Liam Wadsworth, president of the Technology, Media and Telecoms Club at Manchester Business School, tells us why he thinks 3D printing and wearable tech will be the next most important technological advancements in the human race, and whether governments or the private sector should fund them.
What is the main aim of the Technology, Media and Telecoms Club?
To help the members position themselves well to enter the MBA job market after graduation, as well as to help build their networks.
What do you see yourself doing after you complete your MBA?
I want to work in either strategy and business development, or marketing within a technology firm. When I say technology I don’t mean only high-technology firms such as Google, but also the companies that build their core competencies around using technology better than their rivals. That opens many fields up to me.
Who has been your most exciting speaker this year?
We just held our “Tech panel”, which was a panel discussion on cloud computing. The panel had directors from Microsoft and Oracle, the CEO of DataCentred and a leading intelligent systems academic. It was a fascinating discussion that lasted nearly two hours.
Which new technologies do you think will make the biggest difference to the human race in the next decade?
I think it will be a close race between wearable technology and 3D printing. We are still waiting for the first killer piece of wearable technology that puts the tech into general use – in the same way the iPhone did for phones. Once that has happened I think we will see an explosion of good wearable technology, which leads to significant changes in how we exist – especially when you factor in “the Internet of things”.
With 3D printing it is just a case of the costs coming down and then I think we will benefit in ways that have not yet been thought of.
Do you think it’s the responsibility of the government to fund advances in technology?
Yes – but in an indirect manner. I think the government should generate an environment where the private sector benefits from pursuing the advances, be it special tax zones or other mechanisms.
The key is to make sure that, in the end; it is the free market that makes the choice. I think there is a benefit. The market will always drive what is required and with technology I think that drives us forward. Leaving it in the hands of the public sector will also drive competition between them, which is also beneficial.
“I’m making some 3D-printed jewellery now, actually. It’s been completely unexpected,” she tells The Guardian.
“Through a mixture of tweeting, making a video, meeting a fashion designer, speaking to an architect and knowing someone who can write software, now from out of nowhere I’m developing a program that you can sing into, and which will then manifest your voice into this waveform, that turns into this nice bracelet which you can then print. And you can have my music in the background, so you’re collaborating with me, in a way!”
The news comes as a surprise in the middle of an interview that, in theory, is promoting Heap’s curation of the Reverb Festival in London this August, as well as her involvement in a project called Momentum for audio firm Sennheiser.
That said, Heap’s eagerness to explore the potential of a new technology like 3D printing – and her ability to find willing collaborators – won’t come as a surprise to her fans. She’s consistently been one of the musicians most willing to experiment with technology not as a promotional gimmick, but as creative fuel.
Reverb is a good illustration of that, based at London’s Roundhouse venue with performances from artists equally embedded in new technologies – Maja Ratjke, Pekka Juusisto, Peter Gregson and Tim Exile for example – as well as interactive installations, talks and workshops on music technology, and…
“A massive tree. There’s going to be a massive tree in the centre of the building made out of 8,000 threads of LED-strip fibres that will stretch right up into the top of the building, up to the back, and through the doors into the bar,” says Heap.
“It’s going to be absolutely beautiful, and people will be able to speak to it, and it will speak back to them via all the samples they’ve sent into it. It’s like a whispering tree, reacting to music and to how many people there are in the room. The building is going to be alive with technology.”
The Mi.Mu gloves will figure prominently in Heap’s own performances at the festival. She’s been working on them for several years, with the first public performance taking place in 2012 at a gig in her garden streamed live on Facebook for Earth Day.
“Most of us on our small team are musicians who are tired of being stuck behind computer screens, keyboards, faders, knobs, and buttons to make our music. We feel there could be a better way that is more like the experiences we have with traditional instruments: using the dexterity and mobility of the human body.
Imagine, for example, that instead of turning up a fader in order to bring in a sound or add reverb, you could be raising your arms to achieve the same effect. Or to move a sound around the room, you could simply point where you want it to be. Not only is this much more intuitive, it is also more enjoyable to watch, making it easier for your audience to connect with what you’re doing.”
