I'm reluctant to plug a commercial service, but have any of you looked at www.shapeways.com? It's an online 3D printing service where you can upload STL files and they mail you your part - in an amazing variety of available materials. I recently had a camera part made in stainless steel for a fraction of just the material cost to make it by machining from bar stock. There may be other similar things out there, but this is the one I've happened to come across.
eafpres, I had a similar experience after writing my first metals 3D printing article several months ago: it seemed like suddenly I saw media coverage of similar manufacturers everywhere. Of course, there are always way more service bureaus than manufacturers of the technology. Good to know the service bureaus are available.
78RPM, those snake and worm robots are fun, aren't they? The idea of their self-reconfiguration ability makes them even more interesting. And yes, things are moving awfully fast in these design areas. It often feels like the future is already here.
Nadine, to clarify again, I don't find my article more compelling, I find the concepts discussed in it of self-assembling and self-reconfiguring robots and methods more compelling than the lego-like so-called "digital materials" in the MIT paper. Anyway, too bad what you heard about isn't findable anywhere online. If you ever do find links, please let us know. It sounds a bit like MIT's so-called 4D printing, which is actually self-assembly combined with 3D printing. I wrote about that here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=260118
I want one of those Transformers. I've seen other Design News articles about robotic snakes and the like. It will be really useful when snake robots can crawl through small spaces, then reconfigure to lift a fallen piece of concrete rubble or take out a firehose or whatever the need is. The future is really being invented very fast, isn't it?
78RPM, the self-assembly and self-reconfiguring concepts in my other article are definitely more futuristic. OTOH, this Transformer-like robot is pretty here and now, if still small: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=256018
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.