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3D Printing Developments

agridust-material-for-3D-printing

3D Printing

3D printing is great, but it does have its downsides. Take a look at this article for example, it gives some idea of possible applications and uses for the technology.My colleague Christopher wrote that one, and it is a joy to see some young and optimistic blood writing about technology. As an old pessimistic dog however, I cannot overcome my cynical streak. Check out this article that I wrote about possible negative effects upon health related to 3D printing.

Anyway, on a blog with the grandeur of this one there is room for everything, and today I am going to dive into the abyss of optimism!

Now when we think of 3D printing we often think of small plastic models, and we all know that plastic is a problem for the world. It is cheap, does not degrade, you cannot get rid of it, it washes into plastic floating islands and it’s made from oil. But 3D printing offers much more than plastic models today.

Alternative Materials

A Dutch design company plans to use special robots to 3D-print a steel bridge across the Amsterdam Canal. A company called MX3D, which specializes in using robotics to 3D print, and Dutch designer Joris Laaram are behind the project. You see these kids can print with metal, as can the people who supply parts for Boeing, and use is far more common that we might imagine.

But MX3D go one better. They can print metals in position, so not in a lab or workshop but wherever they want, outside, in the open air, or over a canal. So they have robots that can build a bridge on site using 3D printing technology, as they sit on the half constructed bridge.

But that is not the end of it, of course. Printers can also use recycled products to produce artifacts. Plastic is a simple idea, but what about other materials? What about food waste? Well obviously you can.

Food Waste

Italy-based designer Marina Ceccolini is doing some experimenting in the field. Inspired by the rigidness of a dehydrated tangerine peel, the designer began creating her own potential 3D printing material called AgriDust. Ceccolini’s AgriDust is made from foods found in her local landfill: everything from coffee grounds to peanut shells, orange and lemon peels, tomato skins, and bean pods. Held together with potato starch Ceccolini believes that using a paste extruder, the material could be 3D printed into new objects. The 64.5% waste/35.5% binder composition could, the designer proposes, limit the plastic waste generated by 3D printers.

Now Check out this article, it describes everything and includes an interview with the designer.

One thing that comes to mind however is the problem of allergies. Can you make something that contains nuts? I doubt it. But the idea sounds really promising to me. And I certainly look forward to watching the bridge go up, it’s just down the road (or canal) from here.

Categories
Media Reviews Science

Fixed, a Film Review

A couple of weeks ago I went to a science conference called S.NET here in Boston. On the first day a film called Fixed was shown, followed by a discussion with the Director. The film was about commonly held beliefs about ‘disability’, and technological ‘fixes’ seen through the eyes of a series of people who use these fixes or work in the field. See the film website here.

My first post on Technology Bloggers was about elective amputation, and in that post I wanted to raise the idea that people may choose to replace parts of their body for better functioning prosthetic devices. This may seem far fetched, but today the US military are a leader in pioneering eye surgery. They operate on pilots with perfect vision in order to make it even better, see this article for a brief overview.

So this leads to questioning the entire idea of able bodied or not. And this is reflected in the title of the film. We are no longer able, now we can take drugs that enhance our learning, have the blemishes in our eyes touched up so that we see better than anyone else, and use body suits that give us super human strength.

It looks to me as if able just got better, but of course how far are we prepared to go? OK, once in a while I might think about helping my brain out a bit with a prescription drug, but of course not every day. Maybe just before my university exams though, and what when the other people in the office start using them every day? I will get left behind so I will have to join them, or should I stand by my ethical convictions and remain disabled?

But back to the film. The protagonists are an interesting lot. One makes bionic limbs, and uses a couple himself after a climbing accident. And he wouldn’t take our second rate skin and bone legs back for a moment! He can climb better, run up the stairs, doesn’t get cramp, can screw on a new foot when he needs different shaped toes, his legs are great.

Another follows one of my great interests, the implications of newly emerging technologies for prenatal screening. One is a test pilot, working for a company that is developing an exoskeleton that allows people with no leg use to walk, another at MIT working on human/machine collaborations, there is a biochemist and somebody who has had sensors fitted to his brain that allow him to use a robot arm through thought.

Not to mention the diving wheelchair.

Fixed
Fixed

The film speaks about ‘abelism’, an idea that leads to the possibility of using the dis prefix to describe somebody. The concept is obviously prejudicial and distinctly flawed, particularly today when our able state may not be as natural as we once thought.

There is a field called tranhumanism, more of a movement than a field, that celebrates the dynamic interplay between humanity and the acceleration of technology. There are many websites if you want to search the term. Practitioners see these developments as positive, a brave new future for an old model (the human).

