Udaan, the e-commerce startup led by three former Flipkart executives, raises $225M

Looks like Sujeet Kumar, Amod Malviya and Vaibhav Gupta’s decision to jump ship from Flipkart to focus on their own venture is paying off.

The trio announced this morning that their B2B e-commerce startup Udaan had raised $225 million in Series C funding co-led by DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners, with capital coming out of the latter’s growth fund. The cash infusion, according to Indian media reports, makes Udaan the fastest-ever Indian startup to be valued at over $1 billion.

Flipkart, one of the most successful e-commerce platforms out of India, sold to Walmart in a $16 billion deal earlier this year. Kumar, Malviya and Gupta, which were the former president of operations, CTO and SVP of business finance and analytics at Flipkart, respectively, departed the company in 2016.

Shortly after setting up the B2B marketplace, the three raised $10 million in a Series A led by Lightspeed in late 2016then another $50 million earlier this year, also led by Lightspeed, with participation from the venture capital firm’s India office.

Bejul Somaia, a managing director at Lightspeed India that’s been on the Bengaluru-based company’s board since that A round, confirmed the latest funding to TechCrunch.

“We have been fortunate to see the company scale very rapidly from close quarters,” Somaia told me via email. “We’re drawn to the company’s first-principles approach to solving significant problems that are unique in the Indian context.”

Udaan’s mobile app connects 150,000 traders, wholesalers and retailers in India, enabling small- and medium-sized businesses to do business directly with manufacturers. Right now, electronics and consumer goods are for sale on the app, with plans for the company to make industrial goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, office supplies and more available soon.

At just 26 months of age, there are few companies that have raced—or shall we say trotted—into the unicorn club at such a speed. Recent examples include the 3D printing company Desktop Metal, which crossed the threshold 21 months after its founding. Plus, there’s the Craigslist competitor Letgo; it became a unicorn in just two years.

Indian startup unicorns, of which there are fewer, have historically taken longer to earn their unicorn horns.

On-demand delivery platform Swiggy, for example, became a unicorn earlier this year, about four years after it was founded. Zomato, another delivery app, garnered a $1.4 billion valuation in 2017 after nearly 10 years in business.

Scientists make a touch tablet that rolls and scrolls

Research scientists at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab have built a prototype touchscreen device that’s neither smartphone nor tablet but kind of both — and more besides. The device, which they’ve christened the MagicScroll, is inspired by ancient (papyrus/paper/parchment) scrolls so it takes a rolled-up, cylindrical form factor — enabled by a flexible 7.5inch touchscreen housed in the casing.

This novel form factor, which they made using 3D printing, means the device can be used like an erstwhile rolodex (remember those?!) for flipping through on-screen contacts quickly by turning a physical rotary wheel built into the edge of the device. (They’ve actually added one on each end.)

Then, when more information or a deeper dive is required, the user is able to pop the screen out of the casing to expand the visible display real estate. The flexible screen on the prototype has a resolution of 2K. So more mid-tier mobile phone of yore than crisp iPhone Retina display at this nascent stage.

 

 

The scientists also reckon the scroll form factor offers a pleasing ergonomically option for making actual phone calls too, given that a rolled up scroll can sit snugly against the face.

Though they admit their prototype is still rather large at this stage — albeit, that just adds to the delightfully retro feel of the thing, making it come over like a massive mobile phone of the 1980s. Like the classic Motorola 8000X Dynatac of 1984.

While still bulky at this R&D stage, the team argues the cylindrical, flexible screen form factor of their prototype offers advantages by being lightweight and easier to hold with one hand than a traditional tablet device, such as an iPad. And when rolled up they point out it can also fit in a pocket. (Albeit, a large one.)

They also imagine it being used as a dictation device or pointing device, as well as a voice phone. And the prototype includes a camera — which allows the device to be controlled using gestures, similar to Nintendo’s ‘Wiimote’ gesture system.

In another fun twist they’ve added robotic actuators to the rotary wheels so the scroll can physically move or spin in place in various scenarios, such as when it receives a notification. Clocky eat your heart out.

