Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

As the photo blog Humans of New York attests to there are a lot of interesting people out there with something to say.  People from all walks of life with very unique perspectives.

Similarly, I believe that there are a lot of people out there, from all walks of life, who have come up with great ideas that are well worth sharing.  Ideas based on their own unique life experiences and perspectives.  Ideas that could very well change the way we live and make the world a better place.

Samantha Pettit, a recent ASU graduate and aspiring social entrepreneur, has one such idea: an Etsy for the developing world.  Samantha came up with this idea while on a trip to Africa last year when she met with locals who made beautifully, hand crafted items unlike anything she had ever seen state side.  It seemed like such a shame to her that these local merchants didn’t have a way to share their beautiful creations with the rest of the world.

That’s when she came up with the idea for an Etsy for the developing world.  This wouldn’t work exactly the same way as Etsy since the local merchants don’t have internet access and wouldn’t be able to set up their own digital storefronts.  Rather, employees of Samantha’s organization would serve as middlemen and handle all of the logistics, ensuring that the products reach their destination and that the creator gets paid.  This would be a win-win scenario and could help ensure a brighter economic future for people in developing countries.

I recently spoke with Samantha to find out more about this wonderful idea.  Here’s a look at what she had to say:

1.    I love your idea and I love the fact that you came up with it based on real world experience.  Do you think there’s a market for this idea?  Are the people that you met receptive to the idea of selling their wares around the world?

I do think there is a market for this idea. In the age of customization and individuality, I think people are thirsty for ways to be unique and often express their uniqueness through their purchases. Additionally, in a world defined by immediate updates and impacted so strongly by social perceptions, consumers are becoming increasingly more concerned about where their products are coming from and how they are being created. It is no longer simply about the product, but also about the impact (positive or negative) that the creation of that product has on the world.

The people that I met are incredibly receptive to the idea – it actually spurred from a conversation that I had with a man named Noah, in Kenya. They have amazingly crafted, hand-made products that they sell in their local markets for very little money (by American standards). However, they know that these products are worth much more in other countries, especially where they are less commonplace. They have an idea that if they could reach a Western market, they would be profitable, but I don’t think they’re aware of just how extreme the price difference could be.

 2.    Wouldn’t it just be easier to provide internet access to these people like Mark Zuckerberg and the folks over at Google want to do so that they can open their own Etsy stores?  Or do you think they need to form a partnership to achieve their goals?

Well, to be honest, I don’t think that would be easier. I think that an advance like that would make a greater and more lasting impact, but would actually require a lot more time and effort than something like this partnership would. There are so many social and political issues to overcome in order to make that approach work. For instance, there is currently a legal feud going on in Kenya over the rights to provide internet access. There are some groups that want to provide it free for all people, but then others that see the potential for profitability. They latter group does not want to allow anyone to provide it for free, because then why would people pay for their service? Additionally, providing internet access is only one piece of the puzzle. They would also need a device that allows them to utilize the internet, assuming that they have electricity to even keep such a device charged (or have a solar powered device). I think that ventures like those of Zuckerberg and Google definitely have their place, and actually have the potential to make a more significant impact, but they are meeting different needs than this project would.

My goal in this project is to help individuals create sustainable incomes for themselves and their families, and to make that impact now. I have a long-term goal of influencing the political landscape in third-world countries in order to change things on a grander scale, but this project is separate from that goal.

I do not necessarily think that the individuals who would participate in this project need to form a partnership to achieve their goals, but I think it would make it easier for them to do so. Rather than expecting every person in the project to have a camera to take pictures of the items they wish to sell, a computer to use to post the items, internet access to reach a world-wide audience, and the knowledge of world-markets, it would be more efficient for one organization to provide those services for all participants. Additionally, this model would allow for individuals who have the greatest need to participate. It is not the individuals with all of these resources who need the assistance, it is those who have only enough to stay alive and provide for their families that we would seek to help.

 3.    A lot of the Western focus on Africa has been centered on clean water initiatives, micro payments, providing healthcare, and empowering women.  Based on your personal experience what else do you think is needed over there?  

It’s funny that you ask this because my answer is not necessarily in line with the goals of this project. After being in Africa and seeing the impact of the different types of initiatives you mentioned, I realized that you can only do so much within the constraints of an unsuccessful or corrupted government. While I think that all of the work that is being done in Africa to help people is valuable and valiant, I do not think that is the solution. In order to really solve these issues, you have to address the cause, not just remedy the various effects. Therefore, I think that a solution lies in exterminating corruption (easy enough, right?) and implementing a stable government. Not being an expert on the politics of the situation, though, I cannot give much input as to a potential way to achieve this. I am not sure whether it is something that can be done by groups outside of the countries, either. It may need to be something that is done internally. In any case, I hope to continue to increase my understanding of the subject and hopefully make a positive impact in the future.

