Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Crowdsourcing and 3D Printing Partnership to Develop New Generation of Home Products

Stratysys Limited, a global provider of 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions has announced its partnership with FirstBuild, the GE open innovation micro-factory. This collaboration will utilise a combination Stratasys' patented 3D printing technology and advanced manufacturing solutions with FirstBuild's open innovation community and micro-factory in Louisville Kentucky to develop and manufacture the next evolution of GE appliances and accessories. 

Since it launched on 1st May 2014 FirstBuild, a collaborative partnership between GE, University of Louisville, and crowdsourcing platform Local Motors, has been hard at work with the launch of its first product. The Green Bean Maker Module enables any household GE appliance to be retroactively transformed into into SMART products thereby helping to create a SMART home with the appliances controlled by a smartwatch. The Green Bean Module is on sale through the FirstBuild website. GE is certainly no stranger to collaborations on innovative manufacturing process using 3D printing techniques and CAD software. Stratasys has grown into a global provider of 3D printing solutions employing its patented FDM, Polyjet, and WDM 3D printing technologies to create prototypes and produce goods from 3D CAD files. The company also specialises in the use of additive manufacturing, the process of adding layer upon layer of material from the bottom up in effect the product is grown as opposed to machined. The process makes the material stronger and more flexible allowing for more cost effective and efficient parts production directly from 3D CAD data as well as allow for greater innovation.

Stratasys will set up 3D printers at the FirstBuild micro-factory located on the University of Louisville campus in Kentucky. FirstBuild's community of students, engineers and designers will collaborate to design the next generation of appliances with continued access to GE's plethora of iterations and designs. The 3D printers will be used in conjunction with metal and woodworking manufacturing techniques to test and build products which once finished will be sold, like the Green Bean Module, through the FirstBuild website, as well as traditional retail outlets. 
We believe that the prospects of tapping into the hardware innovation scene are very promising. This is an outstanding opportunity to help revolutionise the way things are made. This is an open-innovation environment where FirstBuild users will be able to use our cutting-edge technology to accelerate product development phases and create real products. - Gilad Gans, President Stratasys North America.
From advances in ultrasound research to manufacturing GE continues its long standing foray into crowdsourcing, mainly open innovation and co-creation. Collaborative partnerships with smaller platforms including Quirky and Local Motors has allowed for access to resources and creation of opportunities for new start-ups as well as up and coming designers and engineers in innovative design and creation of the next generation of partnerships.

Image Credit; Enrique Dans

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

[Gallery Post] Walking the Walk for Access to Justice

As someone who believes in access to legal representation and is tearing my hair out that increasing cuts and changes brought on by the government restricting that access, Monday 22nd September is an important day. It marks the 4th annual Bristol Legal Walk to raise both awareness and funds for the South West Legal Support Trust. There are many who cannot afford legal assistance or representation and whilst Legal Aid goes somewhat to addressing that, the trust ensures that such help gets to those who need it. Access to justice is becoming increasingly inaccessible and so I am lending my support by taking part in the walk along with other organisations as well colleagues and members.

Image courtesy of Emmanuel Huybrechts
It seems that much of my life in some form another has revolved around the law; from popular entertainment (Rumpole of the Bailey, ....and Justice for All) to my GCSE and A Level Studies learning about case law, our Legal system as well as making the sort of legal arguments that caused one of my law lecturers to rant red faced at me. It has also been a part of much of my working life working for government departments, insolvency practitioners and for the last eight years at St John's Chamber's working for renowned legal professionals alongside a dedicated team of clerks who work long and hard to keep their charges in work and chambers ticking over. So it's no surprise given the literary, visual and professional influence of the law that I would become a passionate defender of it, particularly the right to representation. The UK legal system does provide a variety of ways to ensure those without the means can obtain legal help. Legal Aid goes much of the way to providing that help but is supplemented by the Access to Justice Foundation. Operating under s.194 of the Legal Services Act 2007 the foundation funds the seven legal support trusts by awarding grants to those that need it. The trusts are also responsible for raising their own funds through donations and fundraising events such as the walk taking place in just under a week's time. As well as donations funds are also collected from pro bono costs and donations from unclaimed balances of client accounts. So who exactly do these trusts support?

Principally the funds are awarded to the trusts by way of a grant who then distribute it to anyone who provides pro bono (free of charge) legal services to those financially disadvantaged. The grants awarded are small, in the region to £250 - £3,000 and will only be awarded in instances where legal aid provision is unavailable or unsuitable. Pro bono assistance can be provided to poor and disadvantage people fighting forced evictions, dealing with asylum and immigration matters, mental health cases, discrimination, education and housing provision. This list is of course not exhaustive and tends to cover most aspect of civil law. Government austerity measures which have seen significant cuts made to the provision of legal aid, a bitter pill made easier to swallow by negative media portrayal of unsavory individuals in receipt of hoards of tax payer money to pay for their legal representation, is placing significant strain on pro bono services. Volunteers who work from overworked and under-resourced organisations such as Law Centres as especially feeling the strain. It is therefore vital that as much support can be garnered for Access to Justice Foundation and the seven trusts it supports. For me personally I am keen to see the South West Legal Support Trust raise as much funds as possible so that poor and disadvantaged people in my home region do not find themselves homeless, helpless and at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords, discriminatory individuals, to name a few. 

