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Theresa Chong and

Rebecca Halleck/MEDILL

Looking inside the different layers of 3-D printing technology at The 3D Printer Experience on 316 North Clark St. in Chicago.

Three inventions to watch for: 3-D printing, bug-eye cameras and cardboard bikes

by Theresa Chong and Rebecca Halleck
Jun 11, 2013


John Rogers

A bug's eye view is now possible thanks to a new lens developed by collaborating researchers.


In the year of Google Glass and Xbox One, here are three other inventions that might have snuck under your radar.


Thanks to a new camera lens more than three years in the making, a bug’s eye view is now possible.

The unique 180-degree perspective and infinite depth of field, previously only attainable for flies and bees, will soon be used for military surveillance, medical imaging and maybe, someday, your digital camera.

Collaborating researchers Yonggang Huang from Northwestern University and John Rogers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published their findings in the May edition of Nature. The pair previously developed stretchable, flexible electronics, which led directly to the development of the new lens.

“Previous studies have never been able to realize a fully functional bug-eye like imaging device, due to scientific and technological restrictions,” said Huang, a professor of civil, environmental and mechanical engineering. Prior attempts were unsuccessful primarily because they couldn’t bend into the convex, hemispherical shape typical of creeper peepers.

In the new design, researchers placed nearly 200 tiny lenses side by side and then stretched them over a larger, half-moon lens in the center. Each small lens captures about 10 degrees of the full 180-degree view. The smaller images are then combined to create one cohesive image.

One immediate application might be defense surveillance—specifically unmanned aerial vehicles or robots—but eventually it could be used to aid in non-invasive diagnostics and surgeries, according to Huang.

“It could be interesting to see some bug-eye cameras available to complement the fish-eye lens nowadays,” Huang said, but when exactly your Canon or Nikon might catch the bug is still unclear. 


You may have heard of 3-D printing in some vague, science-fi-like sense: Lets print organs! Lets print houses! Lets print dresses for burlesque star Dita Von Teese!

And make no mistake; these can all be useful, life-altering possibilities (except for maybe the dress). But two local executives are looking to bring the benefits of 3-D printing to Chicago residents in an immediately tangible and unprecedented way.

“I think that consumerism is going to perish in a way that we haven’t really seen before,” said Mike Moceri, the co-owner and founder of The 3D Printer Experience which opened in April on Clark Street in the Loop.

Moceri, a 21-year-old from Detroit, initially came to Chicago to study business at DePaul University, but left to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. He foresees a future where instead of going to the store and passively choosing between the options presented to you, consumers will instead design their own goods.

“I think people will become more active creators, where everything will be customized,” Moceri said.

He explains that before going to a store, he first considers whether he can print the item. For example, he recently printed his own shower curtain hooks instead of buying mass-produced ones from a department store. 

Right now there are three tiers to the business. The first level is storefront business, which includes people wandering in and getting scanned to have a bust of their head printed or designing a small pendant. The second level is people who come in with a specific design or concept. And the third level is industry, which at this time means architectural or engineering firms having models printed in a matter of minutes instead of taking weeks to make by hand.


In need of a new set of wheels? How does $30 sound?

An Israeli engineer, Izhar Gafni, recently designed and constructed a bicycle made primarily from recycled cardboard. Because all of the materials are reused, the total cost is only $12 so Gafni suggested, at least for now, selling it at a price no higher than $30.

Along with the cardboard, the tires and chain are recycled from cars and the pedals are made of repurposed plastic bottles, making this not only sustainable but the ultimate in clean transportation.

As for its durability, the prototype is 28 pounds and can reportedly support 20 times its own weight—that’s more than 560 pounds. The cardboard spokes, rims and frame are also covered in varnish, making them virtually waterproof.

But despite the votes of confidence from Popular Science, NPR and, some cyclists aren’t convinced.

“It would be cool as a novelty,” said David Johnson, a cyclist of 12 years. “But A) I would imagine it’s not very stiff and B) I can’t imaging it would be waterproof—and there’s always water on the roads,” said the Northwestern graduate student in philosophy.

Albeit a tough sell for some, Gafni is hoping that the cheap price will make it a viable option for people in developing countries lacking access to other forms of transportation.