Is There a Future for Decentralized Digital Currency?

Posted January 3rd, 2014 at 3:53 pm (UTC-4)
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Signs on window advertise a bitcoin ATM machine in a Waves Coffee House in Vancouver, British Columbia , Canada, Oct. 28, 2013. (Reuters)

Signs on window advertise a bitcoin ATM machine that has been installed in a Waves Coffee House in Vancouver, British Columbia , Canada, Oct. 28, 2013. (Reuters)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard some of the recent fuss surrounding Bitcoin – with some saying it is too volatile for currency, or it’s a scam or a fad, while others insist it’s the future of currency.

For better or worse, the world’s first decentralized digital currency – meaning it does not need a bank or other intermediary to carry out transactions – is growing in popularity worldwide, particularly in India and China.

That it is not issued by a major financial institution is reason enough for some people to embrace it.

Its popularity in China in particular might be due to the fact that some in Asia were not aware of Bitcoin when it launched in 2009. But once they heard about it, they jumped in, creating “what would look like a big surge in popularity,” according to Jerry Brito, senior Research Fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

Bitcoin may also provide a way for buyers to evade China’s capital controls controls and send their bitcoins overseas to then convert into another currency before putting them in a bank.

“There’s no Bitcoin company. There’s no Bitcoin building. There’s no Bitcoin server,” said Brito. “It is completely decentralized. It is a peer-to-peer network. So there’s no one person, no one company that controls it.”

Centralized digital currencies are issued by companies or institutions that decide how much money to create and whether they want to inflate it. “They are a central bank. And … using dollars, you buy that currency and then you can use it to trade with other people,” said Brito.

Bitcoin is “a giant ledger where all kinds of actions are reconciled,” said Brito. The public ledger, which is distributed on the networks among all users, keeps record of all transactions.

That is a concern for critics who say Bitcoin is a haven that crooks and drug dealers could use to transact without having to go through financial intermediaries.

But Bitcoin’s biggest problem is its volatility, which raises doubts about its future as currency. Brito says the reason is that it is a “very illiquid market,” with very few people doing transactions.

“As a result, any sufficiently large transaction can send the price moving quite a bit,” he said, although the price should stabilize as more people adopt Bitcoin.

Digital currency clearly has some advantages, particularly for countries with high inflation. “If we ever see a country’s people begin to use a cryptocurrency over their national currency, I imagine it will be in such a situation,” Brito said.

But he dismisses the notion that digital currencies could threaten the currencies of major industrialized countries. “I can buy euros with dollars or yens with euros, and the price for each of these different currencies fluctuates in the market, depending on supply and demand,” he said. “You will see the same thing with digital currencies.”

And the two will co-exist for some time as more businesses warm up to Bitcon transactions. In time, Bitcoin could become the means for people with no credit cards or centralized digital currency to make digital payments.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, January 2, 2014

Posted January 2nd, 2014 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
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Mobile is the Future of Payments — Here’s How Much Runway There is for Growth

The habit of paying for things on smartphones and tablets is already ingrained in modern consumer society, particularly among young demographics. Mobile-focused companies are exploring how to make these transactions easier, for shoppers and merchants, at physical stores and online.

Research: Teens Who Play Violent Games More Likely to Cheat, Be More Aggressive, and Have Less Self Control

The study comes from a team of researchers from the United States, Italy, and the Netherlands, who analyzed 172 Italian high school students between the ages of 13-19, who were “required” to take part in a series of experiments to determine how violent video games affected their personalities.

New MIT Technology Allows 3D Image Interaction

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to allow people in one place to interact with three-dimensional versions of people or objects in a different location.

How to Be Notified that Your Password Has Been Stolen

Now you can be contacted if your email address appears in any new, publicly-released data breaches.

Texting, Dialing While Driving Raises Crash Risk

A sophisticated, real-world study confirms that dialing, texting or reaching for a cellphone while driving raises the risk of a crash or near-miss, especially for younger drivers. But the research also produced a surprise: Simply talking on the phone did not prove dangerous, as it has in other studies.

This Guy Makes Unbelievable Art on Snapchat in His Spare Time

Shaun McBride, 26, recently graduated from college and has a full-time job in Odgen, Utah. In his spare time, he sends some spectacular Snapchats to his wife and friends. His Facebook page, which is full of the snaps, accumulated 4,000 likes in its first three weeks.

