Monday, March 26, 2018

GM's Next Bolt EV WIll Have No Steering Wheel

Last week saw what may turn out to be a giant event in the world of automation, as General Motors unveiled their prototype for their fourth-generation Bolt EV model. The big reveal? No steering wheel, nor pedal.

While this is not unprecedented in design, GM claims theirs is the first fully automated electric vehicle to be made with a traditional mass production process. Although this may not be technically true (Chrystler and Waymo could also claim the title), it does seem that GM has a way to ensure the Bolt EV, complete with multiple redundant sensory, navigational, and computer systems, will be ready for a proclaimed massive rollout by 2019. It is an ambitious target, but one that seems well within reality.
GM's Bolt EV-S is being planned for a 2019 debut

Automated driving vehicles have taken a bit of a bloody nose in PR lately, with a Tesla AV model crashing in 2016 and the recent embarrassment of an automated shuttle for Las Vegas tourism having a fender bender on its first day of launch. Nevertheless, there is now a body of boring evidence, consisting of AV's being used on campuses and closed roads, that point to integration being possible.  The optics of the announcement amount to this stunning picture that immediately dares the everyday driver to imagine their commute in a whole new way. As GM President Dan Amman said,
"When you see this image for the first time it's quite striking...That's why we believe this is a notable moment on the journey to full AV deployment."

GM's Bolt EV line has a recent history of moderate success. While it did not yield strong sales in established European markets for electric vehicles, over 23,000 were sold in the US in 2017, and an introductory delivery of 600 to Korea tested so well, GM will be sending up to 5,000 more. Though current regulations and the vehicle's affordability (it is still expected to be more than the average cost of a fossil-fuel engine car) are still going to be significant obstacles, the slow but accelerating rise in EV charging infrastructure all over major cities in the country may signal to curious customers that the up-front cost is worth the long-term savings in fuel. The pieces are all there for an automated driving world. Now all that's left is to find out if Americans want it.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, March 2, 2018

In Medical 3D Printing, The Ears Have It.

A before-and-after of how a 3D printed prosthetic accurately "snaps" into place.
As 3D printing makes its way out of the prototype labs and into countless real-world scenarios, it seems to be accelerating fastest among the advances in the medical industry. While this includes uses such as designing and building cutting edge technology and instruments, 3D printing has now extended beyond the tools, and is now showing multiple ways it can assist in the actual material of the medical world itself: the human body.

In the US, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore worked to combine CT scanning with 3D printing to create custom-designed prosthetic replacements for parts of the middle ear. Led by Jeffrey Hirsch MD, assistant professor of radiology at the university, the team finally created a breakthrough in a procedure that had been attempted unsuccessfully before. Hearing loss can often be a result of damage to the three tiny bones in the middle ear called the ossicles. Because their job is to conduct sound from the ear drum to the cochlea, ossicles are extremely unique to the shape of an individual's ear. Whereas surgery has been an option in the past to repair or reconstruct those bones, the ossicles are so tiny that the procedure has a high failure rate. Integrating 3D printing into the process of prosthetic manufacture, however, greatly improves the accuracy of a replacement doing the job of the original bones. As Dr. Hirsch explained in a press release to Radiological Society of North America, "This study highlights the core strength of 3-D printing — the ability to very accurately reproduce anatomic relationships in space to a sub-millimeter level...With these models, it's almost a snap fit."

 reconstruct the degenerating ears of five children. The patients, each suffering from a form of microtia, had their healthy ears mapped out, and new ears cultivated from their own cells in a lab. Thus, a major regenerated body part grown on a mold, was able to remain compatible and reattach itself. This has incredible ramifications. In addition to revolutionizing how facial and body reconstruction is done, it proves the current limits of surgery when it comes to cartilage growth, organ donation, and prosthetics themselves may soon prove obsolete.
While this is one demonstration of the successful role 3D printing can have to bridge gaps existing between traditional technology and biological progress, it is not the only one. Using the similar method of complimenting 3D printing with CT scanning, tissue engineers in China were recently able to

How CT scanning works with 3D printing for reconstruction
Is it possible both these advances can co-exist? Or do they demonstrate a fork in the road for the medical industry. Beyond the ear, it seems the added bonus of creating organic composition with 3D printers makes using any foreign materials unnecessary for any part of the human body, in the long run. Perhaps this could one day be the case, but as engineering advancements on the genetic level with CRISPR are currently proving, to give the green light to our anatomy as a part of the supply chain may open up very dicey ethical questions.  3D printing is obliterating walls between the industrial and biological revolutions; we may find out sooner than later whether we are prepared for what that could mean.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.