3D Printers Let Big Data Be Touchy Feely


So much attention has been paid to bizarre uses for 3D printing -- most notable being the potential to print a gun that probably would blow up in your hand -- that we lose sight of the positive side of 3D printing.

Here's one of those possibilities: Use 3D printing to present big data. I recall reading some months ago about the potential for 3D printing to give the blind ways to "see" things like stars through touch. More recently, the ability for the blind to get a tactile feel for picture books was highlighted by NPR.

The idea of 3D presentation of big data isn't all that new, but with costs of 3D printers coming down and manufacturers building in new capabilities, we're moving toward a time when a data scientist can more easily deliver results in more meaningful ways that people can see and touch.

This week, the MIT Technology Review focused on some of the work being done in presenting big data in new ways, again utilizing 3D printing. In "How 3-D Printing is Revolutionizing the Display of Big Data" MIT researchers discussed how a 3D rendering of the school's Cambridge, Mass., campus allowed people to see on an interactive, color-coded, 3D map how tall the school's buildings are.

However, the MIT application described by MIT Lincoln Lab's Zachary Weber and Vijay Gadepally that struck me as having the greater commercial appeal was one that mapped out the patterns of Twitter subjects across campus. Tracking Twitter posts with geolocation illustrated which topics were being discussed in different sections of the campus.

Carry that idea into the corporate world, and a data scientist could show a marketing team on a 3D map where in a downtown area they should focus specific promotions with a view of the landscape. Or a transportation company could spot trouble spots based on GPS-enabled tracking systems.

What uses can you envision for 3D printing in your analytics group?

MIT on display
MIT on display

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James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: Not a believer
  • 10/19/2014 11:14:47 AM
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@Seth much as I like 3D printing, I'd agree with you that holographic visualization would likely work better for analytics.  It's simply more efficient, as any change can be instantly shown rather than printed out again, which is a real cost for both time and materials.

Re: Not a believer
  • 10/13/2014 8:43:14 PM
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@ Beth, I agree 3-D printing could be fun, or maybe a great thing for the movie industry to print a city to be blown up. But for analytics, I think a lot of virtual or holographic technology could be used as well. 

Though for home use, I could have used a 3-D printer when I broke the glass jar to my blender.  (Luckily, I glued it back together.)

@ James, a braille e-reader might be the future for blind people. Right now, it is just a concept, but I don't see why it wouldn't work. 

Re: Where the ink?
  • 10/13/2014 7:43:21 PM
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@Terry- Agreed. At this point, it is time to talk about what these things really are-- desktop fabricators. Or portable factories. Or something like that. 

That said, 3-D printing is probably the best way to explain the consumer model to the non-techie. Regular old consumers get the idea that with a printer you have to buy ink and paper. With a 3-D printer they will get used to buying the "ink" as well.

Re: Not a believer
  • 10/13/2014 7:40:58 PM
NO RATINGS

@Beth- Agree with you that 3-modeling in a virtual environment has more value for the enterprise. But i don't see a reason you can't use both tools. We sometimes learn quite a lot with our hands and interacting with physical objects. It might be possible to better "manipulate" data by actually manipulating it. 

Re: Where the ink?
  • 10/13/2014 5:42:58 PM
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"The machine makes the it, but it's not on a piece of paper. It's 3D Printing!"

Re: Where the ink?
  • 10/13/2014 9:48:00 AM
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@Louis: Ha! Good one. I also like Copyright/Trademark Buster. Or maybe Cheap But Grand Imitator.

Re: Where the ink?
  • 10/13/2014 9:36:49 AM
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I think we let the popular media name it for us.

Re: Where the ink?
  • 10/13/2014 9:16:30 AM
NO RATINGS

As an amateur 3-D photographer, I too have felt the use of 3D as a generaic term was a bit off. What is really being "printed" is in keeping with the historical meaning of the word. As it's just a extruded or building up of layers process to bring a manufactured object, maybe it's could be "object printing" or some combinations of words that more exactly describe either the process or the result.

Re: Where the ink?
  • 10/12/2014 8:56:10 PM
NO RATINGS

@Terry    On  second thought, lets call it what it will become once it gains major popularity...

 

 

"The Counterfeit Machine"  : ) 

Re: Where the ink?
  • 10/12/2014 8:52:53 PM
NO RATINGS

@Terry   I agree.  3D-printing is certainly not what one used to think of when this term came out in the early days of modern computing.   I wonder who coins the term for a new technology ?   I guess it is the company or group that invents it of course, but this technology probably came as a result of government efforts.  For once I would like someone to say I am responsible for this stupid/misleading name.   Speaking of that, I am particarly interested in who is responsible for the term "Cloud" in all it variations for instance.  Although that term may not be misleading - it certainly is annoying. 

Regardless, the use of the term "3D-Printing" is misleading   Small-scale industrial extruders ?    That is certainly more discriptive, let me try one, how about Industrial replicator ?   

 

 

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