Social Networking Sites Have Huge Adult Audience

A Pew Research Center survey found that 73 percent of Americans 18 and older use at least one online social network with seven in ten making Facebook their top choice.

What Will the Mobile Game of 2014 Look Like?

Mobile and tablet gaming is undergoing a massive transition from the slot and card games that defined the platform years ago.  With the free-to-play model coming into full form, what can we expect to see in the next year?

Cleaning the Mobile Germ Warehouse

Because our electronics are constantly within our grubby grasp, they can get pretty gross. They are taken into public restrooms, handed to runny-nosed toddlers, passed around to share photos and pressed against sweaty skin in gyms. Repeated studies show what accumulates is germy nastiness worse than what is on the bottom of your shoe.

Biocon’s Marketing Chief Quits to Join Mylan

Bangalore-headquartered biopharma firm Biocon hasn’t had the best start to the new year. The company announced Thursday that its marketing chief Rakesh Bamzai has resigned after 19 years with the organization. The news triggered a fall in Biocon’s shares which ended 2% lower at the close of trading.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, January 1, 2014

Posted January 1st, 2014 at 4:58 pm (UTC-4)
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How Mobile Technology is Changing Medicine As We Know it

Technology is constantly shaping medicine and has led to a number of innovations in the past decade. But the emergence of mobile devices in the past few years has given rise to a fledgling branch of health-care technology called mobile health.

 Beirut Startup Enters Wearable Technology Market

In Beirut, Lebanon, a small sports technology startup is aiming to make a splash in the wearable technology sector with its heart-rate monitor that tracks a swimmer’s laps, turns and timing, and can be fitted to any pair of goggles.

Games Too Often Portray Women as Damsels in Distress, Says Naughty Dog Dev

User interface designer Alexandria Neonakis says, “We need to promote partnership and not continue the cycle of men versus women.”

Looking for a College Major? How About Drone Technology?

The controversial use of drones in business and everyday life is leading to more and more interest on an academic level.

The Bumpy Road Ahead for Android Tablets in 2014

The year 2013 has seen the introduction of many Android tablets. Things might not be very rosy in 2014.

Self-Driving Electric Cars Set to Change City Mobility

The first generation of autonomous cars is less than three years away – Gothenburg, Sweden will implement a pilot in 2017 with 100 cars and 100 regular drivers who will manually drive cars to roads where they then join road trains and switch to auto drive.

Africa: Laser Scanner Detects Malaria Infections in Seconds

Researchers have developed the first non-invasive method of detecting malaria infection using a laser beam scanner. The painless test appears to be 100 percent accurate and does not require using any blood.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, December 31, 2013

Posted December 31st, 2013 at 4:27 pm (UTC-4)
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How to Get the Most Battery Life from your Android Device

If your Android device is powered on all of the time, you may well find that you run out of juice before the end of the day. Though batteries in such devices are getting more powerful, so are the features and apps that run on them. Since some of these features aren’t needed all the time, they can be turned off until you need them. Here’s a look at how to get more up time out of your battery.

Africa: Lightning Detection Promises Improved Storm Forecasts

An alternative to costly radar-based weather services could soon be operational in developing nations to help detect severe storms more cheaply and quickly. The technology, which uses lightning detection to forecast when and where storms will strike, has already proven successful in demonstration projects in Brazil, Guinea and India.

How Technology Can Halt Climate Change

A team of USA TODAY reporters traveled across the United States this year to look at how climate change is affecting Americans, from the coasts to the heartland. The reporters visited 10 states and found rising temperatures have exacerbated allergies, flooding and drought, among other problems.

Social Media as a Megaphone to Pressure the Food Industry

Renee Shutters went online, using a petition with the help of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, to push her pleas for the food industry to remove artificial dyes from food.

India’s Aircel Goes 4G with China’s ZTE

Having deployed Aircel’s 2G and 3G networks, ZTE will now design, supply, and deploy the Indian operator’s LTE network in eight telecom circles across the country.

SD Cards Hacked

Summary: SD cards, including tiny microSD and SIM cards, contain a powerful – and hackable – computer system. Are you sure you want to use your cell phone as a credit card?

Can Apple Teach China about Quality?

The doom and gloom about Apple’s future continues. The party line goes that Cupertino must repent of its ways and make a New Year’s resolution to produce cheaper and cheaper systems. How else can it really succeed?

LinkedIn, Pinterest More Popular than Twitter: Study

More U.S. adults use LinkedIn and Pinterest than Twitter, but that website attracts a greater proportion of blacks and young adults than do its social media peers, a Pew Research Center study released on Monday showed.