There is a fine line here. Obviously helping someone who cannot walk is a great thing, but we might be moving towards improvement as a model, and no longer at fixing.

I would recommend the film to all. The website linked above has a trailer and list of upcoming screenings, and although it is not yet on general release, I think the film-makers would be pleased to receive contacts. Check out the Trailer here.

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Science Technology

Robotic Surgical Techniques

This weekend I had a very interesting experience. I tried out a few million dollar’s worth of robotic surgery equipment.

The Davinci Robotic Surgery Machine
The da Vinci Robotic Surgery Machine

The system I tried out was designed and built by da Vinci Surgery, and is in use at the Brigham and Women’s hospital here in Massachusetts. The hospital states that over 600 operations have been carried out since 2007 when the technology was introduced without need for further more invasive interventions or serious damage to any patient.

Imagine that you sit in front of a 3 dimensional image and control robotic arms with your own arm and finger movement. The arms are about as thick as pencils, and as there are 4 arms on each robot two surgeons can work together.

The hand controls feature finger grips
Hand controls

The great advantage is that instead of having to make a large cut so that the doctors can get their hands in, the robot makes 5 tiny cuts for the arms to pass through. There is a camera so the surgeons can see inside and they can proceed at a safe distance.

Healing time is cut down, less blood loss, less possibility of infection, less post operative pain and very little scarring, there are many advantages to this type of approach. The machinery is very easy to use. My 7 year old son could take tiny elastic bands off a test bed and place them round objects about the size of the end of my little finger, at a distance of 3 metres!

One issue is however that some people are dubious about a surgeon operating using this type of machinery, they might feel that a hand is better then a robotic arm. Having used one (not on a patient I grant you) I personally would not have any problem accepting a procedure of this type.

Robotic surgery makes us think of computerized machinery with Kraftwerk type movement and voices, but this machinery is nothing of the sort. It handles like an extension of your own body, the movement is very real and precise and in some ways the robotic arm is easier to manipulate than a human counterpart. It can turn 360 degrees upon itself, has full rotation capability and the magnification makes the process seem easier. I was shocked when I saw how small the area was that we were working on.

A training program was also on display, a series of tests to improve performance and present each operator with a score. A skilled operator can tie a knot in a piece of string or link tiny elastic bands together that would be extremely tricky using human fingers.

Below I have a series of photos and here is a link to a video showing an actual procedure so stop reading here and skip straight to the comments section if you don’t want to see them.

A Dummy Up
A dummy shows entrance
Robotic Surgery
Robotic surgery in action
Categories
Science Technology

Prosthetic limb technology and elective amputation

Recently on the BBC World Service I followed a news article about a young man who decided to have his hand amputated in order to have a prosthetic version fitted. His hand had been damaged in a motorbike accident and was not fully functioning, but was however still attached to his arm.

His decision rather took me aback, here was a person choosing to improve the performance of a hand with a replacement. This is fundamentally different to fitting a prosthetic hand to a person that has either lost one or was born without one. The problem seems to be in the quality of prosthetic limbs.

A prosthetic hand
An example of a high technology prosthetic hand

Prosthetic limbs can be operated through the existing muscle system, for example they can be attached to existing muscles in the arm or by using electrical impulses. In this case the muscle use generates an electrical impulse that makes the hand move.

Scientists are currently testing a system that works directly from the brain. Implants register the brain’s impulses and send them directly to the hand. You think about the movement and the hand moves.

There is another advantage too, sensors in the fingers can send signals back to the brain so the user can actually feel the object they are touching.

All of this raises some questions, soon technology will provide us with a fully functioning prosthetic hand that the user controls directly with their brain. It will be hard wearing, reliable and you can touch hot things without burning yourself, it will in fact be better that a human hand.

People might then have elective amputation in order to get one. Who can make legal and ethical decisions about such an intervention? This argument also has implications for sport. South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has recently qualified for the Olympic Games in London and will be competing with 2 prosthetic legs.

Oscar Pistorius - the fastest man on no legs
Nicknamed 'the fastest man on no legs' this is Oscar Pistorius in Greenwich London before next years Olympics

Here we are moving into a discussion about the confines of the human body, but also about enhancement. Maybe he even has an advantage over human legged athletes.

Have a look at Transcendent Man for a futurist view of how robotics and medicine in general might change humanity in the future.

Further discussion of the ethical and responsibility issues raised by scientific advancement and innovation can be found on the Bassetti Foundation website, including all the links relating to the stories above. I collaborate with the foundation and publish through their site.