“We were inspired by the design of ancient scrolls because their form allows for a more natural, uninterrupted experience of long visual timelines,” said Roel Vertegaal, professor of human-computer interaction and director of the lab, in a statement.

“Another source of inspiration was the old rolodex filing systems that were used to store and browse contact cards. The MagicScroll’s scroll wheel allows for infinite scroll action for quick browsing through long lists. Unfolding the scroll is a tangible experience that gives a full screen view of the selected item. Picture browsing through your Instagram timeline, messages or LinkedIn contacts this way!”

“Eventually, our hope is to design the device so that it can even roll into something as small as a pen that you could carry in your shirt pocket,” he added. “More broadly, the MagicScroll project is also allowing us to further examine notions that ‘screens don’t have to be flat’ and ‘anything can become a screen’. Whether it’s a reusable cup made of an interactive screen on which you can select your order before arriving at a coffee-filling kiosk, or a display on your clothes, we’re exploring how objects can become the apps.”

The team has made a video showing the prototype in action (embedded below), and will be presenting the project at the MobileHCI conference on Human-Computer Interaction in Barcelona next month.

While any kind of mobile device resembling the MagicScroll is clearly very, very far off even a sniff of commercialization (especially as these sorts of concept devices have long been teased by mobile device firms’ R&D labs — while the companies keep pumping out identikit rectangles of touch-sensitive glass… ), it’s worth noting that Samsung has been slated to be working a a smartphone with a foldable screen for some years now. And, according to the most recent chatter about this rumor, it might be released next year. Or, well, it still might not.

But whether Samsung’s definition of ‘foldable’ will translate into something as flexibly bendy as the MagicScroll prototype is highly, highly doubtful. A fused clamshell design — where two flat screens could be opened to seamlessly expand them and closed up again to shrink the device footprint for pocketability — seems a much more likely choice for Samsung designers to make, given the obvious commercial challenges of selling a device with a transforming form factor that’s also robust enough to withstand everyday consumer use and abuse.

Add to that, for all the visual fun of these things, it’s not clear that consumers would be inspired to adopt anything so different en masse. Sophisticated (and inevitably) fiddly devices are more likely to appeal to specific niche use cases and user scenarios.

For the mainstream six inches of touch-sensitive (and flat) glass seems to do the trick.

Distributor of plans for 3D-printed guns puts his product back in circulation

Cody Wilson, the self-described crypto-anarchist who on Monday was blocked from distributing schematics for 3D-printed guns online, is making good on his promise for “one hell of a week.”

Exploiting what Wilson says is a loophole in the judge’s injunction against the distribution of the plans for how to print a firearm using 3D printers, Wilson has replaced the “download” option for the schematics on his website with an option to purchase.

At a news conference in Texas, Wilson said he had begun selling the plans on Tuesday morning and had already received nearly 400 orders, according to a report by The Associated Press.

“Anyone who wants to get these files is going to get them,” the AP quoted Wilson. “They can name their own price.”

By selling the schematics and distributing them via email or secure digital download, it looks like Wilson may just skirt the judge’s injunction on the distribution of the plans.

As Vice noted in its report on Wilson’s plans, the judge who issued the ruling wrote that, “Regulation under [The Arms Export Control Act] means that the files cannot be uploaded to the internet… But they can be emailed, mailed, securely transmitted, or otherwise published within the United States.”

The Arms Export Control Act is the original statute that the State Department cited when it first demanded that Wilson pull his blueprints. Then, in 2015, Wilson counter-sued the State Department claiming that his First Amendment free speech rights had been violated by the State Department order.

After several years of litigation, the government blinked and, earlier this year, settled with Wilson — acceding to the argument that he had a First Amendment right to distribute the plans.

However, in a Monday ruling, Judge Robert S. Lasnik of the Federal District Court in Seattle ruled in favor of attorneys general from Washington, D.C. and 19 states who argued that the distribution of 3D-printed guns posed a threat to national safety.

The judge wrote that any First Amendment arguments and issues “are dwarfed by the irreparable harms the states are likely to suffer if the existing restrictions are withdrawn and that, over all, the public interest strongly supports maintaining the status quo through the pendency of this litigation.”

That ruling extends a July 31 temporary restraining order on distribution of the files until the case brought by the attorneys general is settled.