As I mentioned, that answer is not exactly in line with the goals for this project.  [However], this project will tend to address the effects of the current problems – unemployment, poverty, and limited resources. But I still think that it, along with all the other initiatives currently in progress in Africa, is important for its own reasons.

[All in all], if the key to creating a significant and lasting change lies in the hands of those who live in these countries, then those individuals need to be in a place to do so. Living day-to-day and working simply to survive is not very conducive to achieving political stability. It is a bit of a ‘chicken and the egg’ situation, where major social and political factors need to be addressed in order to improve the general quality of life, but citizens are unable to address the issues because the quality of life is so low. Therefore, projects like the one I am beginning as well as initiatives like the ones you mentioned above, can create the changes on an individual level that are needed to break this vicious cycle. By meeting the immediate needs of citizens (food, water, shelter, safety, and health) we are all aiding them in having the opportunities to then do more – politically, socially, legally, etc.

 4.    Samantha, you’ve described your idea as an Etsy for the developing world.  In your opinion what other websites or tech based services would be ideally suited for implementation in developing countries?  And don’t say Uber!  We’ve heard enough about the Uberification of various industries.  

Haha! Don’t worry, I don’t want to see Uber in more places than I have to.

Along the same lines as my project, I would think something like GoDaddy! may be ideally suited for developing countries. Resources like this provide tools for systems that are already in place. As these countries become increasingly more “on-line,” they will have more access to new channels of communication. Having guidance in how to make these channels work for them could be a significant advantage.

5.    As great as your idea sounds I’m sure there are going to be a lot of logistical concerns and regulatory hurdles that you’ll have to clear before you’re up and running.  What concerns you the most? Do you foresee there being any issues?

Yes- this is the kicker. The biggest concerns I have at this point are whether the costs of shipping the items will be prohibitive to any revenue gains for the creators and whether regulations of the countries will be restrictive to sending the items anyways. I have done some preliminary research on these topics, but have not gained much headway. The answers to these questions will be critical to the success of this project.

6.    Aside from your idea is there a new product or invention that excites you?  What do you think the next big thing is going to be?

In terms of technology, I am into convenience, improvement, and connectivity. If something can make people’s lives easier, improve the way things are done (for people or the environment), or bring people together, then I am all for it.

I know it is not exactly brand new, but the most exciting recent advancement for me was Tesla Motors. I think these great leaps in advancement are what propel each generation of technology.

Additionally, a fun device that glass company, Corning, is striving towards seems pretty awesome.

7.    How does it feel to be interviewed on this blog?!? Is this the greatest thing that’s ever happened to you?!!

Being interviewed at all is a huge honor. I am so happy to share my idea with others and receive feedback from those with significantly more technical knowledge. Improving the world is something I am extremely passionate about, so any opportunity I have to discuss it is always welcomed.

If you’re interested in reading more about my experience in Africa, or contributing to those I met while I was there, feel free to check out my blog from the trip: http://kenyasicklecell.blogspot.com/

Additionally, if you would like to discuss my project or any related ideas or topics, feel free to email me: SamanthaPettit26@gmail.com

Well, there you have it.  An interesting idea from a very interesting person.  Which begs the question: who else has a great idea that’s worth sharing?


Samantha pictured with villagers from her recent trip.  Would her idea give these kids a more sustainable future?

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A children’s book that teaches young girls how to code. An apartment complex that gives residents a free bike. Gym classes that cost less the more frequently you attend. These are just some of the amazing ideas from around the world that get compiled and disseminated daily by the folks at Springwise, a company dedicated to scanning the globe for inspiring new business ideas. I mentioned this company yesterday when writing about a database of ideas that I’d like to create as they are one of the only places that I know of to maintain a database of their own.

To find out more about this amazing company and their desire to make the world a better place I exchanged emails with Chris Kreinczes, Springwise’s Managing Director. With over ten years of experience as a writer, public speaker, and trend watcher Chris has a wealth of knowledge about innovation. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: I believe that the work that you are doing over at Springwise.com is very important as you are helping to spread great ideas and promote a culture of innovation. Would you agree with that sentiment? What is it that you hope to accomplish through Springwise?

