Tag Archives: technology

The 25 Best Inventions of 2016

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Photographs by Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

Every year, TIME selects the best inventions that are making the world better, smarter and—in some cases—a little more fun. In the past, we’ve featured everything from the real-life hoverboard to the desktop DNA lab. Here’s which ones made this year’s unranked list.

flyte-floating-bulb

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

The Levitating Lightbulb

Flyte / $349
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Since he was a child, Simon Morris has been obsessed with making objects float in midair. At one point he even managed to turn a skateboard into a hoverboard, though as he recalls it, “I couldn’t ride on it.” Now he’s applying that same passion to Flyte, a lightbulb that relies on electromagnetism to levitate and spin, and on resonant inductive coupling—a technical term for wireless power ­transmission—to shine. Morris sees his design as a seamless blend of science and art honoring both pragmatists, like Thomas Edison, and dreamers, like Nikola Tesla. And consumers appear to agree: Morris says Flyte has sold so well since its official January launch that his team is planning to introduce a whole ecosystem of floating products, including a planter, Lyfe, which debuted in June. “We’re just scratching the surface,” he says.

https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/morpher-helmet.jpg

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

The Folding Bike Helmet

Morpher / $119

Like many cyclists, Jeff Woolf has been involved in a serious crash—one that might have killed him were it not for his helmet. So why, he wondered, do so many of his contemporaries refuse to wear one? Turns out, it’s mostly because they’re hard to carry around; they’re thick and bulky, and don’t fit into bags or backpacks. And that was a problem that Woolf, an engineer, knew he could fix. The result: Morpher, a bike helmet made from interweaved plastics that is just as strong as its traditional counterparts (it meets general safety requirements in both the U.S. and Europe), but flexible enough to fold almost totally flat, making it easier to transport. Woolf recently shipped the first units to his Indiegogo backers, who helped raise almost $300,000; he’s now in talks with stores too. “It’s inevitable that as more people take to the road on a bicycle, more people will have accidents,” Woolf says, adding that he hopes Morpher will save lives.

solar-roof-tesla-solarcity

Tesla

Solar Panels That Don’t Stick Out

Solar Roof / Developed by Tesla and Solarcity

Help the environment, save some money—and litter your roof with bulky metal boxes. That’s the dilemma home-solar-panel buyers have faced for years. Tesla’s response: the Solar Roof, a series of tiles designed to blend together while also harnessing the power of the sun. The product line, which will be available next year, is a collaboration between Tesla and SolarCity, a longtime provider of traditional solar panels. (The former is set to acquire the latter.) And although pricing information has not yet been released, SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive is optimistic about Solar Roof’s potential. “It’s addressing a new segment,” he says, referring to the 5 million Americans who install new roofs each year, some of whom might want to go solar.

nike-hyperadapt

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

Shoes That Tie Themselves

Nike Hyperadapt 1.0 / $720

Almost everyone who sees Back to the Future wants three things: a time-traveling DeLorean, a working hoverboard and a pair of self-lacing shoes. Now, thanks to Nike, the shoe dream is a reality. When wearers press a button near the tongue, the HyperAdapt 1.0s automatically tighten and loosen around their foot. And although this technology may sound frivolous, it’s not just for kicks: simplified shoe fastening could give athletes an edge during competition, and it’s especially useful for people with impaired motor function. “We’re already seeing powerful feedback” from the disabled community, says Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s vice president of design and special projects.

ap-thailand-bangkok-unusual-soccer-fields

AP Thailand

Soccer Fields That Fit Anywhere

The Unusual Football Field / Developed by AP Thailand

The Khlong Toei district in the heart of Bangkok is packed tight with buildings and ­people—which doesn’t leave much room to build new parks, let alone giant rectangular fields on which kids can play soccer. So real estate firm AP Thailand took a different approach. As part of a recent project, the company used aerial photography to find what developer Pattaraphurit Rungjaturapat calls “untended areas,” or unusually shaped patches of land that weren’t being used. Then it covered them with concrete, paint and anti­slip ­materials—all the trimmings of a proper sports venue, without the typical boundaries. Not that locals seem to mind: Rungjaturapat says the first two fields, which opened earlier this year, are packed with kids as soon as school lets out. This December, AP Thailand plans to open a third.

sony-playstation-vr

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

The Headset Leading a Virtual Revolution

PlayStation VR / $400
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In order to access the most cutting-edge virtual reality, people typically have to shell out thousands of dollars—not just for a headset (like the $800 HTC Vive), but for a computer that’s powerful enough to support it. Sony’s PlayStation VR, by contrast, is designed to work with a console that millions of people already own: the PlayStation 4. That’s a boon for gamers in search of what Sony engineer Richard Marks calls “the most intense, most extreme” action, as well as casual consumers, who now have an easier way to experience VR.

hmbldt-cannabis-vape

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

Cannabis That Could Replace Pills

Hmbldt Vape Pens / $100 each

Millions of Americans rely on over-the-­counter medicine to treat routine complications such as insomnia and headaches. What if they took hits of pot instead? That’s what California-­based ­Hmbldt is banking on with its new line of vaporizer pens. When inhaled, the pens dispense a dose of cannabis oil that ­Hmbldt says has been chemically engineered to make people feel a certain way—calm, sleepy, relieved of pain—­without getting high. Cannabis-­delivery methods like this one haven’t yet been thoroughly vetted by physicians. But as more states legalize medical marijuana, and more studies show that it does have merits, products like ­Hmbldt’s (now available only in California) could become increasingly commonplace. “This really can help people feel better,” says Jason ­DeLand, the company’s head of strategy.

(Gifts: The 100 Most Influential Images of All Time)

hello-sense-alarm-clock

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

The Ultimate Alarm Clock

Hello Sense / $149+
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It’s hard to believe that an alarm clock—the cruel, clunky gadget that jolts you awake and ruins your morning—could not only be beautiful but also improve your sleep. That it could gauge the temperature, humidity, light and even air quality in your bedroom to help you engineer a perfect sleep environment. That it could monitor your sleep cycles and wake you when you’re least likely to feel groggy—all thanks to simple voice commands. Indeed, Sense (and its companion pillow sensor) is no ordinary alarm clock. It took hundreds of prototypes to get it right, says James Proud, founder and CEO of Hello, which makes Sense. Early adopters report that using the small glowing orb feels almost as natural as crawling into bed. That was key, says Proud, who adds, “Nobody wants to introduce complexity into their lives, least of all when it comes to sleep.”

goodyear-eagle-360

Goodyear

Tires That Spin In Every Direction

Eagle 360 / Developed by Goodyear

As companies race to develop self-­driving cars, Goodyear is reinventing their wheels. Its spherical concept tire, which debuted in March, allows cars to move in many new ­directions, including sideways into a parallel parking space and at specific angles and speeds to counteract slippery surfaces. The key, says Sebastien Fontaine, an industrial designer at Goodyear, is magnetic levitation: whereas traditional tires are bolted to cars, the Eagle 360s hover beneath them, free from “the limits of [traditional] steering.” To be sure, these tires won’t hit pavement anytime soon: they’re meant for self-­driving cars that are likely at least five years away. In order to shift the status quo, says Fontaine, “we need different companies working with us, together.”

quip-toothbrush

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

A Sleeker, Smarter Toothbrush

Quip / $25+
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When it comes to dental hygiene, most Americans are slackers: 1 in 2 don’t brush twice a day, and 3 in 4 don’t replace their bristles every three months, no matter how many times they’re warned of the risks (which include cavities and gum disease). “We needed to get people to care a lot more,” says designer Simon Enever. So he and partner Bill May set out to make brushing feel more rewarding. The result is Quip, a simple, affordable, battery-­powered toothbrush that works like its counterparts from Oral-B and ­Sonicare—a two-­minute timer vibrates every 30 seconds, reminding users to switch ­positions—but looks and feels like something you’d find in an Apple store; customers can even opt for a matte metallic finish. “It’s a nicer experience,” says Enever, who adds that he’s already working on his next design challenge: getting you to floss.

