Tanks of Gel Make 3-D Printing Fast and Easy

Time is a 3-D printer’s worst enemy. The machines work by piping out the printed object's material in thin layers, and have to wait for each layer to dry before adding the next one. If they didn't have to wait for the material to dry, a printer could construct items like furniture in a matter of minutes instead of hours. A team at MIT believes they found a way around this issue using giant tanks of gel.

As Co.Design reports, a new technique called Rapid Liquid Printing doesn’t require any layering. Instead, a needle injects the material (either liquified rubber, foam, or plastic) directly into the gel. The gel supports the hot liquid so the machine is able to move on with the rest of the design without waiting for the structure to harden.

MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab developed the technology after they were approached by the office furniture company Steelcase last year. Yuka Hiyoshi, a senior industrial designer for Steelcase, compared the method they landed on to “calligraphy or drawing” when speaking to Co.Design.

The Self Assembly Lab isn’t the first group to come up with a rapid 3-D printing process. The continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) method from Carbon3D uses oxygen and UV light to liquify and harden materials instantaneously. But while that technology is good for printing small, detailed objects in a few minutes, MIT’s printer is ideal printing larger items in the same time frame.

Rapid Liquid Printing works with any item that fits in a vat. Furniture for Steelcase, specifically tops for coffee tables, has been the first big experiment for the printers. Results have been promising, but the company doesn’t plan to integrate the technology into its commercial products just yet. Manufacturing car and plane parts is another possible application for the machine.

[h/t Co.Design]

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

iStock.com/Techin24
iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

Uber Passengers Can Now Shush Their Drivers with a Mute Button

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Even friendly and sociable people don't always feel like talking, especially if it's late, they're sad, or they're in the middle of an arduous trip. For customers of the ride-sharing service app Uber, there's now a way to terminate conversation with drivers. You simply push a button on your phone and request they stop talking.

This slightly dystopian feature is part of Uber Black, the app's premium interface for people looking for a ride in a luxury vehicle and drivers with top satisfaction ratings. If a passenger isn't in the mood for chatting, hitting "quiet preferred" on the app will notify the driver to stop speaking. They can also opt for "happy to chat" if they care to engage in conversation. It's part of a bundle of features that also allows users to ask for help with their luggage, request more time to get to the vehicle, or adjust the temperature inside the car.

The button is an attempt by Uber to address some of the ambiguity surrounding the relationship between driver and passenger for the service, which allows both parties to rate the other on the overall experience. Some passengers have felt that being uninterested in speaking to their driver might lead to a lower score.

The quiet button might eventually be rolled out to encompass all of Uber's platforms. If the idea of a human mute button is uncomfortable, passengers can also choose "no preference" and let conversation—or the lack of it—takes its natural course.

[h/t Vox]

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