The campaign fell short, raising just under £133,000. Heap, though, doesn’t sound too dejected.
“It actually worked out for the best. Kickstarter as a tool to raise money and awareness is incredible, and has liberated many people and technology and products over the years, but it also comes with a lot of work,” she says.
“You have to write to all these people, and send out all the stuff you promised. And actually, a lot of it, like the posters and the CDs that we were going to have to make, we don’t have to do now. And instead we can focus purely on the collaboration with the 10 people who want to buy the gloves, which is what we really wanted.”
Heap fits into a long line of musicians as hardware hackers, from the most traditional of instruments to the electronic music explosion in the 20th century.
“There’s something about wanting to create kit or make it do something that nobody else has done: make it glitch, and then suddenly that’s your sound, the glitchy bit,” she says.
There are frustrations here too, though, with the inability of a lot of music technology to work smoothly together: whether that’s old software that won’t work on new hardware, or different bits of hardware that resolutely refuse to talk to one another, at least not without more hacking.
“It’s the frustration of technology: we’re at this point where there’s lots of new software and new platforms being developed all the time, but the common language isn’t quite there yet,” says Heap.
“Eventually, there’ll be almost an Esperanto for technology that will mean nothing has to be defunct or obsolete any more: things will continue to grow and learn and feed each other, like the semantic web. People have to be better at making things speak to one another.”
Heap is also keen on the idea of non-musicians – or at least people who think they’re non-musicians – getting to grips with new instruments and music creation technologies, from apps to gestural gloves. That’s a big part of Reverb: encouraging people to come in and get hands-on with some of this tech.
“People say ‘I’m not musical at all’, but of course they are. Everyone’s musical. If you enjoy music, you understand the language of music. You may not know how to turn on a computer and create a whole song, but you’re musical. If I give you an instrument with a cool sound, all nicely tuned, and you just have to play around with it, you become musical,” she says.
There’s a strong parallel here with the work of apps developer Smule, whose releases include Sing! Karaoke, Magic Piano, Guitar! and AutoRap. In August 2012, the company talked to The Guardian about its desire to blur the boundaries between “a few individuals producing music and the rest of us consuming it” based on the belief that “every human is musical”.
Heap agrees. “In the past, we’d all learn these folk songs and play and sing together. But we’ve somehow become intimidated, or have forgotten them because we leave it all to the professionals,” she says. “We’re all musical. It’s like making an omelette or a pancake. You don’t have to be a chef to make an omelette, and you don’t have to be Mozart to make a piece of music.”
That’s the endgame for the Mi.Mu gloves, although it will take time: for now they’re expensive, and also require a complicated process of “mapping” – programming the sounds and audio textures to match the various gestures. It’s this process that the 10 initial buyers will help Heap and the Mi.Mu development team figure out over the next year, before – she hopes – making them more widely available.
“Ultimately, I don’t want them to be a gimmick, because it just adds to the noise out there. Maybe they will, partly, but also become this incredible tool for people to feel free and get closer to that sound that’s in their head, or the performance they want to give, without being hindered by that thing that’s in front of them.”
What about Heap’s own music? Since 2011, she’s been working on an album that’s now called Sparks, and is due for release later in the year. Her original aim was to make each song a self-contained project, getting her out of the studio to experiment with new technologies, collaborate with musicians and fans alike, and see the world.
“Making an album for me had basically been me inside my studio, for a whole year driving myself mad trying to make 12 or 14 songs happen,” she says.
“I just thought this time, I want to do an app, I want to make these gloves, I want to do more shows, see more music, make technology, create things with other people that I haven’t done before, and travel.”
The first step was the SoundCloud project, crafting a song from samples uploaded by fans in an intense two-week process of writing and recording.
It was followed by a song based on experimenting with 3D audio technology, then one based on a project working to restore a neglected garden in London. “For the fourth, I’d go to India, for the fifth I’d go to China, then the sixth would be Me, The Machine, with these gloves that I’d been dreaming of making,” she says.