eatwell-assistive-tableware

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

Dishes That Work Around Cognitive Decline

Eatwell Assistive Tableware / $60+
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After her late grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Sha Yao felt helpless. It was especially frustrating, she recalls, to sit with her during meals while she struggled to perform basic functions, like using silverware without spilling. “There was nothing I could do,” Yao says. Inspired by her grandmother’s plight, Yao created Eatwell Assistive Tableware, a dining set designed to make mealtime easier for people with Alzheimer’s and other diseases that affect brain and body function. (Among the design hacks: using bright colors to help people distinguish their plates from their food and putting wide rubber bases on the cups to prevent spills.) The goal, Yao says, is to “bring back the joy of sharing a meal together.”

https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/better-shelters-ikea-nepal.jpg

Better Shelter

The All-Purpose Shelter

Better Shelter / Co-developed by The Ikea Foundation

Last year, Ikea made headlines when its philanthropic arm, the Ikea Foundation, helped launch Better Shelter, a line of temporary ­houses—­equipped with features like door locks and solar ­panels—that could be shipped flat and assembled in under four hours, much like the retailer’s popular furniture. But now that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has helped send more than 16,000 of these units all over the world, they’ve taken on a life of their own. Just as DIY experts have found ways to remodel Ikea staples into expensive-­looking furniture, refugees and aid agencies are turning Better Shelter structures into hospitals, reception areas and more. In Greece and on its border with Macedonia, the shelters are being linked together and used as early-­childhood-­development centers; in Djibouti, their walls have been retrofitted with “air conditioners” (plastic bottles cut in half to facilitate air flow). Now designers are trying to revamp the Better Shelters to allow for even more flexibility. After all, says Johan Karlsson, managing director of Better Shelter, “we cannot design a one-for-all shelter.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated Johan Karlsson’s employer. He is the managing director of Better Shelter.

dyson-supersonic-hairdryer

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

A Stronger, Softer Hair Dryer

Dyson Supersonic / $399
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James Dyson has famously streamlined all kinds of air-centric appliances, most notably vacuums and fans. Now he has set his sights on the hair dryer. Unlike traditional models, which Dyson dismisses as “noisy, heavy and not that fast,” the Supersonic does its job with remarkable efficiency. It’s quiet, thanks to a tiny, jet-engine-like motor that reaches 110,000 revolutions per minute (making it ultrasonic and therefore inaudible to the human ear). It’s fast, thanks to a design that multiplies air flow. And it’s consistently gentle, thanks to a sensor mechanism that keeps hot blown air at one of three exact degree settings. This is hair drying as Dyson thinks it should be, even if it comes at a cost. “We never design down to a price,” he says.

sweet-potatoes

Benjamin Rakotoariso

Sweet Potatoes That Could Save Lives

The Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato / Developed by The International Potato Center (CIP) and Harvestplus

In sub-Saharan Africa, vitamin A deficiency afflicts more than 43 million children under age 6, leaving them vulnerable to blindness, malaria and more. It’s inefficient to provide entire countries with pills, so plant scientists from HarvestPlus and the CIP are helping countries grow their own ­solutions—in the form of sweet potatoes. The key is biofortification, or cross-­breeding locally grown sweet potatoes with versions rich in vitamin A, so that over time the crops naturally get better at addressing the deficiency. Plant scientists have also bred them to be more resistant to droughts (as Maria Andrade did in Mozambique) and viruses (as Robert Mwanga did in Uganda). This year, Andrade and Mwanga shared the World Food Prize for their work, alongside agricultural economist Jan Low and HarvestPlus founder Howarth Bouis. Sweet potatoes may once have been seen as “a crop of the poor,” says Low, who’s helping to bring the super-spuds to more countries. Now they’re “a healthy crop for all.”

dji-mavic-pro-drone

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

A Drone With Mass Appeal

Dji Mavic Pro / $999
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In recent years, drones have become smarter flyers, faster racers and better photographers. But for the most part, they’re still too big and bulky to carry around comfortably, which can turn off more-­casual consumers. Not so with DJI’s Mavic Pro, which debuted in September; it’s got all the trimmings of a state-of-the-art drone—obstacle-avoidance technology, a 4K camera and the ability to track subjects while ­flying—but it can also fold down to the size of a loaf of bread, smaller than any of its competitors. Realizing that goal required DJI’s engineering team to “rethink all the aspects” of a typical drone, says Darren Liccardo, who helped lead the project. But ultimately, he adds, the effort paid off: because of its smaller size, the Mavic Pro is more nimble and less prone to ­accidents—yet another selling point that could attract new users.

arc-instatemp-thermometer

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

The No-Touch Thermometer

Arc InstaTemp / $40 (for the InstaTemp) and $350 (for the InstaTemp MD)
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Anyone who has ever had a sick child knows what a hassle it can be to take someone’s temperature using the traditional ­method—­slipping a thermometer under her tongue, getting her to sit still for minutes at a time and hoping that whatever reading you get is accurate. That’s why, in recent years, many brands have started to make no-touch thermometers, which use infrared technology to measure core body temperature quickly and precisely. But one model stands out both for its design and its efficacy: Arc’s Insta­Temp (and its more precise, clinical version, InstaTemp MD), which was recently approved by the FDA. Once the device is placed roughly an inch from a patient’s forehead, it spits out a temperature in 2.5 seconds—­coded red, yellow or green, depending on the reading. “If you can take a temperature this way, why would you do it any other way?” says Irwin Gross, CEO of Arc, which is marketing the Insta­Temp devices to consumers and health care professionals alike. “We think this is the way all temperatures will be taken in the future.”

artificial-pancreas-medtronic-fda-medtech

Medtronic

The Artificial Pancreas

Minimed 670g / Developed by Medtronic

In order for people with diabetes to stay healthy, they must continually check their blood sugar and adjust it with insulin or snacks. Medtronic aims to render this tedious process obsolete with its MiniMed 670G, a.k.a. the “artificial pancreas,” which has been in development for years but was only recently approved by the FDA. (It will be commercially available next year.) Once users attach the iPod-size device to their body, it measures their blood-­sugar levels every five minutes, providing more insulin or withholding it as needed. For now, they still need to manually request a dose after they eat. But Medtronic is working on a fully automated version, which Fran Kaufman, chief medical officer of the company’s diabetes group, says she hopes will help the 1.25 million people living with Type 1 diabetes “spend less time managing their disease and more time enjoying life.”

(Gifts: The 100 Most Influential Images of All Time)

tiangong-2-space-station-china

Xinhua News Agency—Getty Images

China’s ‘Heavenly’ Space Station

Tiangong-2 / Developed by China’s National Space Agency

When China’s newest astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, arrived in orbit earlier this year, they docked at some impressive digs. Specifically: the orbital laboratory Tiangong-2 (Heavenly Palace 2), which is more than 34 ft. long and nearly 14 ft. wide and includes an exercise area and a medical-­experiment bay. Yes, that’s all modest compared with the multimodule International Space Station (ISS), which is roughly the size of a football field, but it’s a remarkable machine all the same. China, after all, built Tiangong-2 on its own, just over a decade after launching its first man into space; the ISS is a collaboration among 15 nations, including space veterans like the U.S. and Russia. China’s next move: launching the core module for a much bigger space station, set to happen sometime in 2018.

iko-prosthetic-system-arm

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

A Prosthesis That’s Built To Play

IKO / Developed by Carlos Arturo Torres

By design, most prostheses aren’t fun—they’re built to fill a utilitarian need. And while that’s fine for adults, who need to work, it can be tough on kids, who want to play along with their friends. Enter Iko, a prosthetic arm built by Carlos Arturo Torres to enable children to replace a lost limb with one that could have come from Inspector Gadget. When they need a hand, they have one. But they can replace it with any number of toy-like attachments, all of which are compatible with Lego products. (Torres developed the device while working at Lego’s experimental Future Lab in Denmark.) Torres is still finalizing distribution details, but his larger hope is that Iko will destigmatize disability—like it did for 8-year-old Dario, an early tester. Before the test, one of Dario’s friends told Torres he felt sorry for Dario, because there were things he couldn’t do. That changed after the friend watched Dario use Iko. “I want one too,” he said.

