” Immelt said in a release tied to the news. “Max and the team have demonstrated outstanding progress to date, with best-in-class technology and impressive momentum across a wide swath of industries, including engineering, healthcare and manufacturing. Since the company’s founding in 2011, they have outpaced competitors and established themselves as a leader in 3D printing. I look forward to supporting this next phase for the company as they accelerate adoption and continue to advance the technology.”

Formlabs currently employs 500 across North America, Europe and Asia.

Trump promises to ‘look into’ legalization of 3D printed firearms

Last month, the U.S. government reached a settlement that makes it legal to post plans for 3D printing fire arms.This morning, the President tweeted an objection to the ruling, a day before it’s enacted. “I am looking into 3-D [Printed] Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” Trump wrote. “Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem […]

Last month, the U.S. government reached a settlement that makes it legal to post plans for 3D printing fire arms.This morning, the President tweeted an objection to the ruling, a day before it’s enacted. “I am looking into 3-D [Printed] Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” Trump wrote. “Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

While the law doesn’t officially go into effect until Wednesday, its pending legality has already led around 1,000 users to download plans to print AR-15s, according to CNN,  citing a stat from Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro.

While Trump is just now drawing a rhetorical line in the sand, the debate around the technology has been a hot button topic for years. The legal battle that led to the current legislation dates back to 2013, when Cody Wilson posted plans for a 3D printable plastic handset known as “The Liberator.”

Yesterday, attorneys general from eight states and Washington D.C. filed suit against the Trump administration attempting to bar a Texas-based company called Defense Distributed from publishing its own blueprints for 3D printed firearms.

The suit reads, in part,

3-D printed guns are functional weapons that are often unrecognizable by standard metal detectors because they are made out of materials other than metal (e.g., plastic) and untraceable because they contain no serial numbers. Anyone with access to the [Computer Aided Design] files and a commercially available 3-D printer could readily manufacture, possess, or sell such a weapon—even those persons statutorily ineligible to possess firearms, including violent felons, the mentally ill and persons subject to protection and no-contact orders.

Defense Distributed, naturally, hailed the Trump June ruling. “No prior CNC knowledge or experience is required to manufacture from design files. Legally manufacture unserialized rifles and pistols in the comfort and privacy of home.”

The NRA, for its part, has largely been silent on the matter.

Newly legal 3D-printed gun blueprints targeted by state lawsuits

Hot on the heels of the effective legalization of 3D models used to print firearm components, 21 states have filed a joint lawsuit against the federal government, alleging not only that decision is dangerous but also that it’s also illegal for a number of reasons. But the lawsuit may backfire via the so-called Streisand Effect, further entrenching the controversial technology.

Hot on the heels of the effective legalization of 3D models used to print firearm components, 21 states have filed a joint lawsuit against the federal government, alleging not only that decision is dangerous but also that it’s also illegal for a number of reasons. But the lawsuit may backfire via the so-called Streisand Effect, further entrenching the controversial technology.

Earlier this month brought the news that U.S. government dropped its case against Cody Wilson and his companies dedicated to the proliferation of 3D models of firearm parts. There are still restrictions on how guns can be made and sold, but the files containing 3D data and allowing people to print components seem to have been determined not to fall under those rules.

This was unwelcome news for those in favor of stricter gun control laws, a group apparently including the attorney generals of 21 states. Bob Ferguson, AG for Washington, announced that his team would be leading a lawsuit intended to block the federal actions that legalized this particular form of data.

“These downloadable guns are unregistered and very difficult to detect, even with metal detectors, and will be available to anyone regardless of age, mental health or criminal history. If the Trump Administration won’t keep us safe, we will,” he said in a press release issued today.

They allege that the administration needs the Defense Department to sign off on the decision, and that Congress needed to be notified 30 days in advance. The decision is also held (owing to a lack of on-record citations or consultations) to be “arbitrary and capricious,” and thus illegal under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Tenth Amendment also gives states the right to regulate firearms, and the filers say that the federal action deprives them of this right and is therefore unconstitutional.

That’s all well in order, but the danger posed by these files is overestimated, as is the ability of the government, state or federal, to curtail their distribution. If this lawsuit is successful, it will have little or no effect on 3D printed guns at all.

“The status quo – which currently ensures public safety and national security by prohibiting publication of firearm design files on the Internet – should be maintained,” reads a letter sent from a number of AGs to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and AG Jeff Sessions.

