All posts in “Consumer Tech”

This 3D-printed bicycle is stronger than titanium

The Arevo bicycle looks and feels like a high-end commuter bike, but it was made using 3D-printing technology and software. It’s being hailed as the first truly 3D-printed bicycle.

The Bay Area-based “additive manufacturing” company (that’s what engineering-level 3D printing is called these days) made the fully functional bicycle as a proof-of-concept to show that the thermoplastic material, laser-heating, and robotic 3D-printing process can be used to replace metal parts for defense companies, airplanes, fighter jets, electronics, and more. Basically 3D printing doesn’t mean chintzy plastic figurines anymore.

The bicycle frame was made in one piece and eventually other parts of the bicycle could be printed, as well. It took about two weeks to build the bike — which is a lot quicker than the usual labor-intensive method of piecing together carbon fiber strips.

A robotic arm and spinning table use a laser to heat the thermoplastic material and form it into the unique bicycle shape. The design for the bike, or other objects, is input through the software and then it’s “lights out” while the robot does its thing. Customized bikes for different sizes, or close-to-exact replicas of replacement parts for naval equipment, are easy to make using this method.

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While showing off the bicycle this week, new CEO Jim Miller, who joined the company a few months ago from Google and Amazon, made clear Arevo isn’t a bike-maker, but wanted a way to show how the company’s software and technology works. After all the interest from the eye-catching vehicle designed with Studio West, Arevo is working with bike manufacturers to use the frame for a new product line. Arevo’s tech will produce hundreds of the high-tech bikes, but you won’t be buying it straight from Arevo. Miller expects the bikes to be available by next year depending on which companies they partner with to produce the bike.

Miller was also excited about the material that’s stronger than titanium and really hard to break. He encouraged me to really whack the bike and push on it — it didn’t budge. It’s also recyclable and made from non-toxic materials, which seemed like important points to Miller. He noted that the frame uses the same material, polyether ether ketone, known as a PEEK polymer, used in spinal replacements

The Arevo bike frame was 3D-printed.

The Arevo bike frame was 3D-printed.

Image: sasha lekach/mashable

It’s pretty sleek and even if it’s just to show what Arevo can do with a 3D printer. 

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Jumping out of a virtual plane is perfect for those who can’t or won’t skydive IRL

I’ve never quite got round to throwing myself out of a plane. Somehow, I wake up every day and find something marginally less terrifying to do with my waking hours and here we are. Jumping out of a virtual plane while floating three feet from the ground and being held by someone standing up, however? That I can get behind.

Which is how I ended up at iFly’s new VR experience near Universal Studios in LA this week, dressed in a jump suit, strapped into a Samsung Gear, and floating over Hawaii while bemused tourists wandering the retail center outside the theme park gawped and ‘grammed.

iFly has wind tunnels across the U.S. (and indeed much of Europe) and says it’s flown 9 million people since 1998. The addition of VR headsets, though, is a very new thing and for $20 more than their standard package price, it’s an insanely addictive add-on.

You begin your virtual journey with the standard iFly experience, getting kitted up and briefed on the flying rules. Essentially it comes down to keeping your legs straight, your head facing forward and your mind chilled. Fall into the wind and let the force (and an instructor) do the rest. There are a few hand signals but that’s about it.

My first flight went … OK. I spent some of the time flailing and falling down to the grille, much to the amusement of the guy operating the wind machine, but by the second practice run I had it mostly down. At Universal CityWalk, the tunnel is in the middle of the lively shopping center. In terms of entertainment value for passersby, it’s between a branch of Margaritaville and a band playing covers of The Killers — literally and otherwise.

Gracefulness personified.

Gracefulness personified.

Image: iFly

Once I’d, ahem, mastered the art of free-falling, my instructor Joe strapped on the Gear. At first you can see through it to the real world, albeit with hardly any sense of distance or depth. Once you’re at the tunnel entrance it switches to virtual mode and you’re in the plane, watching someone count you down, and then you’re off. 

It’s pretty stunning. While the wind whipped up to 120-mph-plus and my body hit terminal velocity, I watched Hawaii’s scenery hurtle towards me, safe in the knowledge that sudden death was an unlikely ending.