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Jessica Lynn Walker—Chevrolet

A Crowd-Pleasing Electric Car

Chevrolet Bolt / $40,000

For most buyers, electric vehicles fall into two camps: too expensive (think the $66,000 Tesla Model S) and too limited (the Nissan Leaf gets just 100 miles per charge). General Motors aims to bridge that gap with the Chevrolet Bolt, which touts crowd-­pleasing features, like more than 200 miles of driving on a single charge, at a relatively low cost. “This is an opportunity to take electric cars mainstream,” GM engineer Pamela Fletcher says of the Bolt, set to launch in December. One industry analyst estimates that GM could sell as many as 80,000 Bolts next year, which would boost the overall market by almost 67%—a small but significant step toward reducing our collective reliance on planet-­warming fossil fuels.

(Gifts: The 100 Most Influential Images of All Time)

unicef-kid-power-band-ammunition

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

A Bracelet That Helps Kids Give Back

UNICEF Kid Power Band / $40
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One in four American children doesn’t get enough exercise, and 1 in 4 children globally doesn’t get enough food. UNICEF’s Fitbit-like Kid Power Band, designed by San Francisco-based Ammunition, aims to address both problems at once. Its mobile app encourages kids to be physically active with videos from stars like Pink and Alex Morgan. Once they meet step goals, it awards them points, which translate to real food packages that UNICEF sends to malnourished children all over the globe (funded in part by sales of the device). The band “allows kids to feel like they can change the world,” says Rajesh Anandan, who co-created it. Since Kid Power Band’s soft launch in 2014, participants have collectively walked over 7 million miles to feed more than 30,000 severely malnourished children.

apple-airpods

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

Headphones That Make Wireless Cool

Apple Airpods / $159
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Apple has a history of changing the technological status quo, from digitizing music to making phone screens touch-­sensitive. So when the tech titan announced that its iPhone 7 would not have a 3.5-mm headphone jack, which has been standard on most audio gadgets for decades, it also previewed a compelling alternative. Unlike many of their Bluetooth predecessors, Apple’s AirPods not only have microphones (enabling you to control your phone via Siri) but also can detect when they’re in your ears—­allowing you to automatically pause music, for example, if you pop one out to have a conversation. But their most convenient feature may be automatically pairing with an iPhone, which eliminates the need to dig through settings menus.

The Speaker That Speaks Back

Amazon Echo / $180
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Echo may look like a standard Bluetooth speaker, but at its core lies one of modern society’s holy grails: the ability to talk to your tech. This isn’t a new idea; Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana have been around for years. But in many ways, Amazon’s version, Alexa, which is embedded in Echo, is more powerful. Since its 2014 launch, Amazon has greatly expanded Alexa’s functionality; it’s now integrated with dozens of third-party apps, enabling you to call a car (via Uber), turn off lights (via Philips Hue bulbs, among others) or even order pizza (via Domino’s). And Amazon appears determined to keep its edge. It recently launched a junior version of the Echo (the $50 Echo Dot), and it’s working to make Alexa even more intuitive. “We don’t want to teach someone how to speak to Alexa,” says Daren Gill, who heads product and customer experience for Alexa. “They should be able to just speak the way they naturally do.”

wynd-air-purifier

Wynd

A Personal Air Purifier

Wynd / $154

No matter where you live and work, you’re breathing in chemicals and pollutants, some more dangerous than others. And while changing that norm will take years, if not decades, of policy work, there are interim solutions. Among them: Wynd, a portable air ­filter—­roughly the size of a water ­bottle—that creates a clean-­climate bubble by sucking up pollutants in your immediate vicinity, including ones that can contribute to cancer and heart disease. “What we breathe matters,” says Ray Wu, creator of Wynd, which raised more than $600,000 on Kickstarter and should be commercially available next year. “We want to enable everyone to enjoy a healthy air environment, no matter where they live or travel.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the price of the Wynd personal air purifier, and the name of the company’s founder. It costs $154, and his name is Ray Wu.

barbie-dolls-mattel

Lucas Zarebinski for TIME

Barbies That Look More Like Real Girls

Mattel Barbie dolls / $10 each
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For 57 years, the world’s most famous doll has been stick-thin, setting an ­unrealistic—and, studies show, ­damaging—beauty standard for generations of young women. That all changed in January when Mattel, faced with slumping sales, decided to make Barbie look more like the girls who play with her. Although the original doll still exists, she now has three additional body types (petite, tall and ­curvy)—a shift that has boosted global sales of the Barbie Fashionista brand by 44%. Of course, society is still a long way from solving its body-image issues; that’s “a heavy burden for [Barbie’s] tiny shoulders,” says Robert Best, a Barbie designer. But the new shapes, along with the new skin tones and hair textures introduced last year, are undeniably a step in the right direction.

Gifts: The 100 Most Influential Images of All Time

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The 25 Best Inventions of 2015

Welcome to TIME’s annual round-up of the best inventions making the world better, smarter and—in some cases—a little more fun.

  • The ‘Hoverboard’ Scooter

    Gregory Reid for TIME
    Developed by multiple brands
    Prices varyPart Segway, part skateboard, the self-balancing scooter—generally known as a hoverboard, even though it doesn’t actually hover—is easily the year’s most viral product, drawing fans like Justin Bieber, Jimmy Fallon and Kendall Jenner. Once someone hops on, the device uses a pair of electric gyroscopes (one under each pad) to balance automatically, allowing users to speed forward, backward and around by slightly shifting their body weight. That enables all kinds of fun stunts, ranging from hallway races to motorized dance routines. Maxx Yellin, co-founder of PhunkeeDuck, one of more than 20 companies making versions of the device, sees larger implications. “It could evolve as a new form of transportation for cities and colleges,” Yellin says (though British authorities recently caused a stir by outlawing their use on public sidewalks and streets). But convenience comes at a cost: prices range from $350 to $1,700, depending on the brand and its features.

    • The Underground Park

      The Lowline in New York City
      Cameron Neilson
      The Lowline Lab
      Developed by Dan Barasch and James Ramsey“It’s not like any park you’ve ever seen before,” says Dan Barasch of the Lowline, an abandoned trolley terminal in New York City’s Lower East Side that he and architect James Ramsey are trying to turn into an acre of lush green space, replete with flowering plants and areas to relax in the sun. The key: a “remote skylight” dish system that captures sunlight from surrounding rooftops and funnels it underground via fiber-optic cable; once there, it’s beamed out via reflective dome, enabling plants to grow. To prove the technology works, Barasch and Ramsey opened the Lowline Lab; it’s a prototype version of the final park, which is still several approvals—and $70 million in funding—away from completion. But Barasch, who attracted more than 3,300 backers on Kickstarter, is undeterred. Even forgotten places, he says, can still be used “for public good.” —Julie Shapiro

    • The Sensor That Sniffs Out Gluten

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      6SensorLabs’ Nima / $199
      Available for preorder atNimaSensor.comFor the millions of Americans with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating out is often anxiety-ridden—any menu item might contain traces of the protein, which is off-limits. The Nima sensor, which starts shipping early next year, would work to put their minds at ease by allowing them to test any kind of food or drink in as little as two minutes. After a sample is dropped into the well of the device, a proprietary antibody (loaded in a disposable cartridge) mines it for traces of gluten. If they exist, a frowning face lights up; if not, a smile appears. “My hope is that people are going to be able to eat socially” without accidentally getting sick, says Shireen Yates, a 6SensorLabs co-founder who is gluten-sensitive. The firm also hopes to apply its technology to detect other food allergens, including peanuts and dairy. —Alice Park