By distributing the plans for the 3D-printed weapons, Wilson runs the risk of being held in contempt of court — something that the anarchist appears to relish.

Importantly, the plans have already made their way onto other platforms. Earlier this week, a book that compiled all of the schematics in one bound edition was being sold on Amazon. The online retailer took it down.

New material design stores energy like an eagle

Auxetics are materials that store energy internally rather than bulging out. In this way they can store more energy when squeezed or struck and disperse it more regularly. Historically, however, these materials have had sharp corners that could break easily with enough pressure. Now researchers at Queen Mary University of London and University of Cambridge have discovered a way to use auxetics in a more efficient and less fragile way. In this way you can create systems that store energy and release it mechanically multiple thousands of times.

“The exciting future of new materials designs is that they can start replacing devices and robots. All the smart functionality is embedded in the material, for example the repeated ability to latch onto objects the way eagles latch onto prey, and keep a vice-like grip without spending any more force or effort,” said Queen Marry University’s Dr. Stoyan Smoukov. For example, a robot using this system can close its hand over and object and keep it closed until its time to let go. There is no need to continue sending power to the claw or hand until it is time to open up and drop the object.

“A major problem for materials exposed to harsh conditions, such as high temperature, is their expansion. A material could now be designed so its expansion properties continuously vary to match a gradient of temperature farther and closer to a heat source. This way, it will be able to adjust itself naturally to repeated and severe changes,” said Eesha Khare, an undergrad who worked on the project.

The project used 3D printing to make small clips that grab a toothed actuator. To release the energy, you pull on the opposite sides of the object to release the teeth. While the entire thing looks quite simple the fact that this object stores energy without bulging is important. The same technology can be used to “grab” bullets as they strike armor, resulting in better durability.

This 3D-printed camp stove is extra-efficient and wind-resistant

I love camping, but there’s always an awkward period when you’ve left the tent but haven’t yet created coffee that I hate camping. It’s hard not to watch the pot not boil and not want to just go back to bed, but since the warm air escaped when I opened the tent it’s pointless! Anyway, the Swiss figured out a great way to boil water faster, and I want one of these sweet stoves now.

The PeakBoil stove comes from design students at ETH Zurich, who have clearly faced the same problems as myself. But since they actually camp in inclement weather, they also have to deal with wind blowing out the feeble flame of an ordinary gas burner.

Their attempt to improve on the design takes the controversial step of essentially installing a stovepipe inside the vessel and heating it from the inside out rather than from the bottom up. This has been used in lots of other situations to heat water but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a camp stove.

By carefully configuring the gas nozzles and adding ripples to the wall of the heat pipe, PeakBoil “increases the contact area between the flame and the jug,” explained doctoral student and project leader Julian Ferchow in an ETH Zurich news release.

“That, plus the fact that the wall is very thin, makes heat transfer to the contents of the jug ideal,” added his colleague Patrick Beutler.

Keeping the flames isolated inside the chimney behind baffles minimizes wind interference with the flames, and prevents you having to burn extra gas to keep it alive.

The design was created using a selective laser melting or sintering process, in which metal powder is melted in a pattern much like a 3D printer lays down heated plastic. It’s really just another form of additive manufacturing, and it gave the students “a huge amount of design freedom…with metal casting, for instance, we could never achieve channels that are as thin as the ones inside our gas burner,” Ferchow said.

Of course, the design means it’s pretty much only usable for boiling water (you wouldn’t want to balance a pan on top of it), but that’s such a common and specific use case that many campers already have a stove dedicated to the purpose.

The team is looking to further improve the design and also find an industry partner with which to take it to market. MSR, GSI, REI… I’m looking at you. Together we can make my mornings bearable.

NASA’s 3D-printed Mars Habitat competition doles out prizes to concept habs

A multi-year NASA contest to design a 3D-printable Mars habitat using on-planet materials has just hit another milestone — and a handful of teams have taken home some cold hard cash. This more laid-back phase had contestants designing their proposed habitat using architectural tools, with the five winners set to build scale models next year.

Technically this is the first phase of the third phase — the (actual) second phase took place last year and teams took home quite a bit of money.

