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Tomorrow’s world

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Michael Fraser has recently moved to DB to teach design technology at Discovery College. He gives Paula Lepore Burrough a glimpse into the future of design in our homes.

Technology is increasingly allowing us to customise our lives. What’s more, it is now possible and more affordable to use technology to design solutions to everyday problems. No longer do we need large workshops with a variety of hand and machine tools; we have web-based and digital tools to assist us instead. Although the skills and processes involved in using traditional tools remain a valuable learning experience, we are now seeing design-technology classes in schools using laser cutters, 3D printers and Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) routers.


Ponoko is a web tool that allows you to design and make 2D and 3D objects such as jewellery, lamps and small pieces of furniture. The Ponoko website has tutorials and links to free software that you use to design  products. Once the design is complete you can choose from a range of different materials to construct the product. These include plastic, wood, rubber and felt. Ponoko forwards your design to the nearest of many global manufacturers. The product is then cut or printed and sent directly to you. A nearby manufacturer who uses local materials reduces the number of carbon miles your object travels to your door.


Lego suffered 11 years of consecutive losses from 1998, and struggled to compete with the emerging gaming market. However a return to its founding values refocused the company on the importance of construction. One of the key products in Lego’s rejuvenation is Mindstorms NXT. This features an NXT block that can be programmed by direct input or using NXT software on your computer. A search of the web will quickly reveal how children and Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs) are constructing a range of innovative robotic solutions. These include cake-cutting robots, modern-art robots and Rubiks – a robot that solves Rubik cubes.


This website helps you customise your Nike shoes; size 4 to 14+ and in various widths. You even have the ability to size left and right shoes independently. The grip pattern on the sole can also be matched to your intended activity or to the terrain on which you will be exercising. The most exciting part is trying all the colour and fabric combinations. You can make a strong individual statement or stay restrained and practical. The Nike custom shoes, once designed by you, take about four weeks to arrive. It’s also worth taking a look at Vans, Converse and the Shoes of Prey websites for customising options. Shoes of Prey specialises in women’s dress shoes.


Five years ago 3D-printing hardware cost over HKD200,000. The Makerbot Thing-O-Matic is a kitset 3D printer for the home that costs about HKD8,000. With prices trending like this it’s likely that within five years 3D printing will be the norm. The Thing-O-Matic uses a spool of super-strong Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) plastic (like a big roll of fishing line) as the printing medium. The ABS is melted in the head of the printer and laid down in many thin layers to slowly ‘print’ 3D objects: toys, jewellery, stationery holders, etc. A recent Makerbot employee was tasked on his first day with designing and making his own coat hook.

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