Facebook Dominates in US Rush to Social Networking

he surge into social networks is gaining pace among Americans, with Facebook dominating but with many people using multiple platforms, a study showed Monday.

Students Create 3D Grass Printer

Art students Tina Zidanšek, Danica Rženičnik, Urška Skaza and Maja Petek in Maribor, Slovenia have come up with a process for creating beautiful 3D-printed grass designs that allows gardens to come alive with artful designs.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Game Changers: Playing for a Better World

Posted December 27th, 2013 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
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Gamers have heard it all before: games are a waste of time! They are bad for your health. They promote violence, etc., etc. But the fact is some are also catalysts for positive change. And that’s exactly what Games for Change is about.

Games for Change is a non-profit hub that promotes video games as tools for social good, learning and behavior modification. It works with partners and donors to produce projects like Facebook’s Half the Sky Movement: The Game, a spin-off of the movement by the same name inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn‘s best-selling book Half the Sky. Around it were created several games and a TV series.

Radhika talks to her husband in this Facebook screenshot of  Half the Sky Movement: The Game (courtesy: Games for Change)

Radhika talks to her husband in this Facebook screenshot of Half the Sky Movement: The Game. (Courtesy: Games for Change)

“It tells the story of an Indian woman. Her name is Radhika and … she fights with her husband about the right to take care of her girl that is sick,” said Games for Change President Asi Burak. “And he’s telling her, ‘look we have no money to do that.’ And then she basically … starts her own business and … starts to really, you know, fight for herself. And over time she becomes so powerful that she helps others.”

It is a story of empowerment Burak tells TECHtonics. The game raises awareness and motivates people to take action or make donations to help others. So when Radhika collects books for her kids’ school, for example, the player can give books in the real world or, when he/she has enough game points, “we tell you that now because of what you did, Johnson & Johnson is going to give a surgery to a woman in need,” he said.

The game initially targeted the United States. But Games for Change soon started seeing “a lot of people playing from Egypt; and one of our biggest cities is Cairo, and from Turkey, you know Istanbul,” Burak said. “So it kind of matches the people that … are very active on social networks.”

That includes women around 25 years old, who make up a quarter to a third of the players.

Nine Minutes sums up the 9-month pregnancy cycle in nine minutes for pregnant women and their spouses (courtesy: Games for Change)

Nine Minutes sums up the 9-month pregnancy cycle in nine minutes for pregnant women and their spouses. (Courtesy: Games for Change)

Taking that momentum further, Games for Change journeyed to India and East Asia to get a first-hand look at the problems people face and came back with ideas for three games for low-end phones. These ideas were not only developed because of the needs of people on the ground, but were “tested with them, and they helped us to write the script,” said Burak. “It was a very, very tight collaboration because at the end of the day they are the experts.”

The first fruit of their labor was Nine Minutes – a game that puts pregnant women, or women that want to be pregnant, and their spouses through the 9-month cycle of pregnancy in nine minutes. It is “almost like dos and don’ts of what you should pay attention to,” said Burak.

For the second game – Worm Attack, which helps kids aged 7-12 understand intestinal worms and how to use medicine to treat them – Games for Change partnered with Deworm the World, the organization “giving the pill to millions of kids in both India and Kenya,” Burak said.

Family Choices follows a girl as she grows up and faces choices on early marriage, education and the like. (Courtesy: Games for Change)

Family Choices follows a girl as she grows up and faces choices on early marriage, education and the like. (Courtesy: Games for Change)

The third – Family Choices – a game about the choices a girl faces as she grows up, from early marriage to education – shows players “that those decisions are far from being easy and straightforward,” Burak explained.

Games for Change is partnering with film producers Show of Force to lead a new USAID-funded phase of the Half the Sky Facebook project. The project aims to translate and adapt to Hindi and Swahili both the game and the TV series. The group will also work with marketing companies and local NGOs to distribute the older components in India and Kenya. That will give Games for Change the opportunity for a “real evaluation of the impact and … what happens when a large population is seeing all the components together,” said Burak. “Is it really making a difference?”

Games for Change will have the opportunity to assess its impact. The new project gives it continuity that has been missing from previous endeavors – one-time projects that go out “in the world and you are never able to continue,” as Burak puts it.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, December 26, 2013

Posted December 26th, 2013 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
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China Approves Pilot to Open Mobile Telecoms Market, Boost Competition

China has approved a pilot scheme allowing private companies to piggy back on the country’s three dominant telecommunications providers to offer own-brand mobile services, opening the world’s largest mobile phone market to increased competition.

