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Living in the Future: June 10, 2013

This week: 3D printer of complicated shapes, a wind turbine that makes its own wind, and an omni-directional virtual reality treadmill!

3D Printers are still new to most people, but they’ve been particularly difficult to use, given that they build up layers, relying on gravity to hold the structure in place. A new 3D printer, called Mataerial, uses strands that harden quickly in exposure to the air to build up frameworks in any orientation, ignoring the usual gravity-limited requirements. Additionally, the strands can be colored on the fly, using a CYMK (ink) based system, and the width of the strands is also dynamically adjustable. The process is deliberate – it can’t print faster than the hardening speed of the material – but offers the ability to make 3D curves and splines in ways that other 3D printers can’t.

It’s long been a problem with wind turbines – they only generate electricity when the wind blows. For one Maryland-based company, this was not a problem, but a challenge. Solar Wind Energy’s new downdraft tower is designed to use dynamically controlled moisture levels in a large tower in the desert to generate their own wind. The tower, proposed at 2,250 feet tall, will be placed in the Arizona desert, and has the capacity to generate 1.25 gigawatt hours – more than many nuclear power plants – for less than a 14th of the cost. The drier the day, the more energy can be produced from the tower.

Virtual Reality (VR) has been a hope for many through the ages, and is a definite Sci-Fi trope. Now, that trope is closer to reality, with the combination of the Oculus Rift VR goggles, and the Omni Gaming Treadmill. We’ve spoken about the Oculus Rift before, but the Omni Gaming Treadmill offers VR explorers of the future the ability to walk in any direction around a concave treadmill, being tracked by a Kinect (or Kinect-like) device. That translates into the game as a walking or running speed – combined with a wireless controller for actions within the game, this is the most realistic VR combination yet available. The Kickstarter campaign for the Omni was fully funded within 2 days, and is now funded several times over. The Omni does require special shoes to grip the treadmill surface, but is a giant step forward for VR tech.