A: The primary aim of Springwise — be it online or through our presentations — is to inspire. We believe that there is room for innovation across all industries, and collaborations and genuinely creative and uninhibited thinking are the key to unlocking this. One of the advantages of a platform such as Springwise is that we cover innovations from a broad variety of sectors, enabling readers to draw inspiration from perhaps unexpected sources.

Q: You’ve been described as an innovation expert. In your opinion what kind of innovations can we expect to see over the next decade? What’s going to be the next big thing? Will it be 3-D printing? A new material like Graphene? Something else?

A: Certainly wearable technology is the next major frontier for digital. All of the big players are moving with pace into this area, and startups will be pushing the possibilities at the same time. 3D printing has been around for a while now, but as materials become cheaper and printers become more capable, it could soon have it’s day in the mainstream. The exciting thing here is that it’s a technology which will have ramifications everywhere, from supply chains, to retail environments, to clothing.

Q: Everyday, you and your team have to come up with three new inspirational business ideas. Is it ever a struggle to live up to that standard?

A: We have a team of 17,000 Spotters globally who send in roughly one hundred innovations a day, sourced from around the world. With that many ideas to analyse we usually have the opposite problem, whereby it’s hard to limit ourselves to 15 a week.

Q: What separates a great idea from the pack? Are there certain things that you look for when evaluating a product or company?

A: Our main criteria is that the innovation must be in some way genuinely innovative. Another company offering a “Buy One Give One Model” won’t cut it, unless it’s a genuinely remarkable and unexpected application. We’re looking for the model or central premise itself to be innovative. Secondly, the company must have just come to market, or be on the brink of coming to market — we steer clear of concepts that may never materialise. Lastly, we’re always interested in a range of ideas from across the globe, as well as a strong mix of digital and physical innovations.

Q: Thanks to shows like Shark Tank it seems that entrepreneurism is at an all time high. Do you think interest in startups and new business ideas is just a passing fad or do you think the trend will continue?

A: I think with the rise of factors such as 3D printing and home code academies, we’ll see a continued rise in home grown innovative solutions for the foreseeable future. Especially combined with the fact that there is continued media hype over the large figures many startups are now being sold for to the major players…

Q: Your focus is more on the entrepreneurial side of things as you cover already existing products and companies. On the other hand I tend to write more about loose ideas, concepts, new technologies, etc. that aren’t necessarily consumer facing at the moment. Things like nanotechnology, synthetic biology, augmented reality, etc. Are you interested in those things as well? If so, is there anything in particular that stands out to you?

A: While concepts and scientific/technological breakthroughs are always an area of interest, we have a strong focus on ideas which either have already — or we feel definitely will — come to market. Of course it’s necessary for us to keep tabs on what’s going on a level down from here, but there are plenty of other sites which focus specifically on that level. We focus on the tangible, in order to avoid speculation and a drift into the realm of science fiction.

Q: One of the things that I’d like to do is create an ideas database so that someone can quickly and easily access information about concepts for inventions and new technologies the way they can use the Springwise database to retrieve information about the products and companies that you’ve covered. Do you think there would be interest in such a database?

A: Very possibly. The issues here would be sourcing the infromation effectively and, where necessary, incoporating the neccessary patent information etc.

Q: Springwise covers a variety of topics ranging from health & wellbeing to entertainment. Which of those sections interests you the most and why?

A: We try to be unbiased in our coverage in order to ensure we cover a genuinely broad range of industries. However, on a personal level, I take particular interest in those innovations which seek to use business as a source of good for the world — be it through sustainability initiatives or social causes.

Q: What’s your favorite idea that Springwise covered recently? In my opinion it has got to be the edible water blob!

A: I like to go walking, so for me it would have to be the Life Tech Jacket created for the Korean brand Colon Sport. It incorporated a built-in first aid kit, straps for carrying another body in the event of a rescue, as well as a wind generator which powered a built in heating system for when temperatures dropped. A little excessive for my needs but interesting nonetheless!

Thanks to Chris Kreinczes and his team at Springwise great ideas get spread worldwide everyday.

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The other day I took time out of my busy schedule of checking my fantasy football teams to speak over the phone with Skylar Tibbits, the Director of the Self Assembly Lab at MIT, who took time out of his busy schedule of making the World a better place to discuss his work on 3-D and 4-D printing.  So, if you are interested in finding out what the future of 3-D printing and programmable materials has in store for us then stick around because Tibbits offers up a wide range of interesting tidbits about where we’re at and where we’re going.  From 3-D printing pizza to buildings we cover it all.