From Twitter to Tinder: Social Media’s Biggest Hits and Misses of 2013

Social media has invaded every aspect of our lives, and in 2013 that fact became more apparent than ever. Have a problem with a company? Tweet at them to solve it. See a billboard on your commute to work? Note the Facebook logo in the lower corner. Beyoncé announces the biggest album of the year where? On Instagram, of course.

This Artist Uses Emoji to Explore Empathy, Autism, and How We Connect

New York performance artist Genevieve Belleveau is fascinated by misinterpretations of emoji characters. Her piece, Emoji Autism Facial Recognition Therapy, was one of the most intuitive and thought-provoking pieces at the highly regarded Emoji Art Show in Manhattan. It examines the common misinterpretations people make with emoji characters.

Personal Tragedy, Tricorders and the Idea of Mapping One’s Body

When Walter De Brouwer puts his head to something, he can produce single-handedly what usually takes several hospital machines and labs. His single hand, it should be said, holds a small and promising device with which Mr. De Brouwer, the co-founder and chief executive of Scanadu, hopes to remake medicine.

Reserve Bank of India Cautions Users on Risks Associated with Virtual Currencies Like Bitcoin

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has cautioned users of virtual currencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Dogecoin on the risks associated with them and that it is looking at the use and trading of these currencies.

Don’t Blame Social Media if Your Teen is Unsocial. It’s Your Fault

Are teenagers losing their social skills? Parents and pundits seem to think so. Teens spend so much time online, we’re told, that they’re no longer able to handle the messy, intimate task of hanging out face-to-face. “After school, my son is on Facebook with his friends. If it isn’t online, it isn’t real to him,” one mother recently told me in a panic. “Everything is virtual!”

Teens in the UK Are Calling it: Facebook is Dead and Buried

This year marked the start of teenagers adopting other social networks instead of Facebook as their parents signed up for Zuckerberg’s site in droves. In a European Union-funded study on social media, the Department of Anthropology at University College London is running ethnographic studies in seven countries to find out how teens were perceiving Facebook.

What Japanese Game Developers Resolve for 2014

Japanese gaming magazine, Weekly Famitsu, asked 100 game developers what their key phrases resolutions for 2014 were. Take a look at what some of them had to say.

How to Mind Your Digital Manners in the New Year

There’s one thing we can all agree on this holiday season: Our collective digital manners could use some work!

 Are Samsung Smartphones Seriously Vulnerable to Security?

 A researcher at Israel’s  Ben-Gurion University’s Cyber Lab alleged that a critical security vulnerability was discovered earlier this month, which would allow outsiders to breach the smartphone’s security and access supposedly secure user data. Samsung announced that similar allegations have been made before, and that the problem is not as serious as the researcher claims.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, December 25, 2013

Posted December 25th, 2013 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
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A New Use for Coal: Glowing Nanodots

All that coal found in the stockings of naughty children today could be a source of cheap, nontoxic fluorescent nanoparticles useful for biomedicine.

Apple Fined $670,000 In Taiwan For Price Fixing

Another one of these little stories that show the difficulty that multinationals have around the world. What might be considered entirely respectable behavior in one market can end up being illegal in another.

Brazil Tops E-waste Ranking in LatAm

The country has generated 1.4 million tons of e-waste in 2012.

Futuristic Tech That Wowed Us in 2013

A look back on some of the coolest, most promising products, bold new technologies, and grand plans for making life better that emerged in the past year.

China Chips Away At Taiwan’s Prized Tablet PC Industry

Taiwan, a long-standing global tech hardware powerhouse, is losing coveted contract tablet PC orders to China because of the other side’s prices, speed and flexibility in getting jobs done, a government-backed IT industry research group warns.

Researchers Report Security Flaw in Samsung’s Galaxy S4

An Israeli security team says a vulnerability in Samsung’s Knox security platform enables malicious software to track e-mails and record data communications.

A Mobile OS That Doesn’t Care What Phone It’s On

About four years ago, Steve Kondik started tinkering with an early version of Google’s Android mobile operating system, a piece of open source software that’s freely available to anyone. Eventually, he pieced together an alternate version of the Google OS, known as Cyanogen, and backed by a thriving community of software hackers, this “mod” became one of the most popular ways of replacing and enhancing the OS that comes with your phone.

