GM Wants Your Opinion. No, Really.
The challenging economic climate is forcing everyone to rethink how they do business and auto manufacturers are no exception. General Motors came through the humbling experience of bankruptcy with some new ideas: why not ask customers and potential customers what they want in a car while you're designing it? Thus The Lab was born.
Described as part social-marketing campaign and part product research, The Lab is a website where GM shares some of its designs and invites users to provide feedback. It currently features three concepts: a bare necessities compact car, a bare necessities truck, and a green initiative to find out what consumers look for in a more ecological vehicle. Short videos on all three of these concepts explains what the designers are aiming at and invite comments from users; the one for the bare necessities compact car, for example, explains that trade-offs may need to be made in the name of efficiency, and asks what consumers consider to be essential in a vehicle while recognizing that one person's necessity may be another's frivolous extra. So far, the comments have been flooding in, and most of them reflect constructive ideas and some very cool out-of-the-box thinking.
Like a social networking site, The Lab invites users to sign up and create a profile. Those who do so will get access to new designs, both through e-mail and in-person events. Of course, GM isn't giving away the family jewels; we're talking about intellectual property after all, and the auto business is still pretty competitive. But if we have ideas that need some final tweaking, or an idea so crazy we know nobody would copy it, or we have a patent but arent sure how appealing the product would be, well let you tell us, GM notes on The Lab. Welcome to the twenty-first century, GM.
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Racing to the Moon for Google Prize
Sometimes it seems like you can solve any problem if you throw enough money at it. That's how NASA landed men on the moon the first time. Now, 36 years after the last human visited the moon in person, private companies and individuals are getting involved thanks to the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize.
First announced nearly two years ago, the contest has 19 teams competing from all over the world. The winner must land a rover on the moon that will then drive 500 meters, turn around, and photograph its landing site. No government involvement is permitted. Oh, and there's one more catch: it must be done before the end of 2012. The team that pulls it off first wins $10 million. Second place gets $5 million, and the final $5 million will be doled out in bonuses for finding items from past moon missions.
The 19 teams represent a diversity of people, organizations, and approaches. Team Frednet, for example, maintains a wiki to which anyone can contribute, regardless of whether they're a team member. They believe this open source approach will give them an edge. Other teams boast members who have successfully competed in DARPA's autonomous vehicle challenges, in the hope applying that knowledge to the moon rover. Some teams are even finding unique ways to raise money, such as Synergy Moon, which is offering to take donors' DNA to the moon for $10,000.
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Latest 3D Printer Hits the Market
If you enjoy making things from scratch, you might enjoy working with a 3-D printer. These ingenious devices shape plastic blobs into well, just about anything you want. Now Makerbot is shipping one that makes the devices very accessible to the public. Bre Pettis, Makerbot's co-founder, notes that Engineers, architects and designers are getting [Makerbots] to turn the things of their imagination into real, physical objects.
Makerbot also boasts an active online community where users trade tips and designs. The Makerbot 3-D printer comes as a kit; it costs $750 for the basic model, and $950 for the deluxe version. Fortunately, assembly doesn't call for much beyond a soldering iron and some basic skills, because most of the electronic parts are pre-assembled. Makerbot can handle two kinds of plastic: ABS, which Lego makes its blocks out of, and HDPE, familiar to most people as the stuff used to make milk jugs. Users can create objects up to 4 by 4 by 6 inches in size.
So what can you create with Makerbot? Bracelets. Salt and pepper shakers. A plug for your bathtub. A Utah teapot (an inside joke in the computer graphics industry). But best of all, since the Makerbot is open source, many designs for things you can make with it are available online, so if you're stuck for ideas you can try someone else's. Just check out Thingiverse, the site where Makerbot users congregate and share their designs. You never know what you'll find; some designs, such as the one of Walt Disney's head (with a brain model inside) border on the truly bizarre.
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