    • Bionic Ears

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Doppler Labs Here Active Listening Earbuds / $249
      Waitlist open at Hereplus.meIf you’re stuck somewhere with unbearable noise, you essentially have two options: plug your ears, or leave. But what if you could isolate the most grating sound and mute it? Or just lower the volume, much as you would on a TV? That’s the promise of the Here Active Listening system, a groundbreaking set of earbuds from New York–based Doppler Labs. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify or decrease all noises at once, Here’s processor syncs with a smartphone app, so users can handpick which frequencies they want to filter. That means you could stand on a subway platform and have a normal conversation as a train screeches by, or even tune out a crying baby on a plane. “It’s augmented audio reality,” says Doppler Labs CEO Noah Kraft, who initially developed Here for musicians and concertgoers before pivoting to a general audience. The first earbuds will ship in December. —Alex Fitzpatrick

    • The Superior Stethoscope

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Eko Core
      Developed by Connor Landgraf, Jason Bellet and Tyler CrouchIf there is one aspect of medicine that’s more art than science, it’s the way doctors listen to ­heartbeats—­trusting their fallible ears and memory to detect aberrations over time. Not so with Eko Core. Once the $199 smart adapter is attached to a stethoscope, it streams heartbeat data to the cloud so physicians can download it to a smartphone. From there, a companion app can analyze the audio and compare it to previous recordings, which may help doctors detect murmurs, heart-valve abnormalities and other conditions that “our ears are not able to,” says Dr. John Chorba, a cardiologist (and mentor to one of the inventors) who’s leading an Eko trial at the University of California, San Francisco. If the device works as planned—early signs are positive—it could not only improve overall care but also drastically reduce the need for expensive tests like echocardiograms. —Alice Park

    • The Headset That Helps You Hack Life

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Microsoft HoloLens
      Developer edition available early 2016Virtual-reality headsets, like the Oculus Rift, create escapes. Put one on, and you’re suddenly swimming with dolphins or fighting in the Battle of Waterloo.Microsoft’s HoloLens, by contrast, augments reality—overlaying holograms and data onto existing surroundings, so you’re not “confined to the virtual world,” as designer Alex Kipman puts it. Imagine gamers defending their homes from robot invaders, engineers manipulating 3-D models or surgeons following directions “on” the human body. Early tests indicate all are possible. Already the HoloLens is being used by NASA to mimic Mars’ terrain in labs and by medical students to dissect virtual bodies. —Alex Fitzpatrick

    • Power Pasta

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Banza Chickpea Pasta / $4+ per 8 oz. box
      Available at EatBanza.com“When people think of pasta, they almost always think, I ate way too much and now I feel like crap,” says Brian Rudolph. Not so with his brand, which is made from chickpeas instead of wheat. That simple switch—in a recipe perfected over 10 months of trial and error—has yielded a healthy twist on the al dente dinner. Banza, shorthand for garbanzo pasta, has double the protein and four times the fiber of traditional pasta, and far fewer carbs; it’s also gluten-free. And to those who may question how good it tastes, consider the sales. Banza launched in two U.S. stores last year; now it’s in 1,700, including Fairway markets, where it was recently the top-­selling pasta of any kind (including wheat). Now Rudolph and his brother Scott plan to reinvent products like pizza and cereal. “People want to eat better,” he says. “We see Banza as a true replacement, a more filling version of the food people love.” —Mandy Oaklander

    • The Desktop DNA Lab

      Mark Serr
      Juno
      Developed by FluidigmIt can take a full day to “amplify” DNA, the technical term for making millions of copies of one strain so it can be compared with many others. Juno cuts that process to just three hours, freeing scientists to concentrate on actual ­analysis—a shift that makes it easier to match bone-marrow donors, find cures for genetic diseases and more. The key is Fluidigm’s proprietary microchip, which can amplify samples that are 1,000 times smaller than a drop of water. And the sleek, Yves Béhar–­designed aesthetic doesn’t hurt, either. “We see a lot of possibilities for clinical labs and hospitals,” says Marc Unger, a senior vice president at Fluidigm, of the $120,000 machine, which is now being used at academic and research labs. “We really want to help.” —Alexandra Sifferlin

    • Housing That Welcomes the Homeless

      Star Apt 14-11 MMA 1204.JPG
      Iwan Baan
      Star Apartments
      Designed by Michael MaltzanFor decades, housing for the homeless has too often meant transient shelters or warehouse-­like abodes. L.A.’s Star Apartments aims to buck that trend by design; it functions more like a minivillage than a single building, says Maltzan of his third collaboration with Skid Row Housing Trust, a local nonprofit. In addition to 102 prefabricated studios, which are ingeniously staggered into four terraced stories, Star Apartments offers a ground-floor medical clinic and, above that, a garden, an outdoor running track and space for classrooms. The goal, says Maltzan, is to make the residents of its 300-sq.-ft. units—who are handpicked by the county department of health ­services—feel “like they’re part of a dynamic and intimate community,” a strategy that can help people, especially those struggling with homelessness and substance-­abuse issues, re-­establish stability in their lives. —Richard Lacayo

    • The Transparent Truck

      Martin Gee for TIME
      Safety Truck
      Developed by Samsung and Leo BurnettEvery year, thousands of people get hurt or die in traffic accidents, in part because their visibility gets blocked by a lumbering vehicle. This is especially true in Argentina, known for its winding, narrow roads. There, however, Samsung and ad agency Leo Burnett have partnered on a creative solution: a system that relays video footage from the front of a truck to four screens on its back, giving drivers a clear view of what’s ahead. During its initial test, the Safety Truck covered some 620 miles (1,000 km) over three days without incident. Now Samsung is refining the technology and working with Argentine officials to roll it out more broadly. “We believe this will change the history of road safety,” says Sang Jik Lee, president of Samsung Electronics Argentina. —Julie Shapiro

    • The Next-Gen Baby Monitor

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Sproutling / $299
      Available for preorder atSproutling.com“Is my baby O.K.?” That’s the question Sproutling aims to answer—in real time—with its first product. Once in place, the Fitbit-like device can track an infant’s heart rate, body temperature, position and more, and notify parents, via mobile app, if there’s cause for alarm. (Though regular check-ins are still encouraged.) Once it learns a baby’s habits, Sproutling can also offer helpful predictions, like when he or she will wake up from a nap. “We want to get more understanding of how children behave as a whole,” says CEO Chris Bruce, a father of two. “That’s the holy grail.” —Sarah Begley

    • An Airport for Drones

      Martin Gee for TIME
      Drone Port
      Developed by Foster + Partners and Afrotech-EPFLAs Amazon, Google and others ramp up their drone-delivery tests, one question looms large: How will their home base function? For hints, the tech titans may well look to Rwanda, where workers will soon break ground on three “drone ports,” designed to make it easier to transport food, medical supplies, electronics, spare parts and other goods through the hilly countryside, where road travel is difficult. The Rwanda project “is a relatively modest beginning,” says Norman Foster, chairman of architecture firm Foster + Partners, which is leading the first phase of construction (scheduled to be completed in 2020). But, he adds, “it could be a catalyst,” helping to solve an array of pressing health issues and creating a model for other countries looking to regulate commercial drone use. —Sarah Begley

    • Period-Proof Underwear

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Thinx / $24+ per pair
      Available at Shethinx.comFor decades, women trying to avoid leaks or stains during menstruation have mainly had to rely on disposable pads, tampons and panty liners, which can be bulky and expensive. “But can’t underwear do the same thing, better?” wondered Miki and Radha Agrawal. That’s the idea behind Thinx, a line of thongs and panties that the twin sisters—alongside co-founder Antonia Dunbar and a team of manufacturers in Sri Lanka—have engineered to (mostly) replace traditional products. Each pair is washable, reusable and equipped with four layers of moisture-wicking, antimicrobial fabric. On heavier days, however, some women may need extra protection. “We always say, Know your flow,” says Miki. —Samantha Grossman