The teams had to put together realistic 3D models of their proposed habitats, and not just in Blender or something. They used Building Information Modeling software that would require these things to be functional structures designed down to a particular level of detail — so you can’t just have 2D walls made of “material TBD,” and you have to take into account thickness from pressure sealing, air filtering elements, heating, etc.

The habitats had to have at least a thousand square feet of space, enough for four people to live for a year, along with room for the machinery and paraphernalia associated with, you know, living on Mars. They must be largely assembled autonomously, at least enough that humans can occupy them as soon as they land. They were judged on completeness, layout, 3D-printing viability, and aesthetics.

So although the images you see here look rather sci-fi, keep in mind they were also designed using industrial tools and vetted by experts with “a broad range of experience from Disney to NASA.” These are going to Mars, not paperback. And they’ll have to be built in miniature for real next year, so they better be realistic.

The five winning designs embody a variety of approaches. Honestly all these videos are worth a watch; you’ll probably learn something cool, and they really give an idea of how much thought goes into these designs.

Zopherus has the whole print taking place inside the body of a large lander, which brings its own high-strength printing mix to reinforce the “Martian concrete” that will make up the bulk of the structure. When it’s done printing and embedding the pre-built items like airlocks, it lifts itself up, moves over a few feet, and does it again, creating a series of small rooms. (They took first place and essentially tied the next team for take-home case, a little under $21K.)

AI SpaceFactory focuses on the basic shape of the vertical cylinder as both the most efficient use of space and also one of the most suitable for printing. They go deep on the accommodations for thermal expansion and insulation, but also have thought deeply about how to make the space safe, functional, and interesting. This one is definitely my favorite.

Kahn-Yates has a striking design, with a printed structural layer giving way to a high-strength plastic layer that lets the light in. Their design is extremely spacious but in my eyes not very efficiently allocated. Who’s going to bring apple trees to Mars? Why have a spiral staircase with such a huge footprint? Still, if they could pull it off, this would allow for a lot of breathing room, something that will surely be of great value during year or multi-year stay on the planet.

SEArch+/Apis Cor has carefully considered the positioning and shape of its design to maximize light and minimize radiation exposure. There are two independent pressurized areas — everyone likes redundancy — and it’s built using a sloped site, which may expand the possible locations. It looks a little claustrophobic, though.

Northwestern University has a design that aims for simplicity of construction: an inflatable vessel provides the base for the printer to create a simple dome with reinforcing cross-beams. This practical approach no doubt won them points, and the inside, while not exactly roomy, is also practical in its layout. As AI SpaceFactory pointed out, a dome isn’t really the best shape (lots of wasted space) but it is easy and strong. A couple of these connected at the ends wouldn’t be so bad.

The teams split a total of $100K for this phase, and are now moving on to the hard part: actually building these things. In spring of 2019 they’ll be expected to have a working custom 3D printer that can create a 1:3 scale model of their habitat. It’s difficult to say who will have the worst time of it, but I’m thinking Kahn-Yates (that holey structure will be a pain to print) and SEArch+/Apis (slope, complex eaves and structures).

The purse for the real-world construction is an eye-popping $2 million, so you can bet the competition will be fierce. In the meantime seriously watch those videos above, they’re really interesting.

Court victory legalizes 3D-printable gun blueprints

A multi-year legal battle over the ability to distribute computer models of gun parts and replicate them in 3D printers has ended in defeat for government authorities who sought to prevent the practice. Cody Wilson, the gunmaker and free speech advocate behind the lawsuit, now intends to expand his operations, providing printable gun blueprints to all who desire them.

The longer story of the lawsuit is well told by Andy Greenberg over at Wired, but the decision is eloquent on its own. The fundamental question is whether making 3D models of gun components available online is covered by the free speech rights granted by the First Amendment.

This is a timely but complex conflict because it touches on two themes that happen to be, for many, ethically contradictory. Arguments for tighter restrictions on firearms are, in this case, directly opposed to arguments for the unfettered exchange of information on the internet. It’s hard to advocate for both here: restricting firearms and restricting free speech are one and the same.