At the risk of dipping into an extremely charged debate and sensitive political topic (I’ve added the “Opinion” tag just in case), the status quo does no such thing. It must be said that if effective gun control is the goal, there are far more important steps to pursue. Loopholes abound in existing regulations, for instance gun show purchases of unregistered firearms and “80 percent lowers,” which are a quite legal method for creating them.

Furthermore any attempt to remove something from the internet is doomed to failure, as we have seen again and again, often enough that the phenomenon has its own nickname, the Streisand Effect. Workarounds for illegal content are numerous and effective, and presumably the type of person interested in printing their own gun will not be shy about using a VPN or torrent site. If anything a concerted effort to remove something from the internet usually causes that thing to be permanently maintained online as a sort of middle finger to the authorities. It’s not in the internet’s DNA to forget.

While it’s true that outlawing the 3D models would give prosecutors and investigators more to work with, the nefarious actors of the world haven’t been waiting with bated breath on the outcome of the previous lawsuit. Criminals, terrorists, foreign adversaries and so on in the first place don’t even need these files to obtain or create unregistered guns in the first place, nor would their being illegal deter them in the least.

The lawsuit may, it is true, tie up and possibly bankrupt Wilson and his supporters, but that’s not much of a victory and certainly doesn’t make anyone safer. Unfortunately this particular demon isn’t going back in the box.

NASA’s 3D-printed Mars Habitat competition doles out prizes to concept habs

A multi-year NASA contest to design a 3D-printable Mars habitat using on-planet materials has just hit another milestone — and a handful of teams have taken home some cold hard cash. This more laid-back phase had contestants designing their proposed habitat using architectural tools, with the five winners set to build scale models next year.

A multi-year NASA contest to design a 3D-printable Mars habitat using on-planet materials has just hit another milestone — and a handful of teams have taken home some cold hard cash. This more laid-back phase had contestants designing their proposed habitat using architectural tools, with the five winners set to build scale models next year.

Technically this is the first phase of the third phase — the (actual) second phase took place last year and teams took home quite a bit of money.

The teams had to put together realistic 3D models of their proposed habitats, and not just in Blender or something. They used Building Information Modeling software that would require these things to be functional structures designed down to a particular level of detail — so you can’t just have 2D walls made of “material TBD,” and you have to take into account thickness from pressure sealing, air filtering elements, heating, etc.

The habitats had to have at least a thousand square feet of space, enough for four people to live for a year, along with room for the machinery and paraphernalia associated with, you know, living on Mars. They must be largely assembled autonomously, at least enough that humans can occupy them as soon as they land. They were judged on completeness, layout, 3D-printing viability, and aesthetics.

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So although the images you see here look rather sci-fi, keep in mind they were also designed using industrial tools and vetted by experts with “a broad range of experience from Disney to NASA.” These are going to Mars, not paperback. And they’ll have to be built in miniature for real next year, so they better be realistic.

The five winning designs embody a variety of approaches. Honestly all these videos are worth a watch; you’ll probably learn something cool, and they really give an idea of how much thought goes into these designs.

Zopherus has the whole print taking place inside the body of a large lander, which brings its own high-strength printing mix to reinforce the “Martian concrete” that will make up the bulk of the structure. When it’s done printing and embedding the pre-built items like airlocks, it lifts itself up, moves over a few feet, and does it again, creating a series of small rooms. (They took first place and essentially tied the next team for take-home case, a little under $21K.)

AI SpaceFactory focuses on the basic shape of the vertical cylinder as both the most efficient use of space and also one of the most suitable for printing. They go deep on the accommodations for thermal expansion and insulation, but also have thought deeply about how to make the space safe, functional, and interesting. This one is definitely my favorite.

Kahn-Yates has a striking design, with a printed structural layer giving way to a high-strength plastic layer that lets the light in. Their design is extremely spacious but in my eyes not very efficiently allocated. Who’s going to bring apple trees to Mars? Why have a spiral staircase with such a huge footprint? Still, if they could pull it off, this would allow for a lot of breathing room, something that will surely be of great value during year or multi-year stay on the planet.

SEArch+/Apis Cor has carefully considered the positioning and shape of its design to maximize light and minimize radiation exposure. There are two independent pressurized areas — everyone likes redundancy — and it’s built using a sloped site, which may expand the possible locations. It looks a little claustrophobic, though.

