About Angelo Gentile

A marketing communications writer for Proto Labs, Angelo puts together our monthly Eye on Innovation post among other regular blog features. He has previously worked as an automotive editor, business journalist, magazine editor, and corporate communications professional.

Lidar Technology Drives Next Generation of Autonomous Cars

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT
Self-driving cars keep rolling closer to the mainstream.

For example, Ford plans to launch an autonomous vehicle by 2021, and is investing $1 billion in the startup Argo AI to make it happen, according to Marketplace Tech.

As a supplier of parts to companies developing self-driving cars, we’re interested in advances in this growing segment within the larger automotive industry.

Roof-mounted optical systems are used for self-driving cars and for advanced driver assistance systems. Photo: Wall Street Journal

One of those advances is lidar, a laser-based sensing technology, which is emerging as central to the development of the next generation of self-driving cars.

The optical technology’s name—lidar—stands for “light detection and ranging.” As Optics.org recently explained, lidar is analogous to radar but relies on infrared light instead of radio waves.

Lidar technology units are showing up mounted on the roofs of both experimental self-driving cars being developed by Google and others, and on cars with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which are being tested by Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and other OEMs. Continue reading

4 Trends Light Up Photonics, Optics Show

EYE ON INNOVATION
More than 23,000 engineers, industrial designers, scientists, senior executives, and entrepreneurs from around the globe gathered this week at San Francisco’s Moscone Center for Photonics West, which is the world’s largest optics and photonics conference.

The event, sponsored and coordinated by SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics, was actually three conferences in one: BIOS, Bio-Optics and Biophotonics; LASE, Laser Sources and Lasers for Manufacturing; and OPTO, Optoelectronic Materials and Devices.

More than 23,000 attended Photonics West this week in San Francisco.

The event included nearly 5,000 presentations, workshops, panel discussions, and seminars over six days and featured more than 1,300 exhibitors, including Proto Labs.

Among a staggering range of subjects explored at the conference, four hot topics that were especially creating a buzz included advice for startup companies, the exploding virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) market, emerging automotive optic applications—especially for autonomous vehicles, and the continued promise of 3D printing. Continue reading

A New Spin on Folding Bikes

CASE STUDY

A Toronto-based startup bike maker recently turned to Proto Labs for machining parts for titanium prototypes for an innovative fold-up bike concept that will launch to a worldwide market later this year.

Folding-bike models haven’t really changed much over the years. Most have small wheels, are heavy and awkward to use, and, ironically, don’t actually fold up that small.

Nearly four years ago, Helix Bikes set out to create a folding bike that is lightweight, durable, rides and feels like a full-size bike, has larger wheels, is safe and easy to use, and folds into a truly small, portable size—a bike that can be stored under your desk, taken on the subway, stowed in the trunk of your car, or packed in a suitcase.

Proto Labs provided machined titanium parts for prototypes for Helix Bikes’ folding-bike models, which will launch to a worldwide market later this year.

A wildly successful 2015 Kickstarter campaign pledged more than $2.2 million to help Helix with additional funding, which “gave us the ability to take the design to the next level—we really pulled out all of the stops,” said Peter Boutakis, founder of Helix Bikes.

Helix eventually turned to Proto Labs for machined titanium parts for Helix’s prototypes, swiftly moving from submitted CAD models to bike prototypes within weeks.

The Helix bike folds for easy storage.

Boutakis gives Proto Labs high marks.

“Both [Proto Labs’] quoting and analysis were amazing. It’s incredible that something as complex as a one-off custom machined part can be quoted so quickly and at such a reasonable price…we went from CAD model to riding prototype in about three weeks…Without a resource like Proto Labs, we would be months behind with fewer iterations and the result would have been a less polished product.”
READ FULL CASE STUDY

Past Cool Idea! Award Winner Launches New PocketLab Devices

For startup companies, a key measure of success is securing funding. Garnering a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, for instance, and $114,000 in Kickstarter funds, are awfully nice merit badges. Plus, the funding itself is crucial, of course, in bringing a company’s product to market.

The original PocketLab platform and device, pictured, has found early success, and two new devices are coming soon: PocketLab Voyager and PocketLab Weather.

Indeed, those funds last year helped California-based startup Myriad Sensors, Inc., launch the PocketLab platform and device, which has found early success, enough so to move forward with the launch of two new PocketLab devices and a second Kickstarter campaign. More on those in a second.

Myriad Sensors was also a 2015 recipient of the Cool Idea! Award from Proto Labs, which provided prototyping and low-volume production services to the company for the initial PocketLab device.

Clifton Roozeboom, PocketLab inventor, and founder and CEO of Myriad Sensors, points to the Cool Idea! Award as a catalyst to the initial launch and success of PocketLab, which is now used by tens of thousands in 45 countries, who are tapping PocketLab for maker projects and science experiments.

The handheld device uses a wireless sensor and software platform to measure a number of different data fields that are then transmitted back to a computer or smartphone for analysis. It is relatively inexpensive (around $100) and is especially well-suited for students, teachers, and professors working on science projects in need of solid analytical data. Continue reading

Med Device Conference to Showcase Advancements

EYE ON INNOVATION

Innovation drives successful companies, and med device and med tech firms are no exceptions. At Proto Labs, we’re proud to be a supplier for a number of these innovative companies and help them swiftly move medical and scientific advancements to the marketplace.

Proto Labs staffers Jenna Nyman, left, and Peter Douglass, right, met with industry professionals at last month’s Autodesk University conference in Las Vegas. We’ll be at BIOMEDevice next week in San Jose.

This med tech innovation will be on display next week (Dec. 7 and 8) at BIOMEDevice at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California. We’ll be there, too, in booth #707. We invite you to swing by our booth and say hello.

The conference will bring together nearly 3,000 industry professionals and more than 300 med tech suppliers. Keynotes, workshops, and other sessions will explore a stunning variety of topics: cybernetic technology, biocompatibility testing, bio-absorbable polymers, Industrial Internet of Things, mobile health, FDA regulations, wireless medical devices, intellectual property regarding med device development, and more.

Proto Labs is providing custom-machined aluminum-joint housings for this powered exoskeleton.

We look forward to participating in this event, given that product developers at med tech companies turn to our prototyping and quick-turn production services to reduce design risk, accelerate development, and launch new products in less time.

A couple of recent examples of our med-related work include projects with Wicab, Inc., a Wisconsin company that’s developing and launching wearable technology for the blind; and the University of Houston, which is developing a powered exoskeleton (see prototype, pictured) that may help paraplegics walk again.

See you in San Jose!