That at least seems to be conclusion of the government lawyers, who settled Wilson’s lawsuit after years of court battles. In a copy of the settlement provided to me by Wilson, the U.S. government agrees to exempt “the technical data that is the subject of the Action” from legal restriction. The modified rules should appear in the Federal Register soon.

What does this mean? It means that a 3D model that can be used to print the components of a working firearm is legal to own and legal to distribute. You can likely even print it and use the product — you just can’t sell it. There are technicalities to the law here (certain parts are restricted, but can be sold in an incomplete state, etc.), but the implications as regards the files themselves seems clear.

Wilson’s original vision, which he is now pursuing free of legal obstacles, is a repository of gun models, called DEFCAD, much like any other collection of data on the web, though naturally considerably more dangerous and controversial.

“I currently have no national legal barriers to continue or expand DEFCAD,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This legal victory is the formal beginning to the era of downloadable guns. Guns are as downloadable as music. There will be streaming services for semi-automatics.”

The concepts don’t map perfectly, no doubt, but it’s hard to deny that with the success of this lawsuit, there are few legal restrictions to speak of on the digital distribution of firearms. Before it even, there were few technical restrictions: certainly just as you could download MP3s on Napster in 2002, you can download a gun file today.

Gun control advocates will no doubt argue that greater availability of lethal weaponry is the opposite of what is needed in this country. But others will point out that in a way this is a powerful example of how liberally free speech can be defined. It’s important to note that both of these things can be true.

This court victory settles one case, but marks the beginnings of many another. “I have promoted my values for years with great care and diligence,” Wilson wrote. It’s hard to disagree with that. Those whose values differ are free to pursue them in their own way; perhaps they too will be awarded victories of this scale.

Implantable 3D-printed organs could be coming sooner than you think

At MBC Biolabs, an incubator for biotech startups in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, a team of scientists and interns working for the small startup Prellis Biologics have just taken a big step on the path toward developing viable 3D-printed organs for humans.

The company, which was founded in 2016 by research scientists Melanie Matheu and Noelle Mullin, staked its future (and a small $3 million investment) on a new technology to manufacture capillaries, the one-cell-thick blood vessels that are the pathways which oxygen and nutrients move through to nourish tissues in the body.

Without functioning capillary structures, it is impossible to make organs, according to Matheu. They’re the most vital piece of the puzzle in the quest to print viable hearts, livers, kidneys and lungs, she said.

“Microvasculature is the fundamental architectural unit that supports advanced multicellular life and it therefore represents a crucial target for bottom-up human tissue engineering and regenerative medicine,” said Jordan Miller, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University and an expert in 3D-printed implantable biomaterial structures, in a statement.

This real-time video shows tiny fluorescent particles – 5 microns in diameter (the same size as a red blood cell) – moving through an array of 105 capillaries printed in parallel, inside a 700 micron diameter tube. Each capillary is 250 microns long.

Now, Prellis has published findings indicating that it can manufacture those capillaries at a size and speed that would deliver 3D-printed organs to the market within the next five years. 

Prellis uses holographic printing technology that creates three-dimensional layers deposited by a light-induced chemical reaction that happens in five milliseconds.

This feature, according to the company, is critical for building tissues like kidneys or lungs. Prellis achieves this by combining a light-sensitive photo-initiator with traditional bioinks that allows the cellular material to undergo a reaction when blasted with infrared light, which catalyzes the polymerization of the bioink.

Prellis didn’t invent holographic printing technology. Several researchers are looking to apply this new approach to 3D printing across a number of industries, but the company is applying the technology to biofabrication in a way that seems promising.

The speed is important because it means that cell death doesn’t occur and the tissue being printed remains viable, while the ability to print within structures means that Prellis’ technology can generate the internal scaffolding to support and sustain the organic material that surrounds it, according to the company.

The video above, courtesy of Prellis Biologics, shows real-time printing of a cell encapsulation device that is useful for producing small human cells containing organoids. The structure is designed to be permeable and the size is 200 microns in diameter and can contain up to 2000 cells.

Prellis isn’t the first company to develop three-dimensional organ printing. There have been decades of research into the technology, and companies like BioBots (which made its debut on the TechCrunch stage) are already driving down the cost of printing living tissue.