The films do a great job of replicating the thrill of skydiving, with fellow divers performing tricks, clouds whizzing by to give a sense of speed and the all-important parachute opening above before you flop back out of the tunnel to safety. It goes by so fast you’ll want to line up for a second trip immediately.

The camera operator stayed pretty much static while filming the flights, so your body tends to mirror theirs, which avoids the usual motion sickness issues associated with VR. In fact, iFly’s Director of Product Development Mason Barrett insists no one has yet had an issue with queasiness. There are no inner ear issues either, as you’re not actually experiencing any pressure, although you do wear earplugs under the helmet.

IFly currently offers four destinations to virtually experience — Hawaii, Dubai, the Swiss Alps and Southern California — with more planned. The company is focussing on “locations on every sky diver’s bucket list,” Barrett says, with some ambitious plans for future films.

How does BASE jumping in a virtual wingsuit sound? Or barreling through a fantasy world, perhaps joining a Quidditch game with Harry Potter or flying parallel to Iron Man? Those are the kind of dreams iFly is hoping to realize if they can get a major studio on board.

Virtual skydiving has been a dream of the company’s since its inception two decades ago, but technology has only recently caught up. In the past, the experience would have involved a white screen next to the tunnel, Barrett says, but consumer grade tech offers a much more immersive experience. And it could be great for those that can’t fly IRL, whether due to fear or disability. Kids can take a virtual dive from 8, Barrett says, while you can’t legally leap from the plane until you’re 18.

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You can fling yourself out of a virtual plane at any one of 28 places offering the iFly Virtual Reality experience across the country. 

There are dozens of sites offering iFly across the U.S.

There are dozens of sites offering iFly across the U.S.

Image: ifly

You just need to be over eight years old and weigh less than 260 pounds. Those aged between 8 and 12 can only do it once per day.

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One Florida man was behind 96 million of the worst kind of robocalls, FCC says

Those terrible robocalls might finally stop.
Those terrible robocalls might finally stop.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Have you ever gotten a phone call from a number that looked very similar to your own, only to pick up and realize it’s a robocall trying to sell you something?

If you have, you’re not alone. This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) slapped its largest fines ever on a Florida man it says is responsible for more than 96 million of those dreaded robocalls.

Adrian Abramovich, the Miami man behind the scheme, was ordered to pay a $120 million fine this week as punishment for scamming millions of people with more than 96 million robocalls over a three-month period in 2016. 

While robocalls themselves aren’t illegal, it is illegal to “spoof” caller ID information, which is exactly what the FCC says Abramovich did. He spoofed area codes as well as the first three digits of phone numbers in order to disguise the calls as legitimate calls from local numbers. 

Unsuspecting people would pick up what they thought was a legitimate call only to be greeted with a pre-recorded messages trying to sell timeshares or other vacation packages.

Oddly enough, it was TripAdvisor that tipped off the FCC about Abramovich. The travel company had launched its own investigation into the calls after hearing complaints that its name was being used to sell the vacation packages. Their investigation traced the calls back to the company managed by Abramovich.

But what’s most shocking is the sheer scale of the operation. His firm was linked to at least 96,758,223 calls in a single three-month period in 2016. It was, according to the FCC, “one of the largest spoofed robocall campaigns that the Commission has ever investigated.”

The historic $120 million fine is the largest to ever brought by the FCC, according to a statement from FCC commissioner Ajit Pai. 

“Our decision sends a loud and clear message: this FCC is an active cop on the beat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms consumers.”

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10 great 3D printers for beginners

There’s never been a better time to get into 3D printing. There are tons of models to choose from, countless 3D designs available online, and (most importantly) prices that keep dropping.

Buying your first 3D printer can be a little intimidating. There’s a lot to consider, from price to compatibility to safety concerns. To help you make the leap, we looked into which 3D printers have are best suited for those just starting out. Here are 10 great 3D printers for beginners, in order from cheapest to most expensive.

Image: 3Doodler

It’s not exactly a 3D printer, but this 3D pen is a great way to test the waters. The 3Doodler essentially lets you draw in three-dimensional space in a wide range of colors. There’s no setup either. Just open box, insert some filament into the pen, and start creating. 

The one big drawback is that this product needs a special type of 3-millimeter filament that’s expensive to replace ($20 a bundle). The 3Doodler comes with enough printing material (in a wide variety of colors) to get your started. Once you run out, however, buying more can be a pain.

