All posts in “Technology”

3DHubs, once a community 3D printing service, is now sourcing all 3D prints internally

3D Hubs, like MakeXYZ, was a community-based 3D printing service that let anyone with a printer sell their prints online. Founded in the heyday of the 3D printing revolution, the service let thousands of makers gather a little cash for making and mailing prints on their home 3D printers.

Now, however, the company has moved to a model in which its high-end partners will be manufacturing plastic, metal, and injection molded parts for customers willing to pay extra for a professional print.

“Indeed, more focus on high end printers run by professional companies,” said founder Brian Garret. “So a smaller pool of manufacturing locations (still hundreds around the world), but with more control on standardized quality and repeatability. Our software takes care of the sourcing, so companies order with 3D Hubs directly.”

Not everyone is happy with the decision. 3DPrint.come editor Joris Peels saw the value in a solid, dedicated community of hobbyists in the 3D space. The decision to move away from hobbyist printers, wrote Peels, “has confused many.”

“The value of 3DHubs is in its community; the community gives it granular local presence and a barrier to entry. Now it is just like any 3D printing service upstart and will lose its community entirely. I’ve always liked 3DHubs, although I have been very skeptical of their Trends Report I like the company and what they’re doing. I liked the idealism coupled with business,” he wrote.

The community, for its part, is angry.

The move will happen on October 1 when all prints will be completed by Fulfilled by 3D Hubs partners, dedicated merchants who will offer “source parts for larger, high value engineering projects.” The company wrote that during the early hobbyist days the “platform at that time was very much free-form, with the goal of serving as many, mostly one-off, custom maker projects as possible.”

This slow movement from hobbyist 3D printing to professional parts manufacturer is not surprising or unexpected, but it is jarring. The 3D printing community is small, vociferous, and dedicated to the technology. In the early days, when 3D printers were rare, it was tempting to buy a mid-price printer and become a small, one-person shop online. Now, with the availability of commodity printers that cost less than some paper printers, the novelty and utility of a low-resolution print has fallen considerably.

3D printing never fulfilled its promise in the home and small office. A one-off print can save some of us a trip to the machine shop or music store but in practice home 3D printing has been a bust.

Like most open source technologies that went commercial, the dedicated zealots will complain and the established players will pivot into profitability. It ruffles feathers, to be sure, but that’s how these things work. To paraphrase the White Stripes, “Well, you’re in your little room and you’re printing something good/ But if it’s really good, you’re gonna need a bigger room/ And when you’re in the bigger room, you might not know what to do/ You might have to think of how you got started sitting in your little room.”

The iPhone XR shows Apple admitting 3D Touch is a failure

Remember 3D Touch? Unless you’re a power iOS user you probably don’t. Or, well, you’d rather not. It’s been clear for some time now that the technology Apple lauded at its 2015 unveiling as the “next generation of multi-touch” most certainly wasn’t. For the mainstream iPhone user it’s just that annoying thing that gets in the way of what you’re actually trying to do.

What Apple actually made with 3D Touch is the keyboard shortcut of multi-touch. Aka a secret weapon for nerds only.

Pro geeks might be endlessly delighted about being able to learn the secrets of its hidden depths, and shave all-important microseconds off of their highly nuanced workflows. But everyone else ignores it.

Or at least tries to ignore it — until, in the middle of trying to do something important they accidentally trigger it and get confused and annoyed about what their phone is trying to do to them.

Tech veterans might recall that BlackBerry (remember them?!) tried something similarly misplaced a decade ago on one of its handsets — unboxing an unlovely (and unloved) clickable touchscreen, in the one-off weirdo BlackBerry Storm.

The Storm didn’t have the iconic physical BlackBerry keyboard but did have a touchscreen with on-screen qwerty keys you could still click. In short, madness!

Safe to say, no usage storms resulted then either — unless you’re talking about the storm of BlackBerry buyers returning to the shop demanding a replacement handset.

In Apple’s case, the misstep is hardly on that level. But three years on from unveiling 3D Touch, it’s now ‘fessing up to its own feature failure — as the latest iPhone line-up drops the pressure-sensing technology entirely from the cheapest of the trio: The iPhone XR.

