2013's Biggest Tech Moments

3-D Printing Expands in All Directions
ROBOY, a humanoid robot developed by the University of Zurich's Artificial Intelligence Lab, shakes hands with his human counterpart on June 21, 2013. By using 3D-printing technology, ROBOY was developed within only nine months. © Erik Tham/Corbis

Almost 30 years after its 1984 debut, 3-D printing is busting out all over. The intervening progress has seen the technology develop from a narrow, specialized manufacturing gimmick to a revolutionary $2.7-billion industry [sources: Leckart; PC Magazine]. To take two extreme examples, bioprinters today can run off organics ranging from food to human tissue, while plans published online for 3-D-printed guns pose a challenge to existing gun laws and enforcement [source: Leckart].

Today, people print simple robots, functional cameras, self-portrait action figures, musical instruments, phone cases, toys, sports equipment and bits and bobs for around the house [sources: Carmichael; Nosowitz]. Sure, right now the products might look like something assembled in Minecraft, but the technology continues to improve and should become cheaper as more people adopt it. Scanners, for example, continue to grow more affordable, accessible and portable. One example, Structure Sensor, clips to an iPad.

As 3-D printable electronics become more common, we could one day soon print our own tablets, phones and household gadgets. And as prices drop, the technology could revolutionize the making and distributing of life-saving devices like simple water filters or self-closing pit latrines. Our plastic-fantastic future begins today.

Author's Note: 2013's Biggest Tech Moments

Events in the tech world piled up with alarming speed as I wrote this article. For some technologies, the year felt like an incremental step forward, one of many in the years and decades spent under development; for others, it seemed like a blooming, booming bonanza. I can only hope I managed to catch the highlights as they flew through my butterfly net.

Robotic cars worried me, and proliferating cameras and sensors piqued my paranoia, but in the end the two techs that tantalized me most were 3-D printing and Google Glass. I'm interested to see if the latter takes off. On the one hand, augmented reality offers endless potential to alter our lives and our environments, right down to creating consensual reality. On the other, it might just be too soon for such a gadget to catch on. Maybe it will fail; maybe someone else will come up with a better alternative. Then again, there's always the middle option, the curse of the Bluetooth headset: damnation by association.

Related Articles


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