Now called Allevi, the company formerly known as BioBots has seen its founders part ways and its business  strategy shift (it’s now focusing on developing software to make its bioprinters easier to use), according to a report in Inc. Allevi has slashed the cost of bioprinting with devices that sell for less than $10,000, but Prellis contends that the limitations of extrusion printing mean that technology is too low resolution and too slow to create capillaries and keep cells alive.

Prellis’ organs will also need to be placed in a bioreactor to sustain them before they’re transplanted into an animal, but the difference is that the company aims to produce complete organs rather than sample tissue or a small cell sample, according to a statement. The bioreactors can simulate the biomechanical pressures that ensure an organ functions properly, Matheu said.

“Vasculature is a key feature of complex tissues and is essential for engineering tissue with therapeutic value,” said Todd Huffman, the chief executive officer of 3Scan, an advanced digital tissue imaging and data analysis company (and a Prellis advisor). “Prellis’ advancement represents a key milestone in the quest to engineer organs.”

Matheu estimates that it will take two-and-a-half years and $15 million to bring implantable organs through their first animal trials. “That will get a test kidney into an animal,” she said.

The goal is to print a quarter-sized kidney that could be transplanted into rats. “We want something that would be able to handle a kidney that we would transplant into a human,” Matheu said.

One frame of a 3D map of animal tissue from 3Scan .

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Manchester href=”https://newatlas.com/working-kidney-cells-grown-mice/53354/”> grew functional human kidney tissue from stem cells for the first time. The scientists implanted small clusters of capillaries that filter waste products from the blood that had been grown in a Petri dish into genetically engineered mice. After 12 weeks, the capillaries had grown nephrons — the elements that make up a functional human kidney.

Ultimately, the vision is to export cells from patients by taking a skin graft or blood, stem cell or bone marrow harvest — and then use those samples to create the cellular material that will grow organs. “Tissue rejection was the first thing I was thinking about in how I was designing the process and how we could do it,” says Matheu.

While Prellis is spending its time working to perfect a technique for printing kidneys, the company is looking for partners to take its manufacturing technology and work on processes to develop other organs.

“We’ll be doing collaborative work with other groups,” Matheu said. “Our technology will come to market in many other ways prior to the full kidney.”

Last year, the company outlined a go-to-market strategy that included developing lab-grown tissues to produce antibodies for therapeutics and drug development. The company’s first targeted human tissue printed for clinical development were cells called “islets of Langerhans,” which are the units within a pancreas that produce insulin.

“Type 1 diabetics lose insulin-producing islets of Langerhans at a young age. If we can replace these, we can offer diabetes patients a life free of daily insulin shots and glucose monitoring,” said Matheu in a statement at the time.

Matheu sees the technology she and her co-founder developed as much about a fundamental shift in manufacturing biomaterials as a novel process to print kidneys, specifically.

“Imagine if you want to build a tumor for testing… In the lab it would take you five hours to print one… With our system it would take you three and a half seconds,” said Matheu. “That is our baseline optical system… The speed is such a shift in how you can build cells and fundamental structures we are going to be working to license this out.”

Meanwhile, the need for some solution to the shortage in organ donations keeps growing. Matheu said that one in seven adults in the U.S. have some sort of kidney ailment, and she estimates that 90 million people will need a kidney at some point in their lives.

Roughly 330 people die every day from organ failure, and if there were a fast way to manufacture those organs, there’s no reason for those fatalities, says Matheu. Prellis estimates that because of the need for human tissue and organ replacement alternatives, as well as human tissue for drug discovery and toxicology testing, the global tissue engineering market will reach $94 billion by 2024, up from $23 billion in 2015.

“We need to help people faster,” says Matheu. 

Nike’s Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint leans hard into computational design

Computational design is the hottest phrase in manufacturing and 3D printing at the moment. It’s changing the way people make all kinds of goods, and Nike used it to design and manufacture its new Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint shoe, which it’s announcing today.

The shoe is a specialized edition of its Zoom Vaporfly Elite 4%, which was used by elite runner Eliud Kipchoge during Nike’s Breaking2 event, which resulted in the fastest marathon ever run. The special sauce in this edition is the FlyPrint upper, which is printed on the fly by a specially customized 3D printer out of a proprietary Nike polymer.