The lack of 3D Touch on the XR will help shave off some manufacturing cost and maybe a little thickness from the device. Mostly though it shows Apple recognizing it expended a lot of engineering effort to make something most iPhone users don’t use and don’t want to use — given, as TC’s Brian Heater has called it, the iPhone XR is the iPhone for the rest of us.

It isn’t a budget handset, though. The XR does pack Apple’s next-gen biometric technology, Face ID, for instance, so contains a package of sophisticated sensor hardware lodged in its own top notch.

That shows Apple is not cheaping out here. Rather it’s making selective feature decisions based on what it believes iPhone users want and need. So the clear calculation in Cupertino is lots of iPhone users simply don’t need 3D Touch.

At the same time, company execs heaped praise on Face ID at its event this week, saying the technology has proved wildly popular with users. Yet they glossed over the simultaneous depreciation of 3D Touch at the end of the iPhone line without a word of explanation.

Compare the two technologies and it’s easy to see why.

Face ID’s popularity is hardly surprising. It’s hard to think of a simpler interaction than a look that unlocks.

Not so fiddly 3D Touch — which requires a press that’s more than a tap and kind of akin to a push or a little shove. Push too softly and you’ll get a tap which takes you somewhere you weren’t trying to go. But go in too hard from the start and the touchscreen starts to feel like work and/or wasted effort.

On top of that the sought for utility can itself feel pointless — with, for example, content previews that can be horribly slow to load, so why not just tap and look at the email in the first place?

With all the fingering and faffing around 3D Touch is like the Goldilocks of user interfaces: Frustration is all but guaranteed unless you have an awful lot of patience to keep going and going until you get it just right. And who, but power users, can be bothered with that?

For the ‘everyman’ iPhone XR, Apple has swapped 3D Touch for a haptic feedback feature (forgettably named Haptic Touch) — that’s presumably mostly intended to be a sticking plaster to smooth out any fragmentation cracks across the iPhone estate, i.e. in the rare instances where developers have made use of 3D Touch to create in-app shortcuts that people do actually want to use.

If, as we’ve suggested, the iPhone XR ends up being the iPhone that ships in serious quantities there will soon be millions of iOS users without access to 3D Touch at all. So Apple is relegating the technology it once called the future of multi-touch to what it really was: An add-on power feature for pro users.

Pro users are also the people most likely to be willing to spend the biggest bucks on an iPhone — and so will happily shell out to own the iPhone XS or XS Max (which do retain 3D Touch, at least for now).

So while 3D Touch might keep incrementally helping to shift a few extra premium iPhones at the top of the range, it isn’t going to be shifting any paradigms.

Multitouch — combined with generous screen real estate — has been more than good enough on that front.

Not hog dog? PixFood lets you shoot and identify food

What happens when you add AI to food? Surprisingly, you don’t get a hungry robot. Instead you get something like PixFood. PixFood lets you take pictures of food, identify available ingredients, and, at this stage, find out recipes you can make from your larder.

Martin Tonnesson, CEO of IMP Digital, created PixFood to work with his international collection of published recipes. The tool is aimed at “disrupting the food and beverage industry” with AI.

It is privately funded.

“There are tons of recipe apps out there, but all they give you is, well, recipes,” said Tonnesson. “On the other hand, PixFood has the ability to help users get the right recipe for them at that particular moment. There are apps that cover some of the mentioned, but it’s still an exhausting process – since you have to fill in a 50-question quiz so it can understand what you like.”

They launched in August and currently have 3,000 monthly active users from 10,000 downloads. They’re working on perfecting the system for their first users.

“PixFood is AI-driven food app with advanced photo recognition. The user experience is quite simple: it all starts with users taking a photo of any ingredient they would like to cook with, in the kitchen or in the supermarket,” said Tonnesson. “Why did we do it like this? Because it’s personalized. After you take a photo, the app instantly sends you tailored recipe suggestions! At first, they are more or less the same for everyone, but as you continue using it, it starts to learn what you precisely like, by connecting patterns and taking into consideration different behaviors.”

In my rudimentary tests the AI worked acceptably well and did not encourage me to eat a monkey. While the app begs the obvious question – why not just type in “corn?” – it’s an interesting use of vision technology that is definitely a step in the right direction.

Tonnesson expects the AI to start connecting you with other players in the food space, allowing you to order corn (but not a monkey) from a number of providers.

