Featured Columnist: Ian Hughes “A New children’s TV show The Cool Stuff Collective”
A new children’s TV show The Cool Stuff Collective created by Archie Productions in the UK contacted me and said they would like to not only do the latest gadgets and games but also look a bit more into the future. The aim, to show things that would surprise the audience with how futuristic something seemed whilst at the same time things that were tangible and getting closer to being an everyday item.
As Feeding Edge Ltd my tag line is ‘taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to’ and I spend my time in leading edge yet accessible technologies such as virtual worlds, augmented reality, game engines and the social web. Hence it made for a great partnership to show some of this amazing technology to our 7-12 year old audience. I have spent many years in corporate circles explaining and implementing new and emerging technology. Watching the various reactions of people to how a new technology feels or alters their perception of the world interests me greatly.
The very first thing we talked about for the show was 3d printing and rapid prototyping. Many of us in the tech and design industries know that it has been possible, for many years, to take a digital model and make it into a physical item. However of those people not so many of us know that it is becoming increasingly affordable for small businesses and hopefully soon the home user to create real things from physical data. That leaves the rest of the population who may not be aware that this is possible at all!
In considering peoples reactions to 3d printing I wondered why should laying down layers of material other than ink be any harder to understand? I came to a conclusion, not very scientifically but by gut feeling, that it is really the concept of the three dimensional model represented inside a computer that is the barrier to understanding. Most people may have experienced video games, where 3d models are manipulated on screen, but will not have tried or experienced a 3d modeling package. The average corporate computer user may use powerpoint or similar to paste some clip art into a presentation, or taken a digital photo and used a basic paint package to remove red eye. They will not have grabbed a 3d model and spun it around on screen. That means they will not have a personal feeling of knowing what a 3d model means or the potential to design, alter and share that information.
On the Cool Stuff Collective show we decided we should come out straight away with 3d printing as the first piece. MCOR provided us with some very cool paper based prints which featured some strong colours and intricate detail which worked very well on screen. I wanted to thread some of the other technologies over the course of the shows to help address this understanding of 3d modelling too. In the second show we featured haptics and the Falcon force feedback device using Anarkik3D Cloud 9 modelling software. This allows anyone to feel the model they are making. As humans we are geared up to understand the physical world so a flat sphere on a screen may not register as being 3d but when you reach out and touch it with haptic force feed back people seem to have that ‘aha’ moment. I know how all this work and I had that same feeling.
We also have 3d scanning lined up for the show in order to show the effort that has to go into turning a physical item into a 3d model. Watching the laser scan across the surface adds to a level of understanding. I also plan to get user generated virtual worlds into the mix. This for me, as a metaverse evangelist, has been very important to help people start to understand shared digital 3d spaces. Places like Second Life and increasingly the open source platforms such as OpenSimulator.org or easily accessible game engines like Unity3d allow us to bring people into game like environments with one another and work and collaborate in a 3d environment. To be able to create something on the fly in 3d in front of people in the same environment keys into peoples spatial memory for where and when an event happened. This leads to people starting to buy, sell and share virtual goods across these spaces. This starts with a simple “can you give me a powerpoint gadget?” or “can we use those chairs in out virtual office?”. There is no doubt that this wave of interaction is coming to the mass market. The incredible rise in the use of the social web and the acceptance by the general population that it is good to share with one another online from Twitter to Youtube, Facebook to Flickr shows us that people are not worried about using the internet, as they were a few years ago. Its natural, so the applications and demands of the average user will increase.
This is where 3d printing really comes into its own. If I create something in a virtual world, a piece of jewellery, a sculpture or a toy it is already in a digital form. I am able to distribute that globally to anyone in that virtual world. That object, or multiple copies of that object can exist and be used in the environment, providing value and interest to the users. (Remembering all computer software is virtual and of great value in the right context). However with 3d printing those virtual objects can also be brought out into the physical world too. There are so many use cases for this, virtual try before you buy, character collectibles, bespoke art commissions, mobile phone accessory sales, car custom parts etc. I also think that the ability to design and distribute digitally changes things a lot more than we initially consider. If we take a future where the access to the 3d web and the ability to 3d print are evenly distributed across the planet we no longer need to manufacture in bulk the consumable items we have got used to. We no longer have to create massive manufacturing runs, and then ship the products with all their packaging around the world on burning fuel only to be stored in warehouses until sold, when the packaging is then discarded and sent to landfill. We select what we need, from a global marketplace of designs and create it locally. The simpler and more accessible the material that creates the model, such as recycled paper the better the impact on the environment.
That to me is incredibly exciting. It does have challenges for design and for commercial interests though it seems an inevitable place we end up.
The most experienced designers and engineers to primary school art project inhabit the same domain. We may even choose to repair more than replace. It if is easy to print a new part for something, i.e. we are now given the ideal tool to fix things, then we have that option. It feels a tipping point it near. We have the devices that can print, we have the net to distribute and lot of easy to access tools for user generated content. It does not need to all be invented, just used.