I spoke with Nike’s Brett Holts, product line manager for running footwear and Roger Chen, a senior director for Nike’s NXT Digital Innovation department, about the process and the shoe.

The material is printed out in a pattern specifically designed for a given athlete’s needs and attached to the much hyped Zoom X foam midsole from the 4% model. The process, which Nike is calling FlyPrint, has some similarities to Nike’s other famous ‘fly’ process, FlyKnit, hence the name. The printing process, says Chen, is a lot like painting the material.

The uppers I saw pre-lasting look a lot like a regular butterfly upper, with the same kind of flexibility you’re used to seeing from fabric or other polymer-based upper materials. This is not a hard-shell 3D-printed material, it’s a fabric of sorts. This is reinforced by the fact that several components of the shoe are still made of FlyKnit including the tongue and collar. Those parts are so similar in chemical composition that there is no glue needed to attach them. Instead, the FlyPrint material is bonded seamlessly with the FlyKnit, making for a one-piece design that is stronger and lighter.

The process of computer aided design in consumer products has a long history — but computational design is an evolution of this concept and has begun to gain steam lately with production-ready 3D-printing processes like Carbon’s M-series digital light synthesis printers and Desktop Metal’s Production System. The guiding force behind computational design is that you feed parameters and physical properties into a model — basically limitations and desired outcomes — and get designs that would either be impossible or incredibly time consuming for humans to produce.

In the case of the new FlyPrint upper, the constraints are the properties of the material and the forces that Kipchoge’s feet were exerting on that material. With that data, along with the chemical composition of the polymer, a computational model allowed Nike to tweak the design for support, flexibility, reinforcement or relaxation on a much more granular level than they could ever accomplish with FlyKnit.

If, for instance, Kipchoge felt that he needed more support through the arch area, the team could tweak that metric in that region, resulting in a more compact pattern of diamond-shaped lattice. In the FlyKnit world (and the world of most knit running shoes) this is done by creating various panels that reflect the properties you want from that portion of the shoe and glueing or stitching them together, adding weight and reducing strength.

Now, Nike can print a fully customized upper in one go, blending it seamlessly with FlyKnit where it makes sense for comfort.

The result of all of this is that the shoe is incredibly light. A 12 gram, or 6% reduction in weight to start. On top of that, one of Kipchoge’s big issues with the Vaporfly Elites in Berlin was water retention in the rain. The shoes started out light but water soaked into the FlyKnit and couldn’t fully make its way out. The FlyPrint upper is nearly translucent it’s so porous, which solves the drainage issue.

Chen says that Kipchoge said that it ‘felt like he was flying’ because he could feel the wind on his feet.

Another huge advantage to FlyPrint, points out Holts, is speed. Nike was able to design and construct every iteration of the shoe through to the final model in just 4 months. As a frame of reference, it typically takes 9 months to a year to get a shoe off the ground.

“We would never have been able to do that [with FlyKnit],” says Holts, “we were addressing the needs of our athlete within 24 hours.”

This day-long cycle — taking into account the Kenyan time differential — of trading feedback with Kipchoge and turning around his requested updates to fit or function was uniquely enabled by using the FlyPrint process.

Additionally, the modeling component of the process allows Nike to scale the shoe through various sizes while maintaining the appropriate ratios of material to negative space for each section.

Nike is using an established 3D printing process called fused deposition modeling, basically painting shapes onto a surface with production-ready TPU materials, but Chen says that the proprietary components of the process lie in how the printers are being driven to lay down the FlyPrint. Neither will say what printers Nike is using but note the company’s history in ‘hacking’ manufacturing tools to get the job done. As an industry note, Stratasys is one of the more established players in FDM printing.

Computational design and production ready 3D printing are changing footwear as we speak. Adidas and Carbon are focusing on the midsole in fashion and basketball, Nike is reinventing the upper for elite runners. But the real gem here might not be the speed or customization — both important advancements.

