Jan 24, 2016 | By Alec

As a community who uses and throws away tons of plastic every month, it’s probably good to think about sustainability every now and then. But waste isn’t just a 3D printing problem, as it is reaching every corner of society. The most recent plague is that of consumer electronics, with tons of gadgets being replaced in extremely quick succession, all with supposedly better and cooler and bigger alternatives. Some estimates say that up to 20 million tons of this kind of e-waste is produced every year, forming a serious ecological crisis. Fortunately, startup Nascent Objects has come up with a clever solution: a platform in which you can easily design and reuse modular electronics within 3D printed cases – giving hardware a much longer shelf life.

This new platform seeks to tackle a problem we are all very much a part of. How many new smartphones have you purchased over the last five years or so? And how many gadgets have been replaced not because they were broken, but because you wanted a bigger screen, longer battery life or even just because a new Apple release was available? The problem is not that we want new and cooler and more shiny things, it’s that most of the stuff we are throwing away is still in perfect working condition. A broken screen or a dead battery doesn’t mean the other hardware cannot be used for another purpose.

And that is essentially what Nascent Objects is all about. With the help of a 3D printing platform, they are seeking to redefine the product cycle of our gadgets. They are envisioning a world in which we can order the hardware we want from a set of standardized modules and package it all into a 3D printed container. If you’re tired of it and want something better, you can remove or replace those modules you no longer need, and keep the ones you do like. This way, your gadget can be anything, whether it’s a phone, a camera, a sensor, or whatever else you can think of. It’s kind of similar to Google’s Project Ara, but then takes on the entire hardware ecosystem.

As Nascent Objects’ founder Baback Elmieh explains, the current gadget consumption trends are completely unsustainable. “We’ve gotten really used to this idea that you can have whatever you want to have with software.” But if you can add new features to your smartphone by downloading new apps, why can’t you do the same by adding a bit more hardware? And before you say that hardware becomes outdated too quickly, just take a look at the research Elmieh and his team have done. Taking apart over 600 products since 2012, they found that 80 percent of them could be built from a set of just 15 common parts. This is obviously something large businesses don’t want you to know, but most of the gadgets out there are largely similar – so why replace something if it’s not broken?

And while this Nascent Objects alternative sounds a bit too technical to catch on in the mainstream, they have actually figured out a very clever system. Through their platform, you will become able to pick a shape for the module, and simply select, drag and drop modules from the library. The software will calculate the circuitry paths needed, while the custom shape is 3D printed to suit your choices. “The software platform calculates and designs the most efficient pathways for the internal circuitry, effortlessly dealing with design constraints and differential pairs so you don't have to,” Elmieh explains. What’s more, they have already opened the way for 16 different 3D printable material types, from up to 34 different 3D printer models – including SLA and SLS machines.

What you’re essentially doing is matching a couple of ‘plug and play bricks’ that include all key electrical components, from sensors, to lights, speakers, cameras and more. “We’re creating a world where anyone, anywhere can quickly make their ideas a reality. In one central platform, you build your physical products, connect the product to the cloud and create apps to access/control the product,” the Nascent Objects team explains. “The platform auto-generates template iOS and Android apps with default behavior for every module (e.g. video streaming).  The auto generated templates are easily customizable using JavaScript. It's as simple as changing the batteries in your remote control.” And with the help of 3D printing services, every item can be truly unique – just what everyone is yearning for nowadays.

The concept itself is already intriguing, but Nascent Objects has already debuted it with an equally intriguing tool. Called the Droppler, this is a compact water monitoring system made housed in a porcelain shell. Featuring a host of different sensors, it can gage water consumption and measure usage through audio signals. It’s cool and hosts a number of very complex functions and algorithms, but it’s most important feature is not what it does. If you decide that you don’t want to use it anymore, you no longer throw it away. Instead, you simply detach the LED, microphone, and mini-computer modules and use them for your next gadget. It’s a way of vastly increasing product shelf-life.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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