“Users should also expect partnerships with restaurants, grocery, meal-kit, and other food delivery services will be part of the future experiences,” he said.

Clinc expands to automotive, releases SaaS platform for its voice AI assistant

Clinc co-founder and CEO Jason Mars just announced the company is expanding to a third vertical: Automotive. The company, which started in fintech and recently unveiled a product for drive-thru restaurants, is aiming its voice AI service at the automotive industry. The idea is to give automakers a platform that they can integrate into their vehicles that will allow drivers to control and interact with their vehicles through natural language.

Launching alongside the new product, Clinc also revealed a platform to give developers access to the conversational AI. The company says it’s easy enough for developers with little to no experience in machine learning to build with Clinc’s products.

Clinc’s conversational AI is fantastic and the company’s products in other verticals show that if it’s used by automakers, the technology could usher in a new wave of user interfaces. This is not Siri.

The company was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2015 with a solution for fintech and currently has several contracts with major banks such as USAA, Barclays and S&P Global. In most cases, when integrated into the bank’s system, Clinc’s technology emulates human intelligence and can interpret unstructured, unconstrained speech. The idea is to let users converse with their bank account using natural language without pre-defined templates or hierarchical voice menus. The company says it works in any language.

With its new developer platform, companies can use Clinc’s system to integrate the company’s natural language processing into their products.

“We’re thrilled to be democratizing the world’s most powerful conversational AI and to be empowering people to solve important problems and to create amazing things,” said Dr. Jason Mars, Clinc CEO. “We’ve taken the complexity out of machine learning infrastructure and we’re giving developers the keys to our AI brain to create and deploy their own customizable virtual assistants.”

Peep the future of distributed ledgers with the leaders of Hyperledger, Parity Technologies and Tradeshift

As cryptocurrencies emerge from the speculative bloodletting of the past months, believers in the promise of distributed ledger technologies for business and consumer applications are casting about for what comes next.

On our stage at Disrupt San Francisco we’ll be welcoming some of the leading thinkers in how distributed ledgers can create an entirely new architecture for computing and new processes for almost every conceivable transaction framework.

For Brian Behlendorf, the executive director of Hyperledger, distributed ledger technologies represent a powerful path for the future of networked computing — no matter the underlying technology.  That’s why Behlendorf –through the Linux Foundation — is investing resources in ensuring that viable open source distributed ledger projects are supported and coming to market for any number of applications for businesses and consumers.

One of the leading lights of the internet revolution, Behlendorf’s career shaping the future of the networked world began in 1993 when he co-founded Organic Inc. — the first business dedicated to building commercial websites. Going on to become one of the foundational architects of the Apache http protocol, Behlendorf has served as the chief technology officer of the World Economic Forum and as an executive director for the technology investment fund, Mithril Capital.

Meanwhile, Parity Technologies is attempting to ensure that businesses don’t need to worry about the underlying technologies at all. Selling a suite of services that are all enabled by distributed ledger technologies and cryptographic computing, Jutta Steiner is giving businesses a way through the maze of competing protocols with a service that can enable the creation and adoption of distributed apps for businesses.

“We see it as a way for people to build blockchains that fulfill their particular needs,” Steiner told our own Samantha Stein at our Blockchain event earlier this year in Zug. “One of the challenges we’re addressing in this is to come up with a scalable framework.”

Before Parity, Steiner was responsible for security and partner integration within the Ethereum Foundation when the public blockchain first launched in 2015. Steiner also co-founded Project Provenance — a London based start-up that employs blockchain technology to make supply chains more transparent.

Supply chains are at the heart of Tradeshift’s offerings — and the company is hoping that distributed ledgers will be too. That’s why the company created Tradeshift Frontiers, an innovation lab and incubator that will focus on transforming supply chains through emerging technologies, such as distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

“The use cases we’re working through Frontiers cover a very wide variety of themes, including supply chain financing, asset liquidity, and supply chain transparency,” said Gert Sylvest, co-founder and GM of Tradeshift Frontiers, at the time. “There is so much more potential than just cryptocurrencies.”

That potential will be one of the things that Sylvest, Steiner, and Behlendorf discuss. We’ll hope you’ll be in the audience to listen.

Disrupt SF will take place in San Francisco’s Moscone Center West from September 5 to 7. The full agenda is here, and you can still buy tickets right here.