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: Smart Glasses For Cyclists, Runners Sprint Beyond Funding Goal

A consumer version of innovative eyewear for cyclists and runners, originally created for U.S. Special Forces, is setting a breakaway funding pace on Indiegogo, the global crowdfunding site.

Ctrl, a Dutch-subsidiary of Kent, Ohio-based AlphaMicron, has been seeking funding via Indiegogo to develop Ctrl One, a pair of sleek cycling and running “smart glasses” that can change tint from dark to transparent in a fraction of a second, automatically adapting to surrounding lighting conditions.

And just how popular are these glasses on Indiegogo? As of the end of August, $389,982 in pre-sales funding had been raised. That surpasses an initial modest funding goal of $20,000. Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Turning the Tables on Turntables

The resurgence of vinyl records has been well documented.

The biggest music industry comeback story is the soaring popularity of vinyl records, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. Nearly 8 million records were sold in 2014 in the United States, up 49 percent from the previous year. Indie-rock fans especially are buying records in greater numbers, attracted to the perceived superior sound quality of vinyl, the ritual of putting needle to groove and the physical connection to album art that is sometimes lost in the digital age.

One Chicago-based startup has turned the tables on record players by creating the Floating Record, a vertical turntable that sits on a simple, minimal block of wood that contains speakers and electrical components.

Gramovox, a consumer electronics company that, as its website says, “re-imagines vintage audio design with modern technology,” just closed the books on a $1.6 million Kickstarter campaign for this vertical record player. The Chicago Tribune reports that Gramovox is working with AssemTech as its assembly partner, and expects to deliver the turntables to market by December. Last year, Gramovox brought the Bluetooth Gramophone to market, a Bluetooth-enabled speaker that looks like an antique gramophone.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Converse, Nike Prove It’s Never Too Late to Innovate

Changing an icon can be risky business. Yet that’s just what Converse Inc., and its parent company Nike, are doing.

Boston-based Converse plans to release a new version of the classic Chuck Taylor shoe, or Chucks, which have been around since 1917. The new version will have more support and be lighter, using technology from design engineers at Nike.

The Chuck II, which arrives in stores next week, incorporates Lunarlon cushioning, which features a soft, yet resilient foam core that’s encased within a supportive foam carrier for lightweight, ultra-plush cushioning. Lunarlon foam, invented by Nike, is 30 percent lighter than traditional Phylon, which is normally Nike’s go-to midsole material. Lunarlon allows the force of impact to be more evenly distributed, which helps reduce painful pressure points on feet.

Simply stated, the Chuck II will be more comfortable, which may be a nod to aging baby boomers who love the counter-culture fashion statement of Converse shoes but are now seeking more comfort.

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Indiegogo’s Andrew Erlick Joins Judges Panel for Cool Idea! Award

Indiegogo’s Andrew Erlick.

We’re excited to announce that Indiegogo‘s Director of Hardware, Design & Technology, Andrew Erlick, has been added to the judges panel of Proto Labs’ Cool Idea! Award program. Erlick’s experience at Indiegogo (the largest global crowdfunding platform) and Quirky (a social product development company) should prove valuable as he helps identify and select innovative product ideas to receive the award.

The Cool Idea! Award program, now in its fifth year, was established to help product designers and engineers bring useful concepts to market. Since 2011, nearly $1 million in custom prototyping and low-volume production services have been provided to entrepreneurs developing new products in the United States and Europe.

The program runs year-round and today marks the start of the July/August submission period. Apply now at protolabs.com/cool-idea.

Read our full press release announcement here.