    • The Bed in a Box

      Martin Gee for TIME
      Casper Mattress / $500+
      Available at Casper.comBuying a new mattress is a lot like purchasing a used car: stressful, confusing and likely to overwhelm you with options. “We want to cut the clutter,” says Philip Krim, CEO of Casper, one of many startups upending the sleep industry, including Leesa and Tuft & Needle. The model is simple: create one mattress style; up the comfort factor (using a mix of foams); set clear prices; and sell it online (cutting costs, so prices remain low). Once the mattress arrives—it’s vacuum-packed in a cardboard box—customers get a 100-day trial period during which they can return it for a full refund. But that rarely happens, says Krim. Casper’s sales are expected to exceed $75 million this year, making it a leader among its startup competitors.—Victor Luckerson

    • The Virtual Brush and Canvas

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Apple Pencil and iPad Pro / $99 and $799+, respectively
      Available at Apple.comIn the 450 years or so since its invention, the pencil has become so ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget how remarkable a technology it is. It can write at any angle. Shades get darker depending on how hard you press. Marks can be erased. Reproducing this functionality digitally has vexed computer engineers for years, which is what makes Apple’s latest effort so impressive. The Pencil allows users to draw, paint or write on a screen, just as they would a sheet of paper. And it works in tandem with the iPad Pro, a tablet faster than roughly 80% of laptops sold in the past year, so there’s no perceptible delay. That combination has already sparked chatter about new ways to create art, animations, blueprints and more. “You can rest your hand anywhere and [the iPad Pro screen] totally ignores it and it just reads the Pencil,” wrote Don Shank, an art director at Pixar, after testing the products in September. “It’s pretty amazing.” —Matt Vella

    • Shoes You Can ‘Tie’ With One Hand

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Nike Flyease 8 / $130
      Available at Nike.comIn 2012, Matthew Walzer, a then high school junior with cerebral palsy, sent a note to Nike: “My dream is to go to the college of my choice,” he wrote, “without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day.” Sensing an opportunity to create a new footwear category—both for casual consumers who want a simpler way to tie sneakers and for people like Walzer, who need one—Nike dispatched a design team. This year, they unveiled their solution: the Flyease 8, a LeBron James–branded basketball shoe with a one-handed fastening mechanism that drew inspiration from “opening and closing a door,” says Tobie Hatfield, the shoe’s head designer. (To tie the shoe, wearers yank on a strap, which zips around the ankle as they pull.) There are still kinks to work out; pulling the strap too hard or too fast, for example, may cause the zipper to break. But Walzer, now a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, has said the shoes have given him a great “sense of independence and accomplishment.” —Sean Gregory

    • The Pan That Teaches You To Cook

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Pantelligent / $199
      Available at Pantelligent.comHow hot should the pan be? When do I stir? It it done yet? If you’ve ever cooked an unfamiliar dish, chances are you’ve asked yourself one or more of these questions—­and ­Pantelligent aims to answer them all. Once you select a recipe from its smartphone app, the pan uses Bluetooth and a special heat sensor to offer real-time instructions on your screen, so you’ll know exactly when to flip a steak, for example, if you want it medium rare. When they first dreamed up the concept at MIT, Humberto Evans was a great cook, but Mike Robbins could barely fry an egg. Now, according to Evans, his former roommate whips up dishes like chicken piccata. “The food speaks for itself,” he says of how people can use the pans, which started shipping in October. —Samantha Grossman

    • The Book That Filters Water

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      The Drinkable Book
      Developed by Teri DankovichAn estimated 663 million people globally do not have access to clean drinking water, in part because filtration is complicated and expensive. The Drinkable Book is neither: thanks to a special ­treatment—­developed with a team of scientists over several years—its pages double as water filters, killing over 99% of harmful bacteria during trials in Bangladesh, Ghana and South Africa. (They also list usage instructions.) Though research is still needed to determine whether the system can filter all contaminants, including viruses, Dankovich is optimistic; she says she is talking to partners who could help fund more testing and, eventually, large-scale production. —Sarah Begley

    • The Ocean Vacuum

      Martin Gee for TIME
      The Ocean Cleanup Project
      Developed by Boyan SlatThere’s a glut of plastic trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that’s bigger than Texas—and growing. But the default removal process of chasing it with nets is both costly and time-­consuming. Instead, the Ocean Cleanup Project proposes a 62-mile-long (100 km) floating boom—at an estimated cost of $15 million—that would use natural currents to trap trash. (Its net drops roughly 10 ft., or 3 m, below the surface, shallow enough for fish to swim around.) If next year’s trials succeed, a full cleanup operation would aim to start in 2020; internal estimates suggest it could reduce the trash by 42% over 10 years. —Bryan Walsh

    • The Personal Pollution Detector

      tzoa 34 with shadow.JPG
      TZOA
      TZOA Environmental Tracker / $139
      Available for preorder at Tzoa.comIn order to avoid potentially harmful pollutants and allergens, it helps to know about the air you’re breathing. That’s where Tzoa comes in. The stationary device, developed by electrician Kevin R. Hart, uses sensors to evaluate the atmosphere in any given area—­measuring factors like temperature, particulate matter (dust, pollen, mold, car exhaust) and UV ­exposure—and uploads that data to the cloud, so that institutions like Johns Hopkins can conduct air-­quality research. The company plans to launch wearable versions in May that offer a similar service, allowing consumers to chart specific walking routes, for example, if they want to avoid pockets of pollen. —Alexandra Sifferlin

    • The Ball That Teaches Kids to Code

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Hackaball / $85
      Available for preorder atHackaball.comAt a time when demand for computer scientists is skyrocketing, most Americans get little or no exposure to coding during their formative years. Made by Many, a New York City–based digital-­consulting firm, is trying to change that. Its Hackaball toy syncs with a mobile app, allowing users to program how and when it lights up—and then to see how those programs affect their lives in the real world. During one test, for example, kids set the ball to change colors at random intervals, then used it to play a hot-potato-style game. Enabling social ­scenarios—rather than a more isolated, screen-based introduction to ­coding—is the point of Hackaball, says William Owen, a strategy director at Made by Many. Its concept appears to be resonating: some 2,800 people backed the project on Kickstarter, raising $240,000. The first units ship in January. —Lisa Eadicicco

    • All-Access Virtual Reality

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Google Cardboard / Price varies
      Available DIY or from third-party sellersMost of the hype surrounding virtual reality has rightly centered on premium headsets, such as the forthcoming Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (both of which will likely cost several hundred dollars). But Google Cardboard is revolutionary in its own right. Since its 2014 debut, the scrappy viewer—which can be built from scratch using free online instructions and relies on your smartphone screen for visuals—has emerged as a playground for virtual reality, priming brands and consumers alike for one of the world’s most anticipated technologies. There are Cardboard apps that let people drive cars (from Mercedes-Benz), attend concerts (from musician Jack White) and even play immersive video games. “We ask people, ‘Hey, put your smartphone in this piece of cardboard. It’s going to do something amazing,’” says Clay Bavor, a Google VP who oversees VR projects. “And then it does, and they’re shocked.” —Alex Fitzpatrick

    • The Musical Instrument That Anyone Can Master

      Gregory Reid for TIME
      Artiphon Instrument 1 / $399
      Available for preorder atArtiphon.comAn estimated 70% of adults want to play an instrument on a regular basis, but only 5% actually do, partly because it’s tough to choose just one to master. That’s not an issue with the Artiphon, which can mimic dozens of ­instruments—not just how they sound but also how they’re played. It can be strummed like a guitar or tapped like a piano. Or it can mix and match inputs, allowing users to bang banjo chords as if they were drumming. “We’re trying to pave a different path toward musical creativity,” says Jacob Gordon, an Artiphon co-founder, of the device (and its companion smartphone app), which raised $1.3 million on Kickstarter. —Victor Luckerson