To help the cause and make a donation you can visit the St John's Chamber's Fundraising Page by clicking here. (Note this has been updated for the 2015 walk)

Monday, 1 September 2014

[Writer's Blog] To NaNo Or Not To NaNo

It is that time of the year again when I contemplate whether or not to embark on the madness train that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). There are plenty of reasons not to mainly because of the pressure writers put themselves under (myself included) to reach that all important 50,000 word target. Last year I only reached 13,000 but with what I felt were good reasons, mainly a lack of planning on my part. It was however an incredible experience, the shared camaraderie between fellow participants (wrimos), the joy of the sit ins, and the adrenaline rush of working to meet those daily targets. However the biggest thrill has to be seeing that work in progress languishing in the dungeon of one's  mind start to take shape on the screen or page. So what is NaNoWriMo and why on earth would anybody take part?

Image courtesy of
National Novel Writing Month.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to refer to the more commonly referenced acronym,  is a challenge for writers both amateur and professional to write all or part of a novel within one month. It is essentially a non-profit run operation with help from corporate sponsorship from leading project management tool Scriviner and Kobo to name a few, as well as relying on donations. The challenge starts on midnight of 1st November and the Wrimos have to produce at least 50,000 words. This does seem like an arduous task but with proper time management as well support it is not only achievable but a lot of fun. By engaging with the local and international community of Wrimos through the official site or on social media, you make new friends, find inspiration and achieve new heights of writing accomplishments you never thought possible. The downside of course is a poor diet, an incursion on one's social life and activities, and the struggle of balancing this with vital commitments mainly family, work and relationships. Here are a few misconceptions debunked that will help me and others looking to take part but concerned about that all important work/life/NaNo balance.


In order to be crowned a NaNoWriMo winner you do have to reach that all important landmark by 23:59 on 30th November. The good news is that unlike a race or the Highlander movies there doesn't have to be only one. Anybody who participates and reaches the target by the end of the month will be crowned a winner, and there are a number of sponsor offers for those who participate and reach the target. There is however no limit to how much you can write. Whilst the target is 50,000 Wrimos have written as much as 70,000 words and others have exceeded the 100,000 threshold. Write as much as you can.


Let's face it, 50,000 does not a novel make more a novella. There is this misconception that you have to write a novel (or novella) of no more or less than 50,000 words with a beginning, middle and end. This is couldn't be further from the truth as many wrimos write 50,000 of a work in progress that has been underway for months maybe even a year or two. NaNoWriMo can act as a focusing tool for writers needing that extra push whether it's to counter a case of writer's block or a pip to the post to finish the story. The words produced during the NaNoWriMo time frame can make up the beginning, middle or end of the novel, there are no rules or restrictions, and once again 50,000 is the target not the maximum. 


Writing 50,000 words in one month, even if you are the fastest typist on the world and consume Red Bull like water, no one can produce a story fit for publication. Even if this were possible, this is not necessarily the goal. In fact there will be little time to edit what you have written so far into a perfect publishable novel. The idea is that you produce a coherent piece of fiction, but it does not have to be perfect. The wrimo, at this stage doesn't have to worry about inconsistencies, plot holes, or even shaky characters and stunted dialogue. The goal is to produce something although there has to be some standard of legibility and sense. Typing the words "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" 5,000 times doesn't count nor does writing a load of gibberish. There has to be a story, with some conflict, characters and dialogue but it does not have to be perfect. 


NaNoWriMo is for anyone who wants to write. Whether you are looking to work on that dream novel and become the next Ben Kane, or George R R Martin, or you simply fancy indulging in a bit of fan fiction. Anyone can be a wrimo and although it does require a certain level of dedication as there is a target to reach, NaNoWriMo is whatever you want it to be; a tool to publishing stardom or just a way of living the writing dream and engaging with a global community of other wrimos to broaden horizons and have some fun doing so. 


How one approaches NaNoWriMo is down to the individual wrimo. If you feel truly gifted then you might be able to, come midnight on 1st November, sit at your laptop and pour all the words out from your head. There is nothing wrong however with a bit of advance planning such as an outline of the story, list of characters and their attributes, notes on setting, and so on. The wrimo can plan as much as is needed before the event starts.

So whether you are an aspirant novelist, a professional or a lay scribe longing to get that one good novel out of them, NaNoWriMo offers the potential to make writing happen. It is fun, engaging, intense and requires some planning and dedication. As for yours truly the jury is still not only on whether I want to spend a whole month in a caffeine and sugar induced haze made more heady with little sleep, but which story idea I will bring to life.