Northwestern University has a design that aims for simplicity of construction: an inflatable vessel provides the base for the printer to create a simple dome with reinforcing cross-beams. This practical approach no doubt won them points, and the inside, while not exactly roomy, is also practical in its layout. As AI SpaceFactory pointed out, a dome isn’t really the best shape (lots of wasted space) but it is easy and strong. A couple of these connected at the ends wouldn’t be so bad.

The teams split a total of $100K for this phase, and are now moving on to the hard part: actually building these things. In spring of 2019 they’ll be expected to have a working custom 3D printer that can create a 1:3 scale model of their habitat. It’s difficult to say who will have the worst time of it, but I’m thinking Kahn-Yates (that holey structure will be a pain to print) and SEArch+/Apis (slope, complex eaves and structures).

The purse for the real-world construction is an eye-popping $2 million, so you can bet the competition will be fierce. In the meantime seriously watch those videos above, they’re really interesting.

This 3D-printed AI construct analyzes by bending light

Machine learning is everywhere these days, but it’s usually more or less invisible: it sits in the background, optimizing audio or picking out faces in images. But this new system is not only visible, but physical: it performs AI-type analysis not by crunching numbers, but by bending light. It’s weird and unique, but counterintuitively, it’s an excellent demonstration of how deceptively simple these “artificial intelligence” systems are.

Machine learning is everywhere these days, but it’s usually more or less invisible: it sits in the background, optimizing audio or picking out faces in images. But this new system is not only visible, but physical: it performs AI-type analysis not by crunching numbers, but by bending light. It’s weird and unique, but counter-intuitively, it’s an excellent demonstration of how deceptively simple these “artificial intelligence” systems are.

Machine learning systems, which we frequently refer to as a form of artificial intelligence, at their heart are just a series of calculations made on a set of data, each building on the last or feeding back into a loop. The calculations themselves aren’t particularly complex — though they aren’t the kind of math you’d want to do with a pen and paper. Ultimately all that simple math produces a probability that the data going in is a match for various patterns it has “learned” to recognize.

The thing is, though, that once these “layers” have been “trained” and the math finalized, in many ways it’s performing the same calculations over and over again. Usually that just means it can be optimized and won’t take up that much space or CPU power. But researchers from UCLA show that it can literally be solidified, the layers themselves actual 3D-printed layers of transparent material, imprinted with complex diffraction patterns that do to light going through them what the math would have done to numbers.

If that’s a bit much to wrap your head around, think of a mechanical calculator. Nowadays it’s all done digitally in computer logic, but back in the day calculators used actual mechanical pieces moving around — something adding up to ten would literally cause some piece to move to a new position. In a way this “diffractive deep neural network” is a lot like that: it uses and manipulates physical representations of numbers rather than electronic ones.

As the researchers put it:

Each point on a given layer either transmits or reflects an incoming wave, which represents an artificial neuron that is connected to other neurons of the following layers through optical diffraction. By altering the phase and amplitude, each “neuron” is tunable.

“Our all-optical deep learning framework can perform, at the speed of light, various complex functions that computer-based neural networks can implement,” write the researchers in the paper describing their system, published today in Science.

To demonstrate it they trained a deep learning model to recognize handwritten numerals. Once it was final, they took the layers of matrix math and converted it into a series of optical transformations. For example, a layer might add values together by refocusing the light from both onto a single area of the next layer — the real calculations are much more complex, but hopefully you get the idea.

By arranging millions of these tiny transformations on the printed plates, the light that enters one end comes out the other structured in such a way that the system can tell whether it’s a 1, 2, 3, and so on with better than 90 percent accuracy.

What use is that, you ask? Well, none in its current form. But neural networks are extremely flexible tools, and it would be perfectly possible to have a system recognize letters instead of numbers, making an optical character recognition system work totally in hardware with almost no power or calculation required. And why not basic face or figure recognition, no CPU necessary? How useful would that be to have in your camera?

The real limitations here are manufacturing ones: it’s difficult to create the diffractive plates with the level of precision required to perform some of the more demanding processing. After all, if you need to calculate something to the seventh decimal place, but the printed version is only accurate to the third, you’re going to run into trouble.

This is only a proof of concept — there’s no dire need for giant number-recognition machines — but it’s a fascinating one. The idea could prove to be influential in camera and machine learning technology — structuring light and data in the physical world rather than the digital one. It may feel like it’s going backwards, but perhaps the pendulum is simply swinging back the other direction.