Creative Best Practices Opinions Social Media

Unicorn Robots, 3D Printing, People, and Digital Marketing

Posted by Cameron Friedlander on December 3rd, 2013 at 12:09 pm

"It's as if the technotopians don't get 3D printer laser unicorn robots aren't a substitute for a working society." - Umair Haque

This statement, less than 140 characters, struck a deeper chord for me. Something I have been struggling with, as a creative technologist, is that purely virtual experiences in the digital space seem to lack meaning. People grow bored of browsing Facebook walls, receiving heuristical suggestions for places to eat from their devices, and having relationships that only exist online. What is it that counts in the end? If I spent 5000 hours of my life on Twitter with close to a million tweets, what does it mean to any of us or to the people we leave behind?

The larger question drives the type of marketing I strive to do. This is why I have been pushing real, physical experiences that are connected to the digital space; this is why I want to drive people to something tactile and real. People want their lives augmented by digital, but they have come to realize that in the end it is the true human relationships, spending time with friends, for example, that matter.

3D printing is amazing and will be truly life-changing for all of us. What with all the glitter being promoted in this space, it’s important to note what makes it a better place to live. 3D printing for people with disabilities can challenge this trend to be bigger, something more. So often, with technology, we are so easily distracted by that laser unicorn robot, and once our initial fascination wears thin we are off to the next unicorn. People with disabilities want to live the same seamless life as everyone else. Up until now the offerings to facilitate their wishes have been ugly, noisy, bulky and cheap. But here, finally, is a way for people to augment their lives for the better, to improve their interaction with the world.

Inspired by a young designer who developed MS in her twenties, Enabled by Design looked to design fashionable items for everyday use out of 3D print modeling. Why is it that the crutches we use to remain stable, click and clack and come with no variety of styling or fashion? People may take for granted that if you are running late, you can easily take out your phone on the run and text a friend. But with crutches, even this simple task can become a chore. With a handful of people, one 3D printer, and 24 hours, Enabled by Design was able to design and prototype 10 items; one of them was bounced into Kickstarter and has already been funded.

Someone with gross motor disabilities may struggle with the simple use of a fork. If you think about this, the fork is a rather unforgiving object; you need to line it up with the item you desire in a hover state, and bring it down with some force to actually get it onto the prongs. A quick tremor may alter the course of the fork. The team prototyped, in mere hours, a 3D printed proof of concept with prongs across a wider range and with more depth, which will allow more forgiveness in the task of eating.

A dual-hand amputee that lived out of the UK provided some of the context for other simple everyday tasks that people take for granted. How do you crack open an egg? How about pouring a cup of tea from a freshly boiled pot of water? The latter design won the judges award for best concept; there was already a model the person could use and work with.

3D printing has just begun to scrape the surface for useful prototyping. In the future, it will help people create and customize solutions specifically tailored to their liking on the fly. Currently, the benefits of a 3D printer are focused towards proof of concepts while rapidly hacking solutions that can then be brought to market with crowd sourced-funding. And here we connect back to digital.

Can we focus on how digital tools, connected to 3D printing, may further the benefits of the technology for people with disabilities? Arduino technology, set to switches, can allow people to help others while not literally being present to do so – bringing us back once again to the initial idea of real, physical problem-solving, augmented by the support and power of digital, but not solely existing within it.

This got me thinking about IFTTT and the new Belkin product WEMO, which together provide a simpler interface to hack solutions for people with disabilities; empowering the users even more, with less dependency on others. IFTTT is built around the core programmatic analog of: If This Then That, by combining it with WEMO (Wi-Fi enabled switches) you can create an infinite amount of rules. digitally, that impact actual physical elements elsewhere.

These virtual elements, combined with the literal object modeling of a 3D printer, grow out of human relationships and help create real tactile solutions for people. These are the things I try to strive for every day within digital marketing: driving people back to experiences that, while augmented by technology, ground them in the real world.

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