Q:  You’ve been described as an artist, designer, architect, and computer scientist.  Which one of those labels do you most closely identify with?

A:  I’m kind of agnostic and that’s one of the interests of our work and of the lab is that it’s more in the eye of the beholder that we do the work that we’re interested in doing and we think is valuable, exciting and inspires us.  It really depends on where we exhibit the work or what the outlet or venue is.  You know, we’ll do pure scientific research and then we’ll exhibit it in an art gallery.  Or we’ll get commission for a public art project and we’ll write a scientific paper on it.  So, for us it’s kind of all of those and the mix of them is what inspires us so what the label is doesn’t matter to us as much.

Q:  So for somebody with so many different interests what is it about 3-D printing that made you want to focus on it?

A:  I don’t think necessarily that we do focus just on 3-D printing.  For us it’s just one tool in a whole suite of tools that we use:  CNC routing,  laser cutting, water jets, etc.  We use almost all digital and non-digital fabrication equipment.  Some of our recent projects have kind of addressed some of the problems that are coming up in 3-D printing.  Some of that was kind of opportunistic and we saw some opportunities that we could take on with our 4-D printing work and with the Hyperform project but I wouldn’t say that it’s a major agenda that we really focus on 3-D printing.  It just happens to be that those projects were there.  You know realistically we were just trying to push the boundaries of what we can do with materials and machines and how much information we can embed in those systems.

Q:  Aside from 3-D printing is there anything else that you’re working on that excites you that you want to focus on going forward?

A:  The lab is called the Self Assembly Lab so we focus on self assembly and programmable materials and you know that stretches a gamut of different scales, different materials, machines processes, so that’s really our focus.

Q:  In regards to the 4-D printing, something that you’ve gained notoriety for lately, where do you kind of see that technology going in the future.  What kind of applications do you think it would be good for?

A:  So our vision in the beginning was really to combine 3-D printing with smart materials so that the print could adapt, transform, evolve over time.  That lends itself to applications where you either have sensors or actuators that are traditionally embedded into parts with extra components and so we’re arguing that we can now have sensors and actuators embedded into parts directly into the material.  The material is the actuator, is the sensor.  Some of the applications there you can look at kind of the sports industry or any performance driven industry and say that our shoes, our clothes, our sports equipment should be responding, adapting to both our performance, how well we’re doing, and as well as how the environment is changing around us.  But that also lends itself to kind of manufacturing sectors, aerospace, marine industry, defense.  Any industry that needs smarter materials than can adapt.

Q:  In terms of materials is there any specific material?  I know I’ve read a lot about Graphene lately.  Is there anything in that area that excites you?

A:  I look at our work really as macro scale materials in a way.  We’re definitely not a materials science lab and we have some great colleagues that we work with that are developing fundamentally new materials.  Our vision is more that we can take macro scale materials that we already have, that are seemingly dumb, but combine them together in smart ways so that they become elegant, efficient, and programmable.  So you can think about kind of combining two metal strips that have different thermal properties and therefore you get expansion and contraction and you get the metals to change from one shape to another shape.  It’s definitely not our background in inventing new materials.  So I wouldn’t say we’re super cutting edge on like the newest materials per say but rather how do we combine existing ones to make them much smarter.

Q:  I read recently that there was some work done at MIT and I’m not sure if this involved you or not, about the self assembly bots, so I wanted to see what your thoughts were on that, if those could be used maybe in space exploration?

A:  Do you mean those cube robots that kind of jump around?  … I think it’s a brilliant project and for me I think it points to a different mentality there.  My research lab is really trying to not necessarily focus on robotics and electrical, mechanical devices but rather embed that directly in materials…so that they’re really scalable, they’re super cheap, they’re robust, they’re redundant, you can build many of them easily, they don’t fail, those kinds of things.  Where as…I know that one of their goals was to make it as simple as possible but still if you look at each one of those components simple is not necessarily so simple.  You have wireless communications, you have batteries, you have actuators, electronics.  There’s a lot of stuff in there and that stuff gets expensive and that stuff gets failure prone.  But anyway I think that the project is really brilliant and I really respect what those guys are doing.  Certainly I think there are lots of applications in space but I don’t necessarily know whether it’s that technology or any of the technologies that we’re all talking about that can be used in space.  Space is a great example of an environment where it’s difficult to build in traditional ways and where volume is a huge constraint and so space and extreme environments, high altitudes, deep oceans, difficult environments, dangerous scenarios, expensive applications.  Those kind of environments are ripe for these assembly techniques.

