Tools on Demand: the New Mobile Frontier

Last week I found myself stuck on a road on a lonely California highway in need of a flashlight. (Let’s not look at the circumstances too closely, shall we?)

There's a flashlight in your pocket!

There’s a flashlight in your pocket!

In less than a minute I was able to download a Flashlight app to my smartphone and light my way. Less than a minute to get a necessary tool in the middle of nowhere.

Imagine how useful it would be to get that instant, on-demand capability for other tools. Imagine a small, ultra-portable 3D printer that could attach to your phone. It would use a 3D printable (STL) file you would download as you needed it and a pack of “raw materials” that would depend on what you need to print.
Even if we assume that this imaginary micro-printer can print mostly small items the potential uses are still incredibly useful:
  • Your car breaks down and you need a tire patch or a spare part. The car manufacturer will provide the STL file to make sure you get the exact part you need.
  • You’re on your mountain bike on a trail and need a chain link.
  • You’re rock climbing and need a specific carabiner.
  • You’re a doctor performing emergency orthopedic surgery and need a bone screw in a very specific size.
  • You’re stranded in the Amazonian jungle and need a mosquito net. (OK, it may be far-fetched to have a printer and raw materials available in that situation.)
  • Or frivolously, you’re at the beach and need a jigger.
I realize printing technology has to go a very long way to minimize the printer size to the point where it’s this portable, but the benefits are mind-boggling.

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