Since then, the Mi.Mu gloves have clearly become a bigger development task than originally envisaged, although the album is on its way – including deluxe box-sets for the fans who pre-ordered through her PledgeMusic crowdfunding campaign. The delay appears to be partly down to label wrangles though.
“I’m worrying about the fact that the label I currently license my record to are being really annoying about not giving me a certain amount of money they’d promised me to do the videos and making-of documentary, which I’ve already made and paid for,” says Heap.
It’s a rare departure from positivity during the interview, although that’s quickly remedied. “I’d love to be having that money to help pay for the gloves, but there’s no point complaining because what manifested was this great thing, the Kickstarter, which got loads of press, brought us the collaborators and helped us go go the next stage,” she says.
“Many times in my career I’ve been really frustrated, but usually some good comes from it, maybe a couple of months or even a whole year afterwards. A label might mess me over, but it’ll give me an opportunity. Often, when something’s gone bad, it’s because it’s reached a natural end and really wasn’t working. I like finding solutions.”
One of those solutions is crowdfunding, while partnerships with brands like Sennheiser, whose Momentum campaign – named after a line of headphones – involves various artists talking about how they use sound technology.
Heap gracefully plugs the project by explaining why it’s not really a plug. “It’s this old model of patronage: they’re helping lots of artists, basically funding us to do our projects. And I do actually use their kit: it’s the only sponsorship that’s made any sense in my life on that score,” she says.
Electronics e-commerce and direct sales leader Monoprice is transforming the 3D printing landscape with the availability of its newest product, the Dual Color Extrusion 3D Printer. Initially previewed at the 2014 CES show, Monoprice’s debut 3D Printer model makes 3D printing more financially accessible to consumers by offering the lowest-priced, dual color 3D printer currently on the market.
“Monoprice is excited to offer high-quality 3D printing with dual color capability, along with a number of included extras and free shipping, at under $1,200 — a price level that is unheard of in the industry,” said Luke Grant, Monoprice’s Vice President of Marketing. “We are looking to have a major impact in the fast-growing field of 3D printing, and make this valuable technology more accessible to a wide range of consumers, businesses, schools, and researchers.”
Well-versed techies and consumers who are new to 3D printing alike can appreciate the new 3D Printer (Product ID# 11614). Setting apart Monoprice’s value-conscious 3D printer, using the standard 1 kg, 1.75mm filament spool, is its dual color extrusion and ability to print with ABS, PLA or PVA filament, comparable in quality to competitors’ models, which can cost more than $2,500. The extruder supports layer thicknesses of 0.1 0.5mm, and can support heat tolerances of up to 250degC. The unit prints at a rate of 24cc per hour.
“Monoprice is working to create a new community of 3D printer users, eliminating the notion that these devices are solely for high-end seasoned tech users,” said Anthony Gih, Monoprice’s Product Manager for camera and imaging products. “Whether you purchase the 3D printer as an inexpensive way to prototype your next big idea or to create everyday useful objects such as a cup or a customized picture frame, Monoprice’s affordable 3D printer can be used by entrepreneurs, students, engineers, and hobbyists alike.”
For additional product details and to pre-order the 3D printers and filament colors, starting today, visit www.monoprice.com. The official product launch is expected on or around May 22.
About Monoprice, Inc. (DBA Monoprice.com)
Based in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, Monoprice, Inc. is an e-commerce leader specializing in high-quality yet affordable electronics and tech products, including a wide variety of electronic cables, home theater equipment, networking and IT gear, mobile accessories, PC and gaming accessories, pro audio equipment, imaging equipment, and ink & toner. Established in 2002, Monoprice offers more than 6,500 of its own branded products via its website www.monoprice.com. The company built its stellar brand reputation through strong customer word-of-mouth, the consistent ability to deliver premium quality products at prices far below other national brands, and unmatched customer service. Monoprice was named an Inc. 500 company in 2008, 2009 & 2010, and an Inc. 5000 company in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The Company is also listed in the 2013 edition of Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. For more information about Monoprice, visit www.monoprice.com or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Spiceworks and YouTube. Monoprice is a business unit of Blucora, Inc. (NASDAQ:BCOR).