Q:  In terms of the Hyperform which you were working on and in terms of getting objects that are bigger than traditional 3-D printers can make do you think there will be any object that we won’t be able to make?  Or do you see as the technology evolves that we’ll be able to pretty much problem solve anything that we’ll need?

A:  I think its a great question and I was recently at a national additive manufacturing event and there’s all the policy makers, all the industry side, all the academics and a number of a major hurdles to 3-D printing came up and we all know this but it was kind of identified….the desk size is one, that we need to be able to print larger things.  Speed of printing is one.  We need to be faster.  Structural materials is one.  You know, GE wants to make them for their jet engines, they need them to be strong, not just like plastic clips for seat belts but you know that naturally, structural materials and material properties compared to existing materials and the other one is multi-functional and smarter materials.  And so our 4-D printing work addressed the smart materials side, the Hyperform was really addressing the desk size problem and it’s really interesting too because I come from an architecture background and there’s a lot of interest in the architectural world that would say hey listen let’s 3-D print a building and let’s build bigger and bigger machines and I’m kind of against that mentality.  There’s definitely a movement with Enrico Dini in Italy doing the D shape printer that can totally print a room but there’s this paradigm and paradox that you can think about where if you want to build a building you need to build a machine that’s bigger than the building so that means you build a first skyscraper to build a second skyscraper which is not necessarily scalable.  You should have just stopped at the first skyscraper.  If you know what I mean.  So I think there’s a turning point where it’s not that we need bigger and bigger machines but we need to be smarter about how we build things in smaller machines or combine them in distributed ways so maybe it’s not a massive machine that builds a building but it’s many, many, many that are communicating and working together or it’s machines that are then making materials that can then deposit themselves.  Or you know our Hyperform project was one way and that’s kind of like digitally folding what you want to build printing it super, super dense and then unfolding it back and forth to make what you wanted it to make.  And that’s kind of one strategy.  I don’t think it’s necessarily the final strategy for everything but it’s one strategy to do it and we’re just trying to open up the discussion there.

Q:  Do you think it will be possible to print food?  I saw an article the other day that someone had printed a pizza.  Do you think it’s like a novelty thing or something that will become mainstream and people will be using it in their homes?

A:  I’m not sure.  You know, Neal Bergenfeld (sp?) had a great quote where he said 3-D printing is not the be all, end all.  It’s just like the introduction of the microwave in the kitchen but that everyone thought the microwave was going to eliminate the rest of the kitchen but everyone has a microwave in their kitchen and yes it’s a powerful tool but that didn’t necessarily eliminate all the other tools, you still need an oven, you still need a stove, you still need all these other things.  It’s just one other powerful tool in a whole suite of digital fabrication equipment and so I would say the same thing about 3-D printing food that maybe it finds its niche and it’s really useful for x,y, and z but I don’t see traditional cooking getting eliminated anytime soon.  So, I think actually construction and assembly is going to look a lot more like cooking in the future or gardening in the future than slamming things together, forcing them together.  So I think cooking, gardening, is much more like synthetic biology and chemistry and that’s sort of what the future of assembly is going to look like.  If you think about printing and most digital fabrication today it’s really not that elegant.  It’s forcing materials into place, slamming tools against things….blasting fire through the materials for laser cutting.  You know those aren’t necessarily that elegant so I think there’s probably a better, more radical solution that will come in the future.

Q:  Well I’m glad that you brought up synthetic biology because that’s another area that I’m interested in and there’s a lot of talk about what might be able to be done with that like trees that serve as street lights, things of that nature.  Do you have any thoughts on where synthetic biology might take us in the future?

A:  …I think for me it’s just a great precedent, a great example to keep watching because it demonstrates program-ability of materials, it demonstrates computation embedded into systems and it demonstrates self assembly of highly precise structures and I think it’s a turning point where we’re not only just discovering what’s happening in biology and chemistry but we’re actually now able to design around those mechanisms.  So I think it’s super powerful and it’s exciting but it’s also going to combine with other technology.  Obviously synthetic biology or at least biology is combining with 3-D printing so you can see like an influx of new digital fabrication equipment, an influx of more powerful control in synthetic biology and smarter materials at a material science level that new materials are being invented everyday.  And it’s kind of really exciting either at the micro or macro scale like I was talking about before… and if you combine all of those it’s a really powerful synergy.