    • The Meanest, Greenest Driving Machine

      Tesla
      Tesla Model X / est. $130,000
      Available 2016Tesla’s Model X, unveiled in September, marks a leap toward a reality in which electric cars aren’t simply exotic, but just as useful as their competition. The world’s first luxury electric SUV can go 250 miles on a charge, Tesla says, and haul seven passengers. It features futuristic back doors that open like the wings of a bird (up, not out). And the Model X is a blast to drive: it can hit 60 m.p.h. from a standstill in 3.2 seconds, and its battery pack gives it a low center of gravity, enabling sports-car-like handling. (That’s rare for any SUV, let alone one that runs on clean power.) For Tesla, more than one model is at stake. As CEO Elon Musk put it during the Model X unveiling: people need to know “that any kind of car can go electric.” —Matt Vella

    • The Toy That Talks Back

      CogniToys_Blue_Front Right.JPG
      Cognitoys
      CogniToys Dino / $120
      Available for preorder atCogniToys.comRather than repeating catchphrases, as “talking” toys have done for generations, this dinosaur taps IBM’s Watson technology to engage with kids ages 5 to 9 in a meaningful way. In addition to answering plain-language queries (like “How far away is the moon?”), the wi-fi-enabled figurine talks back and learns from kids’ responses—helping them hone their math skills, for example, by asking harder questions once they nail, “What is 2+2?” and “Can you count to 10?” The trick, according to CogniToys CEO Donald Coolidge, is to make educational development seem like a “cool, fun experience.” “That’s kind of the best toy possible,” he says. —Sarah Begley

    —Lisa Eadicicco

How does a 3D printer work? The science and engineering behind this emerging technology

Originally posted on Gigaom:

There is a lot of excitement building around what 3D printers can and might do. But how does a 3D printer work? It’s actually not very complicated.

Here are the mechanics behind the most common consumer-level printers that extrude plastic.

3D printer owners choose between two types of plastic: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). Some printers work with just one, other printers work with both. The plastic comes as strands of filament that are usually a standard 1.75 millimeters or 3 millimeters in width.

ABS, which is used to make Legos, is chemical-based and works at slightly higher temperatures. PLA is derived from natural sources, such as corn or sugarcane. It’s more rigid and glossy than ABS. Outside of 3D printing, it can be used to make compostable packaging.

Filament, which is usually stored on a spool attached to a 3D printer, can be expensive. MakerBot charges $48 for 2.2 pounds of PLA, though PLA or ABS can be had for half the price on eBayThe company estimates one 2.2 pound spool of filament is enough to print 392 chess pieces.

The price is likely to drop as 3D printers become more common and filament is manufactured on a larger scale. One current way to drop the cost is to use a filament extruder; you feed in cheaper plastic beads or recycled plastic and out comes strings of filament.

Once you’ve obtained the filament, it is fed into the 3D printer’s print head. Generally, this is a boxy shape with a nozzle sticking out of it.

Type A Machines Series 1 Pro 3D printer

A gear pulls the piece of filament through the print head. Just before it is extruded by the pointed nozzle, the filament passes through a heated tube and liquifies. The nozzle deposits it in ultra-fine lines generally about 0.1 millimeters across. The plastic solidifies quickly, sealing together layers.

ABS generally needs to be printed on a heated surface; otherwise, the bottom layer of plastic curls up. PLA can be printed on a non-heated surface.

Most printers have one print head, which means objects are printed in one color, or the filament has to be switched out during the print job. Some printers, such as MakerBot’s newest, the Replicator 2X, have two print heads. This allows objects to be printed in two different colors. botObjects has promised to build a full-color printer that mixes filaments to produce a full spectrum of color.

Back and forth, layer by layer

3D printing is additive manufacturing. That means the plastic is built up one layer at a time.

A 3D printed dragon head. Photo by Signe Brewster

The print surface — which is called the print bed — and print head work together to print in three dimensions. On a MakerBot Replicator 2, the print head is suspended on a gantry system. Two metal bars that run across the top of the Replicator support the print head. The print head can move back and forth along them. At the edge of the printer, the two metal bars connect to another two bars. This allows them to move forward and backward, and the print head to move in four directions altogether. The print bed moves up and down to add a third dimension.

MakerBot

Other 3D printers like RepRaps, the open source DIY printers that started the consumer 3D printing trend, sometimes work slightly differently. The print bed may move up, down, forward and backward while the print head only moves side to side. Or there are more unusual systems, such as the DeltaMaker, where the print head moves in three dimensions.

Print jobs can take minutes, hours or days, depending on the size and density of an object. For example, artists recently ran seven Type A Machines Series 1 printers for two months straight to build a 10 x 10 x 8 foot sculpture.

3D printers don’t just print plastic

Not all 3D printers are the same. Professional 3D printers are capable of printing higher quality objects with more diverse materials. At the Shapeways factory, where huge 3D printers output many objects at once, goods aren’t limited to PLA and ABS. There’s brass, ceramic, steel and five types of plastic. Some of their machines rely on laser sintering, which uses lasers to fuse together particles of material. Some key laser sintering patents are set to expire next year, which could soon bring them to consumer printers.

FormLabs’ Form 1, a stereolithography printer, is one of the key printers to watch for non-traditional technologies’ entry into the consumer market. Metal, and even hybrid, printers could be next.

PLA for 3D Printers…what the heck is it?

3D Printer Filament

PLA Filament

Polylactic acid

Polylactic acid
The skeletal formula of PLA
Identifiers
CAS number 33135-50-1
Properties
Molecular formula (C3H4O2)n
Density 1.210-1.430 g·cm-3 [1]
Melting point 150-160 °C [1] 302-320 °F
Solubility in water Insoluble in Water [2]
Hazards
NFPA 704

NFPA 704 four-colored diamond

Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C (77 °F), 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Poly(lactic acid) or polylactide (PLA) is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch(in the United States), tapioca roots, chips or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane (in the rest of the world). In 2010, PLA had the second highest consumption volume of any bioplastic of the world.[3]

The name “poly(lactic acid)” does not comply with IUPAC standard nomenclature, and is potentially ambiguous or confusing, because PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but rather a polyester.[4]

ABS or PLA FOR 3D PRINTING?

3D Printer for the Home

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ABS AND PLA FOR 3D PRINTING

You’ve got a 3D Printer, or you’re looking to buy a 3D Printer and each one seems to indicate it prints in either ABS, PLA, or both. So you find yourself wanting to know, what is the difference between ABS and PLA.

Some Common Ground

There are many materials that are being explored for 3D Printing, however you will find that the two dominant plastics are ABS and PLA. Both ABS and PLA are known as thermoplastics; that is they become soft and moldable when heated and return to a solid when cooled. This process can be repeated again and again. Their ability to melt and be processed again is what has made them so prevalent in society and is why most of the plastics you interact with on a daily basis are thermoplastics.

Now while there are many thermoplastics, very few of them are currently used for 3D Printing. For a material to prove viable for 3D Printing, it has to pass three different tests; initial extrusion into Plastic Filament, second extrusion and trace-binding during the 3D Printing process, then finally end use application.

To pass all three tests, a material’s properties must lend desirably to first, it’s formation into the raw 3D Printer feedstock called Plastic Filament; second, process well during 3D Printing giving visually pleasing and physically accurate parts; and lastly, it’s properties should match the intended application, whether that be strength, durability, gloss, you name it. Often, a material will pass one test so superbly, that it becomes worth the extra effort to battle with it during its other stages. Polycarbonate, a lesser known printing material is this way. For some applications, it’s strength and temperature resistance makes it worth the battle to print accurate and fully fused parts.

The first test, that of production from base plastic resin into top-notch Plastic Filament such as what we carry is a strict and carefully monitored process. It is a battle of wits and engineering that takes the plastic from a pile of pellets to a uniformly dense, bubble free, consistently sized, round rod. Here there is little difference between ABS and PLA; most thermoplastics can pass this test, it is mainly just a question of the time and costs required to do so while still producing Plastic Filament that runs smoothly and consistently during the next stage, 3D Printing.

Here is where the two plastics divide and will help to explain why different groups prefer one over the other.

Storage

Both ABS and PLA do best if, before use or when stored long term, they are sealed off from the atmosphere to prevent the absorption of moisture from the air. This does not mean your plastic will be ruined by a week of sitting on a bench in the shop, but long term exposure to a humid environment can have detrimental effects, both to the printing process and to the quality of finished parts.