Studio of Indie Sensation Hello Games Flooded on Christmas Eve, Devs Say

The offices of one of 2013’s most exciting indie studios have all but been ruined.

Is the Internet a Mob Without Consequence?

The immediacy and fast pace of the Internet can be magical. But when someone makes a comment that the masses disagree with, a mob with 140-character pitchforks can develop in seconds and the Internet can become terrifyingly bellicose.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, December 24, 2013

Posted December 24th, 2013 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
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Apple Still Has a China Problem

Apple’s landmark deal with China Mobile gives it access to more than 700 million new cell phone customers – a staggering number. But it still has a long way to go before it’s a power player in the world’s biggest market for smartphones.

Bill Gates Invests In The Urine Powered Mobile Phone

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in the second stage of a project to produce electrical power from the digestion of urine, electricity that can be used to then power a mobile phone.

Is Facebook Safe or Not?

Facebook is a normal part of everyday life for many users, with a worldwide user base of over one billion people sharing pictures, activities and even thoughts.Things that were once private now reside on the Internet, ripe for the reading. As with most of the Internet, Facebook is as safe as you make it. For the most part, wise use and utilization of the site’s privacy and security settings protect your Facebook experience.

2014 in Preview: A Look at Upcoming Tech Trends

Contextual computing, the next phase of the post-PC era, 3D printing and the mainstreaming of wearable computing are a few of the 2014 themes we’re watching.

Beacons: What They Are, How They Work, And Why They’re Important

Beacons are a low-cost piece of hardware – small enough to attach to a wall or countertop— that utilize battery-friendly low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet.

Japanese Team Wins DARPA Challenge to Find Next Generation of Rescue Robots

The challenge had 16 teams attempting to complete tasks like clearing debris, wielding a hose and navigating uneven terrain. Eight of these teams have now qualified for the next round set to be held next year.

Fired PR Executive Apologizes for AIDS in Africa Tweet

A public relations executive who ignited an online furor after posting a message on Twitter joking about AIDS in Africa, apologized on Sunday, saying she was ashamed of her comment.

Apple Patents Integrated Heart Rate Monitor For Smartphones, Hover Touch Sensors

Apple has been issued a couple new patents by the USPTO today, including one for hover touch sensing the likes of which we’re starting to see rolled out in Android-powered devices lately like the Samsung Galaxy S4. Another patent covers an embedded heart rate monitor that could add one more sensor to the iPhone, with potential for biometrics and fitness apps.

Nine Common Mistakes Developers Make

A panel of nine successful entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council discuss the one common and easily avoidable mistake startup developers make.

Kerbal Space Program Dev on Random Solar Systems and the Joy of Failure

Kerbal Space Program became quite the phenomenon in 2013. After two years of quiet work, landing on Steam for Early Access brought the game to the attention of millions of gamers and launched Squad, a small interactive marketing firm based in Mexico City, toward the halls of indie success stories. Now, new educational initiative is bringing a version of the space sim to classrooms.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

3-D Printing Brings New Promise for Developing World

Posted December 20th, 2013 at 3:30 pm (UTC-4)
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Twelve-year-old Leon McCarthy (R), whose prosthetic hand is made of parts printed from a MakerBot 3D printer, broke a piece of it while playing football, so he printed a new finger to repair it. (Reuters)

Twelve-year-old Leon McCarthy (R), whose prosthetic hand is made of parts printed from a MakerBot 3D printer, broke a piece of it while playing football, so he printed a new finger to repair it, Boston, Massachusetts. (Reuters)

The growth of three dimensional (3-D) printing technology brings opportunities scientific, entrepreneurial – even culinary.  Some people are using the devices to build custom creations out of chocolate.

“I don’t know if it’s good chocolate,” said Prabhjot Singh, Director of Additive Manufacturing at General Electric (GE), which uses 3-D printers to make parts for aviation and advanced energy-generation machinery – presumably out of non-edible materials. The process delivers performance while producing designs and prototypes for parts more quickly.

Three dimensional printing uses a digital model to create a 3-D object by adding consecutive layers of material to it. That requires a digital model, raw material that can include plastic, metal and well, chocolate, and a personal or industrial-strength printer.

Yes, you can build your own 3-D printer. Below is the open-source self-replicating 3-D printer called RepRap – the genesis of most 3-D printers available today.

