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From Food to Vehicles, Robots Will Be Everywhere — A Few Questions For: Hod Lipson


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Hod Lipson

No matter where you turn in the tech industry these days, certain names always rise to the top of any conversation. Among these individuals is the inimitable Hod Lipson, whose career path is so storied his CV takes up 53 pages. Lipson, a PhD who previously worked with Cornell and as the editor-in-chief of 3D Printing and Manufacturing and now works with Columbia, has co-authored two books and more than 200 papers, spoken at a range of events from TED talks to trade shows, founded four companies, and holds a lifelong interest in technology. His accomplishments and interests span the gamut from robotics to driverless cars to 3D printable food — and, fortunately for the rest of us, he is eager to share his vast breadth of knowledge.

Lipson has spoken at Inside 3D Printing events before, where we’ve had the pleasure to listen to his expertise. On December 14th, Lipson’s keynote will kick off the first day of Inside 3D Printing San Diego. We’ve been looking forward to the San Diego event for months already, as it promises four intriguing topic tracks, as well as keynotes, speakers, networking events, and more.

I recently had the opportunity to find out more about the latest from the man himself, as in the long run up to I3DP San Diego I found I had A Few Questions For Hod Lipson about his interests in technologies from 3D printing to the Internet of Things, which he was kind enough to answer in this week’s exclusive interview.

hl fabricatedHow did you first become interested in the tech arena? Has it been a lifelong interest?

I’ve always been interested in making stuff; from Lego to woodworking to electronics. And I’ve always been interested in programming and software. So it’s just natural that when computers can start making things, for example using 3D Printers or robotics, I got excited. I think there is a lot of leverage to be gained when machines can design and make other machines. It scales.

What is your vision for robotics in our everyday lives in the future?

I think that we are at the cusp of a new era in personal robotics, where we will begin to see autonomous robots in everyday life. This revolution is being fueled by a combination of exponential technologies – not just faster and cheaper computers, but also new manufacturing methods (like 3D Printing) and mostly new Artificial Intelligence algorithms. These new AI algorithms allow robots to be really autonomous – to perceive and understand the world around them and make decision in complex, unstructured environments, like on city streets or in our homes. This was not fully possible just a few years ago, but today, it is becoming a reality.

hl driverlessHow ‘smart’ do you foresee robots truly becoming over the next 5 years? 10 years? 20?

The first of these autonomous robots that will change our daily lives are Driverless Cars. These will be the first fully autonomous robots that we’ll entrust with our lives on a daily basis. Driverless cars will not just save millions of lives and make transportation more convenient; they will have a disruptive ripple effect on our entire economy, from new e-commerce models to dramatic changes in real estate prices. It’s a tsunami that few are prepared for, and it’s going to happen in 5-10 years. (see our new book DRIVERLESSS Intelligent cars and the road ahead)

In the longer term we see robots everywhere, for example smart drones in agriculture, that can detect disease and apply pesticide plant by plant, changing the way we do agriculture. We’ll even see robots in our kitchen.

When do you think we’ll see the true emergence of 3D printed food?

I think that Food printing (or Digital Food, as I like to think of it), is a union of two big parts of our lives: Software, and Cooking. Software permeates every aspect of our life, except our kitchen, where we still cook like cavemen over an open flame. But through Food printing, software can begin to assemble and cook food for us automatically, guided by a software blueprint.  It will be like downloading music. There could be healthy food driven by your personal biometrics and novelty food driven by whatever digital recipe went viral. In my opinion, this could be the “killer app” of Additive Manufacturing.


[Image: Timothy Lee Photographers via Columbia University]

We’ve seen you speak before at Inside 3D Printing events; what will you be discussing in your San Diego keynote this year?

In my keynote I’m going to focus on long-term trends in 3D printing: Going beyond the current industrial applications, to see new frontiers, from medical to food, multi-material, electronics, and of course design tool. I think that the entire ecosystem of AM is expanding its good to see the big picture.

What are you most looking forward to at I3DP San Diego?

It’s always fun to see how fast the field is expanding. While some suggest that 3D Printing is in a hype cycle, the numbers keep going up, exponentially. More investments, more opportunities, more applications, and broader implications. I3DP is a good way to catch a glimpse of this.

With these thoughts fresh in mind, it will certainly be interesting to take another look at the smart technologies surrounding our own 3D printing industry today. His thoughts on the automated future near at hand strike a chord with much of what we’ve been seeing lately, with driverless cars certainly an unprecedented advance in human transportation options being explored by many leading companies. We will be keeping an eye out for more news from Hod Lipson — he’s always busy with new projects.

Stay tuned for more coverage prior to I3DP San Diego, and then from our reports from the ground in December. Hod Lipson’s keynote will take place at 9:00 am on December 14th. Register now for discounts (prices go up after September 16th and again after October 28th), and remember that readers can save on conference fees by using code ‘3DPRINT’ at registration! Will you be attending? Discuss over in the Inside 3D Printing San Diego forum at san diego

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