Toronto's reference library gets a makerspace


Toronto's Metro Reference Library has unveiled its new makerspace, which sports 3D printer and scanners, Arduino and Raspberry Pi kits, and digital AV production gear. They've also lured the Toronto Mini-Maker Faire into relocating to their space. The library's makerspace will over classes and workshops on programming, hardware hacking, and repairing your electronics. It's a great all-ages/all-comers complement to Toronto's existing makerspaces, including Hacklab, Site3, and Makerkids.

The location couldn't be any better, either. I love Metro Ref. When I was 14, I dropped out of high-school without telling my parents and started taking the subway down to Yonge and Bloor every day, spending all day at the reference library, spelunking in the shelves, subject indices and (especially) the newspaper microfilm, which was amazing. And I've always loved the idea of makerspaces in libraries: as I wrote during last year's Freedom to Read week, "We need to master computers — to master the systems of information, so that we can master information itself. That's where makers come in."

In a brief interview with Torontist, Toronto City Librarian Jane Pyper explains why the library's opened a makerspace:

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Key 3D printing patent expired yesterday


Yesterday marked the expiry of US Patent 5597589, "Apparatus for producing parts by selective sintering." This is one of the core patents in the 3D printing world -- the patent that allows 3D printer companies to charge more for fine nylon powder than Michelin-starred restaurants charge for filet mignon. The high cost of consumables in 3D printing has been a major barrier to innovation in the field -- selective laser sintering produces a fine finish that the patent-free fused deposition modeling technique used in Reprap-style printers can't match -- and now the brakes are coming off.

However, there are still lots of patents (including some genuinely terrible ones) in the 3D printing world, so the expiry of 5597589 doesn't necessarily mean that we'll see a flood of cheap printers and cheaper feedstock -- given the murkiness of the overlapping patent claims and the expense of litigating each one of them, radical new entrants into the field are still facing a lot of risk that has nothing to do with making great products at a fair price.

In a good piece on 3D Print, Eddie Krassenstein speculates about the scary supplementary laser-sintering patents lurking in the wings, pointing out that Stratasys (the major competitor of 3D Systems, who owned 5597589) didn't design their entry-lever printers to use SLS, even though they knew that the patent would be expiring in early 2014. Krassenstein suggests that this means that Stratasys knows about some other gnarly and deadly patent that would torpedo them if they went SLS.

But I'm a lot less convinced than Krassenstein is about the potential of a competitor taking the risky step of making a SLS printer that sticks to the claims in 5597589. Virtually every technical idea is covered by a stupid, overbroad patent, and yet people start businesses every day that open them to legal liability from a troll or an entrenched incumbent. If the potential for a patent suit was, in itself, a sufficient deterrent to raising capital and starting a business, we wouldn't see any startups. And a company that sticks to the claims in 5597589 has a powerful weapon in any patent suit: the USPTO granted 5597589 20 years ago, and so if they granted overlapping patents since, they were manifestly in error, a matter that is relatively (in patent terms, anyway) easy to prove.

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3D printed fingernails

NYC-based artist duo The Laser Girls produced a set of 3D printed artificial fingernails they call Sour Razz. They're made of dyed nylon.

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Building a fully open, transparent laptop


Bunnie Huang is a virtuoso in hardware engineering, and a hero of the open source hardware movement. In this Make post, he documents how he and Sean "xobs" Cross prototyped a laptop that was open and transparent to a very great degree, secure against all attacks short of dopant-level hardware trojans. The post -- and the photos of the gloriously fuggly laptop, which they dubbed "the Novena Project" -- is part requirements document, part philosophical statement, and part engineering text. I love Bunnie's reasoning for wanting an amazing, open laptop: he spends the majority of his waking hours with it, so he wants it to be as amazing as possible, and it's worth him spending the time and money to get there. I also love the requirements he sets out for genuine "openness" (I put some of these after the jump, below). Most of all, I love how this thing looks: rough-hewn, gloriously unfinished with its 3D printed panels, and as bursting with potential as the Colossus.

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Medical makers: 3D printed prostheses, junkbot operating theaters, and networked mutual aid


In Paging Dr. MacGyver, Julian Smith profiles a wide range of medical makers, from patients to carers to doctors, each of whom has homebrewed some important piece of medical or therapeutic equipment. From DIY prosthetic limbs to the wonderful Dr Oluyombo Awojobi, whose rural Nigerian clinic is graced with a collection of his brilliant improvised devices built from scrap, Smith makes the case for a networked world where medical needs, ingenuity, and a spirit of mutual aid and collaboration are offering new opportunities for making each other healthy.

