I’m no kind of engineer or industrial design guy. I do make a lot of physical things, but it’s mostly artworks, and old fashioned artworks at that—stone and wood carving. Nothing much has changed in those media in 150 years, and even then it was just power tools to speed up the same things they already did.
It’s perverse to live in the 21st technological Renaissance, and limit yourself to materials and techniques that have been around since the end of the Bronze Age. With this in mind, I recently borrowed a Makerbot Replicator 3D printer, downloaded a program called Fusion360 and set about joining the 21st Century. (I’m lucky to have friends who can lend a guy a printer!)
Holy $%^#!, but this stuff has come a long way. Forget the printer—Fusion360 is a potential career killer. Don’t even start playing with it unless you’re prepared to get obsessed. It’s magic, really. It takes a little time to get the basics, but it’s a nice shallow learning curve and you can start building simple designs the first day.
You’ve probably heard of the “Internet of Things”—the cool kids call it IoT—but if you’re like most people, all you know is that it has something to do with kitchen appliances that can order groceries for you.
Like so many of us, jaded by decades of technological miracles, for years I mostly ignored IoT as just another TLA in the never-ending cacophony of buzzwords, but now that I’ve put some time into learning what it’s all about, the scales have fallen from my eyes. It’s not just smart coffeepots and burglar alarms the call your iPhone. I’m coming around to the view that it’s ultimately going to rival the Internet itself in scale, and may well result in epochal changes to the human condition.
A startup called N-Gen technologies is running an interesting crowdfunding campaign for a natural gas-fueled, Stirling engine-powered appliance for generating your own electricity at home. N-Gen doesn’t use the S-word in their fundraising materials but they do in their patent (more below.) They claim it’s going to change the world, cutting out the power company and letting you generate your own power safely and efficiently, immune from power failures. Could it? Hard to be sure, but they have working prototypes, and it’s nifty technology. The crowdfunding prospectus is worth a look; it reads like the disclaimers for a pharmaceutical ad. Who knew there were so many ways to lose your money?
Before we look at this claim, what the heck is a Stirling engine, anyway?