Instead, it could be the way that the design process is compressed down to mate directly with the manufacturing process. This has the potential to change not just footwear, but every kind of product made. Instead of the lengthy and costly process of injection molding or milling, product designers are, for the first time ever, able to start taking direct ownership of the production process, realizing impossible designs and goals with the use of a powerful feedback loop that includes designer, materials and process in one flow of data.

The Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint is a product for elite runners only, and a small amount of them will be available at an event in London soon, as well as on the feet of Kipchoge and other Nike runners. But there is an epochal shift in the way shoes (and other products) are made coming, and this is one of the harbingers of that shift. Pay attention.

How 3D printing is revolutionizing healthcare as we know it

In 1983, Chuck Hall, the father of 3D printing, created something that was equal parts simple and earth-shattering. He manufactured the world’s first-ever 3D printer and used it to print a tiny eye wash cup.

It was just a cup. It was small and black and utterly ordinary looking. But that cup paved the way for a quiet revolution, one that today is changing the healthcare industry in dramatic ways.

As healthcare costs in America continue to skyrocket, with no political solution in sight, this technology could offer some direly needed relief.

Here are just some the ways in which 3D printing is already revolutionizing the healthcare industry.

Personalized prosthetics

I love to tell the story of Amanda Boxtel, who came to me a few years ago complaining that her robotic suit, a gorgeous piece of design from Ekso Bionics, was uncomfortable to wear. Amanda is paralyzed from the waist down, and while this suit gave her the gift of movement, it couldn’t give her the symmetry and freedom of range of motion that she, like all humans, craved.

Source: Scott Summit, Charles Engelbert Photography

Unlike traditional prosthetics, which are mass-manufactured like any other traditional factory-produced good, 3D-printed prosthetics are custom-tailored for each individual user. By digitally capturing Amanda’s unique measurements, I was able to build her a custom-fit suit, much like a tailor would, creating a beautiful, lightweight design that fit Amanda’s body down to each distinct millimeter. Today Amanda feels so limber and free in her suit that she is now learning how to walk in high heels.

This same technology is now being harnessed to create beautiful conformal ventilated scoliosis braces, supports for amputees and more.

Bioprinting and tissue engineering

Writing in a recent issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, the surgeon Jason Chuen alerted his colleagues to a major technological breakthrough that could eventually do away with the need for human organ transplants. Here’s how it works:

3D printing is performed by telling a computer to apply layer upon layer of a specific material (quite often plastic or metal powders), molding them one layer at a time until the final product — be it a toy, a pair of sunglasses or a scoliosis brace — is built. Medical technology is now harnessing this technology and building tiny organs, or “organoids,” using the same techniques, but with stem cells as the production material. These organoids, once built, will in the future be able to grow inside the body of a sick patient and take over when an organic organ, such as a kidney or liver, fails.

3D-printed skin for burn victims

It may sound like something out of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” but the implications — and cost savings — make this technological breakthrough in 3D printing particularly immense. For centuries, burn victims have had incredibly limited options for healing their disfigured skin. Skin grafts are painful and produce terrible aesthetics; hydrotherapy solutions offer limited results. But researchers in Spain have now taken the mechanics of 3D printing — that same careful layer-upon-layer approach in which we can make just about anything — and revealed a 3D bioprinter prototype that can produce human skin. The researchers, working with a biological ink that contains both human plasma as well as material extracts taken from skin biopsies, were able to print about 100 square centimeters of human skin in the span of about half an hour. The possibilities for this technology, and the life-changing implications for burn victims, are endless.

Pharmacology

Finally, 3D printing also has the potential to upend the pharmaceutical world and vastly simplify daily life for patients with multiple ailments. So many of us take dozens of pills each day or week, and the organization, timing and monitoring of these multiple medications and their diverse drug interactions and requirements (morning, night, with or without food) is utterly exhausting.

But 3D printing is the epitome of precision. A 3D-printed pill, unlike a traditionally manufactured capsule, can house multiple drugs at once, each with different release times. This so-called “polypill” concept has already been tested for patients with diabetes and is showing great promise.

The bottom line

The medical world, in which treatments, organs and devices are an integral part, stands to be revolutionized by the vast promises of 3D printing. With precision, speed and a major slash in cost, the way we treat and manage the health of our bodies will never be the same. And that’s something to celebrate.