The future? Augmented Reality and 3D printing apparently.

Last week I had the pleasure of joining a number of contemporaries from the industry at the Innovation and Growth seminar hosted by Royal Bank of Scotland at their Bishopsgate office in London. I am lucky to get a number of invites to such events but usually they either end in disappointment or they somehow go off topic, but this, as is usual with events from RBS group, was of a high standard.

A gentleman by the name of Chris Skinner hosted the event which gave it a good momentum and we enjoyed a number of talks as well as a few panel debates. But the most interesting part of the morning was actually the last question of the day and that was ‘What is going to be the next big thing in terms of technology and innovation?’ As you would expect a few people said big data, ie cloud and dealing with the huge amount of information we are producing on a daily basis. But interesting two relatively less talked about technologies were mentioned more than once; augmented reality and 3D printing.

Augmented reality isn’t something very new, and for those of you with the latest smart phone will have been able to experience it in the form of a computer game or similar, but with the advances in speed of mobile communication coupled with the technology in a phone (such as GPS and processing power) it looks as though we are the cusp of some great advances. Google’s forthcoming Goggles product looks to be a big hitter in allowing you to search the internet by using a photo. So if you are reading a book and want to know more about it or its author with Google Goggles you will just need to take a photo of the front cover and let Google do the rest. While impressive my personal view is it takes no time at all to type the name of the book into Google so I will expect more from it.

More exciting developments with augmented reality is the ability to overlay information, and importantly by using the internet, live information, over the vista you are looking at. One such example is the new digital binoculars that have been deployed in The Shard on the viewing gallery. I was able to go up there last week and the ability to pan these screens around the skyline and for them to overlay building and other useful information was deeply impressive. It will be more so when I have that ability directly from my phone.

The second future innovation is of course 3D printing. However for the most of us this is still very much in its infancy and it will take years before this kind of technology becomes mainstream. For this reason at least it is easy to ignore it as a technology of the future but with a bit of foresight you can see this will have massive implications not only for the manufacturing industry but also our lives.

At the moment the technology is very much like the machines I used to use while studying my CDT A-levels. I would design my crappy idea using CAD and then upload it to the machine (a lathe or similar) that would whittle it out of a piece of metal or wood to my design. It was very basic and the principle is used throughout the manufacturing world. However the idea that I could literally print something at home in 3D is a powerful concept. As I understand it the ability is somewhat limited to a synthetic material with a rather large device however if you look at printers in the early 90s the potential as they develop is fantastic.

It is quite feasible to imagine a time when I buy my new Apple iPhone 12 (if they are still in business and haven’t imploded once more with no new innovation) via the internet, download a file and print it to my 3D printer in my home. Just think no factories, no distribution process and no waste. When I break it, I just print off the parts to repair it. This is of course some way off but with innovation accelerating I think it will be closer than you think.

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