Q:  Do you have any concerns about these technologies in terms of maybe, you know the Do It Yourself culture, maybe somebody doesn’t have altruistic motivations or do you think overall that the technology is a good thing and will be used for good purposes?

A:  It’s a good question and a lot of times that comes up and people ask what happens if your technology gets in the wrong hands or gets out of control and you know it’s an important discussion.  But first of all I don’t think we’re there by any means at least in my field…The day that these things go out of control is going to be a huge victory in that we actually got them to be able to go out of control because we can’t even do that yet and I’m kind of joking a little bit but also I run a research lab and so the vision of the research lab is to invent new technologies and push the boundaries of what we can do and push human knowledge and that’s their goal.  And there’s a lot of people in the world and their goal is to really analyze technology to make sure that we have the right policies around them and the right people are doing the right things around them and so if we didn’t invent new technologies because we were afraid that the wrong people would do the wrong things then we would stop innovating.  And also my mentality is  also that you can do bad things with anything and so it’s not sort of the best argument that we shouldn’t keep inventing new technologies because something bad will happen.  You can kill someone with a shoe if you want but that doesn’t mean we should stop wearing shoes.  So I have more of a Utopian vision that we should keep inventing and keep pushing the boundaries and doing things we couldn’t do before and they’ll be a lot of amazing applications that really revolutionize things in good ways and yes there’s possibility that things will happen in bad ways but anything bad can happen with anything.

Q:  One of my other concerns along those same lines in terms of 3-D printing was with patent litigation, copyright infringement and companies trying to crack down on people who would be trying to print replicas of their items.  Do you have any concerns or thoughts about that?  It’s really just a fear of mine that you guys are doing this great work with printing and self assembly and you’re making all this progress and then society isn’t ready for it so there’s some push back and then corporations don’t want it to happen and so I’m just curious if you had any of those same kind of fears that maybe the work you’re doing won’t catch on and  go mainstream?

A: Not necessarily, I mean it’s kind of a negative perspective but I think the easiest way to catch the attention of mainstream society is novelty and it’s kind of sad but like anything new gets a lot of excitement and you can get early adopters and then it’s about proving it and so by continually inventing new things you already catch the attention.  And that’s not necessarily the goal, that’s kind of how it is.  And I don’t know I think I see a lot of people turning the corner that they’re not just suing everyone and fighting about people stealing their ideas and sort of thing.  Most of the things that are out there, people have put out there, you know on shape ways, etc.  We found some example of that where people would take some of our models and then put them on shape ways and kind of like reverse engineer them and I see both sides of it, on one hand I see that the information should be open and people should be able to get these models and on the other hand I see myself just like any other researcher, scientist, designer spending many hours, days, weeks, months working on these things so just to open up this dialogue means that these people didn’t get compensated for what they did and that doesn’t necessarily mean financially it could mean many other ways but the problem that I see with kind of the open movement is that it forces you to be extremely creative in how you support the work.  So if you look at any open source development and then try to look at seriously what their funding model was it’s usually a roundabout way of getting funding for the work instead of just getting funding directly for what they do.  So they don’t want to charge for the thing they do because they want to give that free because then you have to charge for ads and advanced user subscriptions and all these weird things.  So I see kind of both sides, there’s a positive and negative to open access and people using files but I don’t see it like corporations are going to stop doing, almost every corporation is excited about additive manufacturing.

Q:  What’s been the highlight of your career so far?  Becoming a TED fellow, becoming the Director of the Self Assembly Lab at MIT, or being the first person to be interviewed on this blog?

A: [Laughs]  I don’t know, I’ve been lucky.  One turning point was definitely when I was hired as faculty here at MIT, that was a really huge opportunity that’s changed a lot of things.  The TED fellowship was unbelievable and I have one more conference that I’m going to and it’s a huge community and it’s a real strong family and that has kind of given me the opportunities but also the confidence and the network to be able to do the things that I want to do and I wouldn’t have been to start the Self Assembly Lab without both, the fact that I was hired on as faculty and we have an amazing director at MIT in the architecture department, Nader Tehrani, and also without the TED Fellowship I wouldn’t have been able to do that so they are kind of all hinging on one another.  It’s hard to pinpoint one that was like the major turning point, they’re both super supportive and I think I can do more of looking towards the future and hoping that there are many more to come and that these are two of just the best right now.


Skylar Tibbits has already done a lot of amazing things with programmable materials and 3-D printing.

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