ABS – Moisture laden ABS will tend to bubble and spurt from the tip of the nozzle when printing; reducing the visual quality of the part, part accuracy, strength and introducing the risk of a stripping or clogging in the nozzle. ABS can be easily dried using a source of hot (preferably dry) air such as a food dehydrator.

PLA – PLA responds somewhat differently to moisture, in addition to bubbles or spurting at the nozzle, you may see discoloration and a reduction in 3D printed part properties as PLA can react with water at high temperatures and undergo de-polymerization. While PLA can also be dried using something as simple as a food dehydrator, it is important to note that this can alter the crystallinity ratio in the PLA and will possibly lead to changes in extrusion temperature and other extrusion characteristics. For many 3D Printers, this need not be of much concern.

Smell

ABS –  While printing ABS, there is often a notable smell of hot plastic. While some complain of the smell, there are many who either do not notice it or do not find it to be particularly unbearable. Ensuring proper ventilation in small rooms, that the ABS used is pure and free of contaminants and heated to the proper temperature in a reliable extruder can go a long way in reducing the smell.

PLA – PLA on the other hand, being derived from sugar gives off a smell similar to a semi-sweet cooking oil. While it certainly won’t bring back fond memories of home-cooked meals, it is considered by many an improvement over hot plastic.

Part Accuracy

Both ABS and PLA are capable of creating dimensionally accurate parts. However, there are a few points worthy of mention regarding the two in this regard.

ABS – For most, the single greatest hurdle for accurate parts in ABS will be a curling upwards of the surface in direct contact with the 3D Printer’s print bed. A combination of heating the print surface and ensuring it is smooth, flat and clean goes a long way in eliminating this issue. Additionally, some find various solutions can be useful when applied beforehand to the print surface. For example, a mixture of ABS/Acetone, or a shot of hairspray.

For fine features on parts involving sharp corners, such as gears, there will often be a slight rounding of the corner. A fan to provide a small amount of active cooling around the nozzle can improve corners but one does also run the risk of introducing too much cooling and reducing adhesion between layers, eventually leading to cracks in the finished part.

PLA – Compared to ABS, PLA demonstrates much less part warping. For this reason it is possible to successfully print without a heated bed and use more commonly available “Blue” painters tape as a print surface. Ironically, totally removing the heated bed can still allow the plastic to curl up slightly on large parts, though not always.

PLA undergoes more of a phase-change when heated and becomes much more liquid. If actively cooled, much sharper details can be seen on printed corners without the risk of cracking or warp. The increased flow can also lead to stronger binding between layers, improving the strength of the printed part.

ABS and PLA General Material Properties

In addition to a part being accurately made, it must also perform in its intended purpose.

ABS – ABS as a polymer can take many forms and can be engineered to have many properties. In general, it is a strong plastic with mild flexibility (compared to PLA). Natural ABS before colorants have been added is a soft milky biege. The flexibility of ABS makes creating interlocking pieces or pin connected pieces easier to work with. It is easily sanded and machined. Notably, ABS is soluble in Acetone allowing one to weld parts together with a drop or two, or smooth and create high gloss by brushing or dipping full pieces in Acetone. Compared to PLA, it is much easier to recycle ABS.

It’s strength, flexibility, machinability, and higher temperature resistance make it often a preferred plastic by engineers and those with mechanical uses in mind.

PLA –  Created from processing any number of plant products including corn, potatoes or sugar-beets, PLA is considered a more ‘earth friendly’ plastic compared to petroleum based ABS. Used primarily in food packaging and containers, PLA can be composted at comercial compost facilities. It won’t bio-degrade in your backyard or home compost pile however. It is natural transparent and can be colored to various degrees of translucency and opacity. Also strong, and more rigid than ABS, it is occasionally more difficult to work with in complicated interlocking assemblies and pin-joints. Printed objects will generally have a glossier look and feel than ABS. With a little more work, PLA can also be sanded and machined. The lower melting temperature of PLA makes it unsuitable for many applications as even parts spending the day in a hot car can droop and deform.

In Summary

Simplifying the myriad factors that influence the use of one material over the other, broad strokes draw this comparison.

ABS – It’s strength, flexibility, machinability, and higher temperature resistance make it often a preferred plastic for engineers, and professional applications. The hot plastic smell deter some as does the plastics petroleum based origin. The additional requirement of a heated print bed means there are some printers simply incapable of printing ABS with any reliability.

PLA – The wide range of available colors and translucencies and glossy feel often attract those who print for display or small household uses. Many appreciate the plant based origins and prefer the semi-sweet smell over ABS. When properly cooled, PLA seems to have higher maximum printing speeds, lower layer heights, and sharper printed corners. Combining this with low warping on parts make it a popular plastic for home printers, hobbyists, and schools.

Additionally one can find a handy chart comparing the two plastics on our Plastic Filament Buyers Guide

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Google Granted Patent on Invisible Text and Hidden Links

A new Google patent was awarded today named Systems and methods for detecting hidden text and hidden links.

The patent was filed on August 25, 2009 by Google’s Matt Cutts and Fritz Schneider. It was awarded today after being in pending status for over 3 years.

Bill Slawski posted on his blog a more human readable explanation of this patent and what it may mean for webmasters and SEOs.

As long as there have been search engines, there have been people trying to take advantage of them to try to get pages to rank higher in search engines. It’s not unusual to see within many SEO site audits a section on negative practices that a search engine might frown upon, and Google lists a number of those practices in their Webmaster Guidelines. Linked from the Guidelines is a Google page on Hidden Text and Links, where Google tells us to wary about doing things such as:

  • Using white text on a white background
  • Locating text behind an image
  • Using CSS to position text off-screen
  • Setting the font size to 0
  • Hiding a link by only linking one small character—for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph

 

Those are some of the same examples described in a patent granted to Google today at the USPTO:

Systems and methods for detecting hidden text and hidden links
Invented by Fritz Schneider and Matt Cutts
Assigned to Google
US Patent 8,392,823
Granted March 5, 2013
Filed: August 25, 2009

Abstract

A system detects hidden elements in a document that includes a group of elements. The system may identify each of the elements in the document and create a structural representation of the document.

The structural representation may provide an interconnection of the group of elements in the document. The system may also determine whether one or more elements of the group of elements are hidden based at least in part on locations or other attributes or properties of the one or more elements in the structural representation.

Unsurprisingly, one of the co-inventors behind the patent is Google distinguished engineer Matt Cutts, who has spent a good part of his long career at Google exploring the many different ways that people might try to spam the search engine, and find some solutions.

I really enjoy seeing patents like this one, which may not tell us something new, but provide a reference resource that other people, including clients, can be pointed towards. They sometimes fill in some gaps on how a search engine might do something, and provide some history.

For example, this patent is based upon an earlier one that was first filed in 2003, and it’s not hard to imagine people at the Google of that time trying to figure out how to automate a way to identify text and links that might be hidden by being the same color as the background they appear upon, or being obfuscated by cascading style sheets, or written in lettering so small that it appears to be a line rather than actual text.

The Guidelines above mention the use of a single small character in a paragraph being used as a link, and the patent mentions that extremely small (1 pixel X 1 pixel) images have also been used as hidden links on pages.

As the patent also notes, CSS allows webmasters to mark a block of text as hidden, or to position it outside of visible areas of a page. Java script can also be used to hide text, and to modify documents to replace text.

Part of the process behind identifying hidden text or links on a page may involve analyzing the HTML structure of a page and its elements, such as divisions or section, headings, paragraphs, images, lists, and others. It looks at a Document Object Model (DOM) of pages to learn things about those different elements, their sizes, positions, layer orders, colors, visibility, and more.

