Friday TechMunch: Droning on About 3D printing

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No…actually, it’s another drone

Drones… they seem to be everywhere lately. Over the last year we’ve seen an insurgence of drone announcements, including the Amazon delivery drones (swiftly followed by the ingenious O.W.L.S campaign issued by Waterstones), and this week two new drone announcements, coincidently both related to repairs. The first announcement comes via EasyJet, which has announced plans to introduce unmanned drones to inspect its fleet of aircraft. The drones will then report back to a team of engineers on any damage or items requiring further inspection from the team. Is this just a PR stunt to demonstrate EasyJet’s investment in R&D and to position it as an innovative technology leader? The company insists not and says that by introducing this drone technology, as early as next year, the team of engineers will be able to reach all nooks and crannies while also reducing the amount of time needed to perform checks, due to the drone’s high levels of efficiency and accuracy.

The second comes from a dream team of roboticists (yes, they exist) at Imperial College London’s Aerial Robotics Laboratory. They have developed a drone that 3D-prints a gluey substance which allows it to patch up any areas or pick up any hazardous materials – for example, nuclear waste. While the drone is still in its early stages of development, the team is eventually planning on creating an independent model of the drone that will be fitted with solar panels and able to build its own landing platforms to recharge.

So the next time you hear a little buzz in the air and think you saw something whizz by, don’t get a fright…it may just be a drone on its way to work.

Make-up shake-up

In other techy news, for those geek-chic fashionistas among you, there is a new 3D printer on the market that lets you choose any colour that you like the look of online, and print your own make-up. The new Mink 3D printer can print anything, from lip gloss to eye shadow, and should be on the market by the end of the year.

Is 3D the future?

We are hearing about 3D printing technology entering more and more industries, with a variety of unusual uses that seem like something from a sci-fi movie. For example, 3D printing low cost bionic hands for amputees, or printing human tissue. The inventor of 3D printing himself, Charles Hull, this week warned that some of the some of the things we are hearing about 3D printing gets “over-enthused”.  He said “most of the stuff they talk about will happen someday—eventually. But there’s the here-and-now and the near-term future, where a lot of that stuff is definitely hype and won’t happen”.

However, some 3D printing inventions are very real and really quite frightening. A recurring news item is the use of the technology to make weapons. A man was arrested in Japan this week for possessing 3D printed guns.

This is an incredibly interesting space at the moment – we’re seeing 3D printing entering into a vast array of industries, from engineering, healthcare, cosmetics and firearms. It’s moving rapidly. How many of these 3D printing ideas, currently in their infancy, will come to fruition? As the technology becomes increasingly affordable, it is raising some interesting questions around regulation. Does the future hold 3D printed houses? Are cosmetics companies now doomed? Only time will tell…

This week’s TechMunch was brought to you by Francesca and Christina