Tech Watch: 7/17

Liquefying 3D Printing

It starts with a tub of goo and ends with the surgical extraction of a brilliant white, complex three-dimensional design.

No, what’s being described is not from HBO’s Westworld, in which robots indistinguishable from humans emerge fully formed from a vat of milky substrate, as some media reports have suggested. But the concept is fairly similar. 

MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab and Steelcase (steelcase.com) say rapid liquid printing is the future of personalized design and production, a future that moves faster than present-day 3D printing can offer. 

The two organizations say that a product designer (enabled by a robotic arm) can draw the shape of the product in a liquid field without the need for layering material or engineering support structures. The product’s ultimate size is only limited to the size of the tank, according to MIT and Steelcase. There’s also a two-part mixing process allowing the material to be chemically cured while it’s being drawn, instead of set using light or temperature to finish it. 

Revealed at Milano Design Week in April with renowned product designer Christophe Guberan, the experimental process took about 28 minutes to print the intricate design for Steelcase’s Bassline table top.

MIT Assistant Professor Skylar Tibbits, founder of the Self-Assembly Lab, said in another experiment the team was able to print a structure in 10 minutes compared with 50 hours to produce it using a different 3D printer. (The specific model of 3D printer was not disclosed.)

The collaboration between Steelcase and MIT is just starting, and the two say they’re working on new materials, ways to build scale and improved printing processes, as well as selecting the most suitable products for printing this way. 
 


Nissan Goes On Grid
For electric vehicles, the grid is far more like a one-way street than intersection. EV drivers either buy the energy from the utility and/or produce some share of it from a renewable source, and then consume it. Rarely does the vehicle play a role in the energy circulation process. 

Nissan announced an agreement with Northern Powergrid, the United Kingdom utility that services 3.9-million homes and businesses in Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire—north of Cambridge—that makes the EV more than a consumer. Through the six-year project, Nissan LEAF owners could use their cars’ batteries to sell power back to the grid during peak times. Nissan is interested in how EVs can support the grid and vice versa. Vehicle-to-grid technology, assuming there are enough vehicles plugged in, could create mobile energy hubs allowing them to charge during lower demand times.

Conversely, those vehicles could sell back power stored during higher cost periods, a use Nissan and the utility called out in their announcement. 
 


Porsche Goes East for Self-Driving Tech

Conventional wisdom would tell you that there are two poles for self-driving cars: Silicon Valley and Detroit. But it’s becoming more clear that Israel deserves a place on the map as the next pinpoint, and that third place ranking may only be temporary.

Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase in March of Mobileye (mobileye.com), the Israeli autonomous driving technology firm, was the biggest indicator of the trend. Indeed, the startup field is incredibly dense in Israel, and Porsche is the latest automaker to establish an “innovation office” in Tel Aviv.

The German automaker also reported it would invest an “eight-figure sum” in two venture capital funds, including the Magma Venture Fund, which has specialties in artificial intelligence and automotive, and counts Waze among its portfolio firms; and Grove Ventures, which is focused on companies targeting the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud technologies and AI. Porsche said it plans to make more announcements when it comes to pairings with startup firms. 

“It is both desirable and essential for us to welcome inspiration from other industries. That’s why we are working together with startups, but also establishing partnerships with other companies and the scientific community as well as investing in funds that are relevant to our sector,” said Lutz Meschke, deputy chairman of the executive board and a member of the Executive Board for Finance and IT at Porsche.
 


A Halo of Wireless Charging Possibilities

Qualcomm (qualcomm.com) recently showcased its “Halo” wireless charging technology, demonstrating how an electric vehicle could be charged at 20 kilowatts while cruising down the highway. Halo is an apt moniker, denoting a glorified ideal with an air of otherworldliness.  

But in an Earth-bound event near Paris, a 100-meter stretch of track was equipped of 4 x 25 meter “stubs”—each powered separately. The current was transmitted through the air to two 10 kW pads installed under a pair of Renault Kangoos. Those converted the 85-kHz AC into to DC power suitable for the Kangoos’ batteries they rolled down the track, which resembled more of a charging strip.

Qualcomm notes it isn’t in the manufacturing business, but is interested in licensing the technology.

The project is part of FABRIC, a €9 million endeavor partly funded by the European Commission, looking into dynamic electric vehicle charging (DEVC) to provide more charging options for EV drivers. 

But even governments eager to reduce range anxiety may encounter more than their share when contemplating the cost of embedding charging strips into highways. Qualcomm didn’t disclose the price scale up, say, a mile of charging road, noting only that it took into account cost of materials for a solution that “stacked up commercially and technically.” However, there are many potential applications for charging cars when they’re parked or moving through dense urban streets with regular traffic snarls. Qualcomm counts auto and EV suppliers Chargemaster, Efacec, Brusa, Ricardo, Lear, Lumen, and Preh as licensees. 
 


Panasonic on the Road
Behind branded infotainment systems like Chevrolet’s MyLink, FCA’s Uconnect and Ford’s SYNC 3, hovers a quiet partner in Panasonic Corp. 

The company has helped design and integrate those systems, making it one of the dominant infotainment collaborators on the road. Knowing that makes Panasonic’s venture capital investment in Drivemode (drivemode.com), an Android-based app, all the more intriguing. 

Panasonic led a $6.5-million Series A venture round investment into the Silicon Valley-based Drivemode. Other new investors included Miyako Capital, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital and Innovative Venture Fund Investment L.P.

The free app has been downloaded more than a million times on the Google App Store. Drivemode calls itself a “no look” interface, but some glancing is involved. Drivemode syncs up with a variety of apps, including maps, music, texts and phone systems, creating a large display for a dash-mounted smartphone. Although the companies announced the investment with an eye toward the future, Drivemode’s contemporary value seems to be providing most of the features of an Android Auto experience for vehicles without that mobile platform on board. 

"In a new era where a significant portion of drivers rely on smartphones, our products need to evolve as fast as smartphone technologies do," said Susumu Ibaraki, director of the Automotive Business Development Center at Panasonic. "That's why Drivemode's ability to understand driver behavior on a global scale and offer new solutions in real time have unparalleled potential in the rapidly changing automotive industry."