EYE ON INNOVATION: Travel Light with Silicone Drinkware

If you’re a camper or day hiker, you’re constantly on the lookout for ultra-light gear for the trail. Add these silicone drinking cups to your pack list.

Photo: Werd.com

They look just like glass, but are unbreakable, won’t weigh down your pack and, yes, they’re made out of silicone.

Portland, Ore.-based outdoor gear manufacturer and outfitter Snow Peak offers these safe, food-grade cups that are, as Werd.com comments on its website, quite versatile: “Hot tea, cold whiskey, they can handle it all.” These cups are available in various sizes, including a highball glass, stemless wine tumbler and rocks glass. Founded in 1958 by Japanese mountaineer Yukio Yamai, Snow Peak strives to, as its website states, “create products that inspire people to enjoy the outdoors, [seeking] harmony between people and nature.”

At Proto Labs, we’re familiar of course with silicone parts and products, because we offer our own quick-turn liquid silicone rubber (LSR) molding process, which can produce various durometers of standard, medical-grade and optically clear silicone parts and products, much like these drinking cups.

Price range for Snow Peak’s cups: $25 to $27.

Eye on Innovation is a weekly look at cool technology, products and scientific advancements that we’ve mined from crowdsourcing sites and other corners of the Internet.

EYE ON INNOVATION: Regrowing Damaged Nerves Using 3D Printing Technology

A national team of researchers has developed a 3D-printed guide or pathway that helps regrow complex injured or damaged nerves, and successfully tested the guide in rats.

Researchers say that this groundbreaking research holds the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease. The researchers are from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. The team’s study was published this month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Image courtesy of Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide or pathway implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Five Tech Trends of 2015

As 2015’s Q4 nears, a brief look at the year’s technology trends is in order. This list includes innovations or trends that have recently arrived or will soon, and is an amalgam sourced from Forbes, MIT Technology Review, CNET and others. In various ways, Proto Labs touches each of these trends.

Computing Everywhere
Most computing these days is in your pocket or purse — that is, in your smartphone. As Forbes reports, “smartphones will be used in new contexts and environments. Along with wearables, smartphones will offer connected screens in the workplace and in public. User experience will be key.”

Smartphones also play a prime role in the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). Along these lines, Proto Labs produces parts for companies serving this connectivity market. For example, Garageio, which is an app for smartphones that allows users to control and monitor their garage doors with their phones, is a past winner of our Cool Idea! Award.

A final note on smartphone use. Several news sources report that the majority of digital media consumption now takes place on mobile devices rather than desktop. Mobile usage as a whole — app and mobile web — totals more than 60 percent, versus less than 40 percent for desktop usage.

Smart Machines
This year, major brands such as Whirlpool, LG, GE and Samsung introduced their latest versions of smart home devices such as washing machines and refrigerators. Plus, we already have cars that help us park, navigate and stay in our lanes.

Proto Labs’ digitally connected manufacturing equipment is, in essence, a network of smart machines communicating with one another. This approach has helped us transform traditional manufacturing into an automated, digital enterprise.

CNET reports that smart machines will continue to evolve, and Forbes predicts that “the smart-machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.”

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Jewelbots Bring Bracelets Up To Code

Compared to a sleek Apple Watch or a sporty Fitbit, the Jewelbot charm bracelet looks rather primitive, says Wired Magazine. Basically, the bracelet, which is intended for tween and teen girls, is a semi-clear, plastic flower charm that slides onto a hair tie-like elastic bracelet.

But look beyond form to function on this one, says Wired, which calls the bracelet an example of “some truly fresh thinking about wearable technology.”

As Jewelbots’ creators contend, these technology-enhanced, programmable wristlets are “friendship bracelets for the iPhone era” that teach girls to code in a fun, engaging way. The charms talk to each other over Bluetooth, and using a Jewelbots smart-phone app, youngsters can program their charms to vibrate or light up when their friends are nearby.

The open-source software exposes users to the possibilities of coding in a fresh way. Using basic engineering logic, girls can program their Jewelbots “to do just about anything they — and their besties-turned-collaborators — dream up, opening their minds to STEM during an age when many lose interest,” according to the Jewelbots’ website.

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