This could be the brand that finally takes 3D printing to the masses

3D printing has, in many ways, been a smash hit technology. People around the world have used it for everything from prototyping to medical assistance, and there isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t see some clever new use for it.

But when it comes to finding 3D printers in our homes, the story is a little different. Last year, market analysts were warning that the technology could take another 5-10 years to make it into homes, and it is rare to find someone that has such a device outside of businesses.

However, that could change, with the launch of a suite of 3D printers from newcomers XYZprinting.

For one thing, they are a lot cheaper than many rivals, starting at only £299/$349, but have also been designed to be very simple and easy to start using, something many cheaper 3D printers have not prioritised.

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At the entry-level end of the range is the da Vinci Jr, which is the first 3D printer we’ve encountered that’s as easy to operate as a microwave.

XYZprinting has done away with the need to calibrate the machine, and even the biodegradable PLA filament self-loads once it has been clicked into place. It’s the kind of device you can see families buying to use with their kids, and would probably make an awesome source of rainy day projects.

Other touches, such as the bright design that is reminiscent of the first iMacs and the cover that prevents tiny hands and dust from getting where it shouldn’t also help to make this highly accessible to non-techy users.

Appealing to the regular person is something a lot of 3D printer brands claim to do, but when you get to the detail, the majority don’t actually follow through.

By contrast, XYZprinting has gone to more effort than some might seem reasonable, providing an array of tutorials on everything from how to unbox the printer to how to work it, alongside a hefty library of free 3D models. There’s even an SD card in the box to transfer the files.

Provided it is well marketed, this device will serve as a kind of litmus test for 3D printing. If it fails to sell, then families really aren’t ready for 3D printers. But we will be surprised if that happens. xyz-printers-3

For those who consider themselves a bit more capable, there are also more complex models, which again have been priced low enough to make other brands a bit concerned.

For £599/$699 you can bag a da Vinci 1.1 Plus, which allows you to browse and print designs directly from the printer, or through a paired app that also lets you check on the progress of your print via a built-in camera, as long as you are on the same network.

The plus also lets you print with PLA, ABS or TPA filament, the latter of which produces flexible objects, making it perfect for jewellery, or – if you fancy – wellies.

The print quality is really very good on both, especially considering the price, which the company says is kept so low because all their r&d and manufacturing is done in-house.

Unlike pretty much every other 3D printing company, XYZ’s parent company has been making regular printers for brands such as HP for years, so they’re not exactly new at this kind of thing.

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Finally, the premium model, Nobel 1.1, is the product people looking to do serious printing will want. Unlike a lot of printers it uses a method called stereolithography, which involves forming the print upside down out of liquid resin using a UV laser beam.

This means it can print objects of more-or-less any shape, including with protruding sections at angles the typical layering method cannot achieve. The resulting detail is really impressive, rivalling what you’d get if you paid thousands for a professional print shop’s work.

This model is £1,500 in the UK, but even with the £100/kilo resin added, it works out a lot cheaper than paying someone else to print things for you. Plus when its running the printer itself looks like it’s been borrowed from several decades in the future, which is always a plus in our book.

With all three models launched in the UK later this month, and coming to the US later this year, 2015 really could be the year home printing takes off.

In the face of a collapsing market, Acer goes once more unto the smartwatch breach

Despite the fact that smartwatches are generally seeing their sales plummet, Acer has decided to release a new product into the collapsing market. Taking “an elegant approach to fitness”, the Leap Ware smartwatch seems to be fairly standard fare, using an array of fitness-tracking sensors in combination with an app to keep tabs on all of the various statistics the sensors provide.

“As the pace of modern lifestyles become ever more hectic, people demand technology that can keep them on track and motivated to pursue their goals,” said MH Wang, general manager of Smart Device Products in Acer’s IT Products Business.

“The new Acer Leap Ware is designed to act as a virtual coach to help people go, track, and share, sending them reminders and alerts when they need them the most.”

Acer obviously has to promote its product but the above statement seems somewhat bizarrely unaware of the fact that not only is the company offering pretty much the exact same thing every other smartwatch does, but is are doing so in a market that is dying a fairly nasty death. With big names like Pebble going under, and Fitbit’s stock having been on a steady decline, the persistence in putting out new products is a bold move.

In October 2016, the BBC wrote about a new report by market analysts IDC that showed amartwatch shipments declined by 51.6% year-on-year. The Apple Watch held its place as the market leader, but shipped only a quarter of the units it had sold in the same period (July-September) of 2015. And of the five leading brands, only Garmin showed growth with that growth still being underpinned by low figures.

“It has become evident that, at present, smartwatches are not for everyone,” said Jitesh Ubrani from IDC. “Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity.”

Images courtesy of Acer

It was pointed out by experts that the period examined was before new versions were released, but there is still a clear lack in significant consumer appetite. The market has largely survived off the fitness aspects, with other products largely falling by the wayside as the novelty wears off. And Acer itself hasn’t exactly been the premium forerunner.

The Leap Ware watch certainly seems a perfectly fine entry into the marketplace. It’s got “diverse fitness tracking features thanks to an array of sensors with advanced algorithms” and supposedly has a battery life of three to five days so you don’t miss out on logging those all-important stats. My watch only tells the time and date. It also has a battery life of ten years.

There is a reasonable chance that initial sales for the Leap Ware may be strong, being all shiny and new as it is. There’s also a very good chance they will quickly plummet as Acer discovers what consumers are desperately trying to tell them: people don’t want smartwatches anymore.

For more information and discussion of the collapse of wearable technology, check out the latest issue of Factor magazine.

Premature lambs kept alive in artificial wombs

Extremely premature lambs have been kept alive in a artificial womb. The fluid-filled plastic bag reproduces the environment of the womb and replaces the function of the placenta. The scientists responsible believe the device could be used for premature babies within the next three years.

Source: New Scientist

British engineer is using recycled plastic to build stronger roads

British engineer Toby McCartney has devised an innovative process that replaces much of the crude oil-based asphalt in pavement with pellets of plastic, made from recyclable bottles. The result is a street that’s 60% stronger than traditional roads, ten times longer-lasting as well as the obvious environmental benefits.

Source: Curbed

Elon Musk’s giant tunnel boring machine arrives at SpaceX

In February, Musk was looking at purchasing a used Herrenknecht boring machine: about 26 feet in diameter, about 400 feet long, and weighing about 1,200 tons. It’s not clear if this is the same machine, but one just arrived at SpaceX’s headquarters and can now be found in the parking lot.

Source: Electrek

Surgeon claims brain transplants are just three years away

A pioneering Italian surgeon has claimed people who have had their brains cryogenically frozen could be 'woken up' within three years. The claim is being made by professor Sergio Canavero who also claims he can carry out the first human head transplant within 10 months before he begins trials on brain transplants.

Source: The Telegraph

Facebook 'observed propaganda efforts' by governments

Facebook has revealed in a new report that it observed attempts to spread propaganda on its site, apparently orchestrated by governments or organised parties. The firm has seen "false news, disinformation, or networks of fake accounts aimed at manipulating public opinion", it said.

Source: BBC

Ex-head of Google China predicts AI will take half of all jobs in a decade

The ex-head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, has said that AI will be bigger than all previous tech innovations put together. "These are things that are superhuman, and we think this will be in every industry, will probably replace 50% of human jobs, create a huge amount of wealth for mankind and wipe out poverty," said Lee.

Source: CNBC