A finished, home-made RepRap self replicating printer. The purple parts were 3-D printed and added. (Dino Belsagic/VOA)

RepRap i2: finished, home-made self-replicating printer. Red and purple parts were made with other RepRap printers. (Dino Beslagic/VOA)

“This means that almost anyone, located almost anywhere can own and operate a machine,” said Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, an independent consulting firm. “We envision individuals in small villages in remote areas of the world could operate these machines to produce basic products for their villages and neighboring villages. Over time, it could develop to become an important source of economic development in a community.”

And it can be done without access to a manufacturing facility. “That’s the beauty of 3-D printing,” he added. “‘It does not require a large capital investment or major infrastructure to operate.”

Large companies use Industrial-strength 3-D printers that can cost more than $1 million to meet high demand. But Wohlers says “simpler products, such as jewelry, sculptures, games and puzzles can be produced on low-cost equipment.”

Despite the cost, some developing countries already use 3-D printers. Singh says India and China already have “pockets of their economies that are able to afford such machines,” while Brazil and South Africa are getting into 3-D manufacturing on a smaller scale.

India and China have “robust” research communities, says Singh; and China, which is printing large structures and pursuing aerospace applications, is “deploying the machines quite widely.”

For GE, the advantages of 3-D printing for large aerospace applications can be “game-changing,”he said, although in his view, 3-D printing’s radical advantage is customization.

“If you can customize parts to a user and … make it much better for that person to use that part, then that is quite revolutionary,” he said.

The prospect tickles the imagination of Kate Ganim, Co-Director of mobile design education firm KIDmob and a team member of iLAB//Haiti, a non-profit group that helps Haitians prototype 3-D-printed umbilical cord clamps for clinics, build chairs without rulers or parts for broken machinery.

She is excited about the potential of 3-D printing, particularly for bypassing “weak or corrupt infrastructures” in developing countries and for providing prosthetics –  a great application in Haiti, says Ganim.

“A massive number of people lost limbs in the 2010 earthquake,” she said. “We could conceivably 3-D-print prosthetics to custom-fit the folks that need them. This would be mass customization.”

Ganim says the group is “exploring how far we can push the technology” and would be interested in additional rapid prototyping technologies, as well as recyclers.

With materials like a spool of ABS filament selling for around $45, Ganim says the group would like to “convert printed ABS plastic back into printable spools.”

iLab//Haiti hopes to harvest plastic from garbage, sterilize it and convert it into spools for printers.

I think I’ll pass on that chocolate now.

World’s first chocolate printer

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Sightings, December 19, 2013

Posted December 19th, 2013 at 5:28 pm (UTC-4)
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Bill Gates Surprises Reddit User With Secret Santa Gifts

A Reddit user likely didn’t expect much when she joined the site’s Secret Santa program. But a seven- pound package from “Bill” turned into a Christmas miracle.

Nigeria: Airtel, Google Give Customers Free Internet Service

Leading telecommunications service provider, Airtel Nigeria and Google launched a unique Internet service tagged Free Zone powered by Google. The service allows customers to access mobile web search and other feature-phone-friendly versions of Gmail and Google+ without getting billed.

Micropayments, Mega Angst, and the Future of Console Games

Sony and Microsoft have delivered their next-gen visions, but with this caveat: more microtransactions. Cash grab or survival strategy, it will surely generate controversy as 2014 rolls along.

Reinventing the Wheel: Startup Turns Bicycles into Smart Electric-Hybrids

A startup is launching a new device that transforms almost any bicycle into an electric-hybrid vehicle using an app on a smartphone.The device, called the Copenhagen Wheel, is installed as part of a rear hub of a bike wheel and is packed with a proprietary computer, batteries and sensors that monitor how hard a rider is pedaling and activate an onboard motor whenever support is needed.

Supercomputers Find Bacterial ‘Off’ Switch

The comparatively recent addition of supercomputing to the toolbox of biomedical research may already have paid off in a big way: Researchers have used a bio-specialized supercomputer to identify a molecular “switch” that might be used to turn off bad behavior by pathogens. They’re now trying to figure out what to do with that discovery by running even bigger tests on the world’s second-most-powerful supercomputer.

The ‘Killer Robot’ Olympics

The research branch of the U.S. Defense Department, DARPA, is putting on a big competition in Florida this Friday and Saturday for the world’s most advanced robots. One of the stars of the show is a humanoid thing that geeks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, working in a place they call “The Bunker,” decided to christen Valkyrie

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.