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Wearable planters: 3D printed translucent jewelry, with plants!


Etsy seller Wearableplanter has a wide range of 3D printed planters: rings, jewelry -- even bicycle vases! They're intended for use with succulents, small flowers, and sprouts. They're watertight and translucent, and you can see the roots through the material.

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Edible sugar 3D printer at CES

3D Systems' display at this year's CES included the ChefJet 3D printer, whose output medium is flavored (chocolate, vanilla, mint, sour apple, cherry and watermelon) sugar (it's softened with water and set with alcohol). The monochrome version is less than $5,000, and a full-color version will ship later this year at less than $10K. It's marketed at the food industry, and comes with simple modelling software. The technology's come a long way since the Evil Mad Scientists came up with the CandyFab five years ago. (via Singlarity Hub)

Complain about overpriced plastic dingus and a stranger will model a free 3D printable version


Back in April, a redditor complained that a simple plastic cable-comb (used to bundle cables) was too expensive at $45. Later that day, WillySF modelled a printable cable comb and linked to the shape files (1, 2). It's a bit of a futuristic moment, no?

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3D printer that draws pictures in jello shooters

Jeroen Domburg's friend was having a 25th birthday party at which jello shooters were to be served. Jeroen decided to liven these up by creating a 3D printer that inserted a needle into each shot and injected an ink made from banana liquor, food colouring and corn starch in 3D patterns like cubes and spirals. Even cooler: the main body of the electronics in the printer were harvested from superannuated DVD and CD drives, and the firmware for the printer is free software (TGZ) for your pleasure.

Jello 3d printer

3D-printable holiday fun-stuff in Thingiverse


Makerbot is celebrating Christmas with a set of printable Thingiverse objects of great delightfulness, including today's treat: a 3D printed snowball maker.

Countdown

3D printer in Minecraft

Derryl Murphy sez, "My son is home sick and found this video showing a 3D printer ItsJustJumby created for working inside the world of Minecraft. The engineering is way beyond the two of us, but we both still find it amazing and fascinating."

I could watch this all day. The description's actually very clear, and extremely clever. Great engineering smarts on display.

3D Printer With 16 Colors - Minecraft Invention (Thanks, Derryl!)

Dan Hillier piece as a 3D print


We're big fans of Dan Hillier's work around here -- the iconic, instantly recognizable grotesque Victorian collages. Now he's branched out into 3D printing. He writes: "I recently collaborated with a 3D printing design consultancy called Modla, for The Other Art Fair. Having met with their Creative Director, Jon Fidler, we worked on the creation of a 3D version of my work, 'Nothing Matters'. The piece is now available in a limited edition of 20." (Thanks, Dan!)

Kinematics: 4D printing for foldable, flexible forms

Jessica sez, "Kinematics is a system for 4D printing that creates complex, foldable forms composed of articulated modules. The system provides a way to turn any three-dimensional shape into a flexible structure using 3D printing. Kinematics combines computational geometry techniques with rigid body physics and customization. Practically, Kinematics allows us to take large objects and compress them down for 3D printing through simulation. It also enables the production of intricately patterned wearables that conform flexibly to the body."

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Scientists study fossils without having to remove them from rock

Here you can see a lump of rock with embedded fossils of bird bones trapped in the matrix. Below the rock are 3D printed models of those same fossils, created by paleontologist Brett Nachman. Other scientists captured the fossils inside the rock using CT scans that can see through the stone with the help of x-rays.

Last year, journalist Charles Choi wrote about the massive backlog of fossils in storage at most museums and suggested the possibility of using this kind of technology to study fossils that might not otherwise ever be removed from the hard matrix. Now, Charles is writing about people like Nachman who are doing just that — using technology to get at fossils that are too labor intensive to study.

Price-drop for Makies, design-it-yourself 3D-printed dolls


Makies, the 3D-printed toy company that lets you design your own poseable action doll, has just announced a major price-drop, to £69 (down from £99), just in time for the hols! Makies is based in east London, and ships worldwide.

(Disclosure: I'm extremely proud to be married to Alice Taylor, the founder and CEO of MakieLab)