The patent provides a few different examples of when hidden text might be found on a page, such as in the following:

In this example, server 120 may detect that the webmaster has overridden the value of the <h2> tag. Normally, the “h2″ tag is a heading size, in which H1 is very large, H2 is a little smaller, H3 is smaller still, etc. Here, the webmaster has used CSS to override the value of h2 to mean “for all text in the H2 section, make the text color almost completely black, and make the height of the font be about one pixel high.”

A viewer of this document would not see the text because it is so small, but a search engine may determine that the text is relatively important because of the H2 heading label. In this situation, server 120 may determine that the text in the H2 section is very small, which can indicate that the webmaster is attempting to hide the text in this section.

Conclusion

There are some times when designers use hidden text because they want to use a font on a page that isn’t a standard system font that might come with Windows or Apple or Linux computers, and the page won’t render the way they want. Google’s John Mueller has noted in the past on Google’s Webmaster Help Forum that is probably not a problem:

As I noted above, one of the things that I really appreciate about this patent is that it provides another place to point people to when discussing things like hidden text and links other than just Google’s help pages on the topic. It also puts the problem in the framework of a business that is trying to address a challenge rather than a web institution laying out a guideline that it expects people to follow.

14 Tips For 3rd-Party Prior Art Submissions

Law360, New York (August 20, 2012, 1:04 PM ET) — The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office recently issued the final rules on third-party prior art submissions at 77 F.R. 42150 (2012). Previously, third-party submissions of prior art in a patent application were limited to a two-month window after a patent application was published. But the final rules, enacted as part of the recent America Invents Act legislation, expand this time window.

  1. Timing:  For most patent applications, a third-party prior art submission can now be filed before the first Office Action is mailed. In cases where the USPTO examines a patent application quickly, such submissions can be filed within six months of publication. The USPTO will not consider any submissions after the notice of allowance.
  2. Effective Date: These submissions can be filed starting Sept. 16, 2012. The submissions may be filed in any pending application.
  3. Requirements: These submissions may be done anonymously and can be submitted electronically. The submissions must include:
    1. (1) a list identifying the items being submitted; (2) a concisedescription of the relevance of each item listed; (3) a legible copy of each non-U.S. patent document listed; (4) an English translation of any non-English language item listed; (5) a statement that the submission complies with the statutory provision; and (6) the required fee ($0 if fewer than three-documents submitted for a first submission, $180 otherwise). The submissions will be screened for these requirements and if not compliant, the submission will not be entered in the application. The third party is not required to serve the applicant with a copy of the submission.
  4. Results: The examiner is required to consider compliant third-party submissions in preparation for the next Office Action. The documents in the submission will be listed on the face of the issued patent, if considered by the examiner.
  5. Strategies: When preparing third-party prior art submissions, keep the following practice tips in mind.
  6. Quality Art: The best submissions will contain on-point, relevant prior art. Examiners will likely not review submissions containing nonrelevant or cumulative prior art. So, unlike the typical practice of citing prior art in an Information Disclosure Statement, it is helpful to review the prior art and make a judgment call on the relevance before submitting it.
  7. Be Concise: The explanation of the relevance of each item should contain only enough information to point the examiner to the pertinent disclosure in the prior art. Additional explanations will not only waste time and costs, but will most likely be ignored by the examiner.
  8. Submit Electronically: The EFS-WEB system will be modified to allow submissions to be filed electronically. Indeed, the EFS-WEB system will be modified to contain a specific category under which these submissions must be submitted, else they will be deemed non compliant. In the event any submission is seemed non-compliant by the USPTO division created to screen them, the third party will be notified electronically if an email address is provided.
  9. Limited Submissions: Each submission is limited to 10 items of prior art. Multiple submissions (each of up to 10 items) can be made, as long as a fee is paid for each submission. So cumulative prior art is best avoided for cost reasons. It also makes for a less concise submission.
  10. Explaining Known Art: Rather than submitting new prior art, a third party may re-submit existing prior art of record in the file, along with an explanation of additional information in that prior art. In most instances, that additional information might explain a point of view not considered by the examiner. As well, this additional information might point to parts of the prior art not discussed in any rejection and reply.
  11. Scope: The submission can be especially useful for limiting and defining the scope of the claims. If properly presented, the submission can explain the prior art in such a manner that regardless of whether that prior art reference is relied on by the examiner, the disclosure in the prior art can be used when construing the claims.
  12. Other Questions of Patentability:  The submission can include any published document relevant to the examination of the application. In other words, the submission need not be restricted to merely issues of novelty and obviousness. Accordingly, if a published document (which would arguably include a court decision) has bearing on issues that can be raised under 35 U.S.C. § 101 or 35 U.S.C. § 112, it can — and should be — submitted to bring such issues to the attention of the examiner.
  13. Applicant Submissions: If third-party submissions containing prior art are deemed non-compliant, they are not supposed to be entered into the record. But if an applicant is somehow made aware of non-compliant submissions, that applicant should submit that prior art via an Information Disclosure Statement   to avoid any claim of inequitable conduct during litigation.
  14. Competitive Monitoring:  These third-party prior art submissions will require increased monitoring programs of competitors’ published applications so that they can be submitted timely and effectively. So factor the additional resources needed for this competitive monitoring into your management programs.

 

 

 

Third Party Prior Art Submissions and Post-Grant Reviews

Monday Dec 17, 2012
A Status Update on Use of Third Party Prior Art Submissions and Post-Grant Reviews

Today marks three months since some of the key new mechanisms of the AIA went into effect.   A good opportunity to report on the uptake for two sections — submissions to the PTAB, and third party prior art submissions. Given the critical mandate of the AIA to empower our stakeholder community to play an active role in assisting the USPTO in its ongoing commitment to patent quality, initial usage of the applicable new provisions is worth reporting, to say the least.

To put the lead first, we’re encouraged by the third party submissions and PTAB filings we’re seeing under the new rules, to date.

We’ve received 88 PTAB submissions, 73 for inter partes reviews and 15 for covered business method reviews. We’re on our way for meeting our FY 13 expectations, and our PTAB Chief Judge James Smith puts it well when he says “momentum is building.”

We’ve received 270 prior-art submissions from third parties, also in line with expectations. The leading art group receiving submissions? TC 3700, which includes many software-related inventions such as those found in electronic gaming devices and medical equipment. And when looking at the spread of submissions as a whole, it’s important to note that there are not a lot of classifications untouched. With many technologies being represented, as opposed to just one or two, we’re seeing that the AIA is indeed supporting the patent system broadly.

So what do we learn from these numbers? First, they demonstrate that the public finds valuable the new ways to interact with the USPTO. Second, they will contribute quickly to improved patent quality. With the PTAB proceedings, we will see valid patents upheld while addressing those that may require correction. With prior art submissions, examiners will be able to consider public submissions and ensure high quality work during the review process.

We’ll continue to monitor PTAB and prior-art submissions. The numbers suggest we’ve got some great new tools at our collective disposal.

Posted at 02:56PM Dec 17, 2012 in patents  |

Comments:

Are submissions truly limited to “prior art” as the title of your blog entry suggests? I thought any information of potential relevance to patentability could be submitted. Do any of the third-party submissions thus filed include information that is not prior art?Posted by Pat Rules on December 17, 2012 at 09:38 PM EST #

I am aware of at least one submission in which a non-prior art reference (Wikipedia article) was found acceptable for a third party prior art submission. However, that may have been an error. Moreover, users should be aware at least regarding third party prior art submissions that “concise statements” had better not be too concise or the entire submission will be denied entry of record. The concise statement for each submitted reference should expressly identify at least one claim and at least one specific element or step of the claim to which the reference is asserted to relevant. The clerk responsible for initially reviewing the submission for acceptibility will not refer to the application claims. Even those references whose relevance to the claims may be apparent on their face to anyone who has read the claims, can be deemed to have failed to comply with the concise statement requirement and the entire submission, including other prior art references, most clearly relevant and properly supported by the concise statement, will be ignored. There is a qualitative requirement to the statements that is NOT disclosed in the PTO filing instructions or the rules themselves.Posted by John Jamieson on December 18, 2012 at 03:20 PM EST