Image: Xyzprinting

This small, cheap 3D printer from XYZprinting is perfect for beginners. It features a futuristic design that’s fully enclosed so your kids won’t accidentally reach in while it’s running and hurt themselves. Opening the door doesn’t stop the printing process, though, so injury is still possible. You’re also limited to using the company’s filament, but there’s enough included in the box to get you started.

For the most part, the da Vinci Nano is a great little printer. It works right out of the box with no assembly required and comes with simple software that runs on Mac and Windows. It also prints quietly (and slowly), which is great if you’re just starting out and don’t want a noisy machine.

Image: XYZprinting

Here’s another affordable option from XYZprinting. This lightweight 3D printer comes in bright primary colors clearly meant for children, though it’s a good option for anyone starting out. Like the da Vinci Nano, it comes pre-assembled, works with both Mac and Windows computers, and requires a special type of filament.

The only real drawback is that this 3D printer is only partially enclosed. So if you’re worried someone might stick their hands in while it’s running this isn’t the model for you.

Image: Monoprice

For just a little extra cash, the Monoprice Select Mini offers a more advanced experience that’s still simple enough for beginners to handle. It comes ready to use right out of the box with a sample package of filament, and it supports a wide variety of other printing materials.

The Select Mini also works with both Mac and Windows computers. There’s no enclosure around this printer, though, so it’s not the best option if you’re worried about safety. But if you’re buying a 3D printer just for yourself this is a good place to start.

Image: Anycubic

The Anycubic i3 Mega is a more advanced (and more expensive) 3D printer with some standout features. If you accidentally unplug the printer (or the power goes out) it will auto-pause and remember where it left off so printing can pick right back up again. It also features a sturdy metal frame, and works with both Mac and Windows computers.

When it comes to safety this printer isn’t great — there’s no sort of enclosure at all. It also only comes partially assembled, though you only need eight screws to put it together. 

Image: FlashForge

The FlashForge Finder offers a great mix of advanced tech and safety features. It’s enclosed to avoid injuries and features a slide-out tray that won’t heat up for easily removing your printed objects. It also features a sturdy plastic design and comes pre-assembled with a spool of filament in the box.

The FlashForge Finder works with both Windows and Mac computers. It also prints very quietly, making it a great option for classrooms or any other situation where noise might be a concern.

Image: Tiertime

$569 may sound like a lot for a 3D printer, but the Tiertime Up Mini 2 packs in enough high-tech features (plus a sleek, polished design) to make it worth the price. The fact that it was picked by Wirecutter as the best choice for beginners doesn’t hurt either.

The Tiertime Up Mini 2 has an all-metal frame, touchscreen controls, and a built in HEPA filter to reduce emissions. It also features an enclosed design for safety, works with Mac and Windows machines, and comes pre-assembled and ready to print right right out of the box.

Image: Reality

The Reality CR 10S is a large printer designed to hold up to stress. It features a simple design with no enclosure and an industrial aluminum-alloy tray bed that will stay flat after repeated use.

This printer does require some assembly, but according to the company it should only take about ten minutes to put together. It also works with Mac and Windows computers and comes with some free filament to get you started.

Image: LulzBot

We’re crossing the $1,000 threshold here, but if you’re willing to spend the extra cash the LulzBot Mini is worth it. This 3D printer ships pre-assembled and fully calibrated. It features a self-cleaning nozzle and a self-leveling tray so you’re always ready to print with no prep required. The heated glass bed also ensures your printed objects won’t stick to the surface.

For an advanced 3D printer, the LulzBot Mini is easy to use and designed to last. It doesn’t offer any sort of enclosure, but at this price you’re probably not buying it for your kids anyway so safety shouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Image: Makerbot

The latest compact 3D printer from MakerBot packs in a ton of useful features, making it a solid option for beginners despite its high price. That includes cloud storage for your 3D designs and a built-in camera so you can watch your objects get printed remotely from the company’s smartphone app.

There is some assembly required with this model, but the MakerBot app will guide you through the process. The printing tray is also pre-leveled to speed up the process, and each printer comes with a spool of filament to get you started. This 3D printer is only partially enclosed, so keep it away from small children.

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