The wild west of the technological frontier

Technology is creeping into the most unlikely places. Every day, people look at something that’s been done the same way for years and give it a new, futuristic twist. Sometimes the change makes the job easier. Sometimes it eliminates tedious or dangerous work. Sometimes it opens up a whole new career path for future generations. The time has come to look at things you do every day to see if there is a way to make them better.

Want to learn how to invent something new? Start here.

It’s becoming more difficult to attract a younger generation to farming. The manual labor is grueling and many farm owners find that their children are increasingly unwilling to take over the family business. Some farms are taking action by incorporating exciting new technology that not only helps ease the work, but makes it a little more appealing to future farmhands. For example, dairy farmers are using robots to milk their cows. Previously, when they relied on humans for the milking process, they could only milk the cows twice a day, and it was difficult to find and keep laborers. With robots, they average about three milkings a day—a huge increase in milk production. The cows enter the milking stations whenever they want, so they are happier. And because the collar that connects the cow to the robot milkers also tracks things like activity and rumination (cud chewing), it helps the farmer detect and treat illness much better than before.

Willem Van Dam was able to recreate a unique Japanese architectural craft using 3D modeling and printing. 

We’ve seen how 3D modeling and printing are being used in science and engineering classrooms. But is there a place for these technologies in classes like math and history? During his senior year of high school, Willem Van Dam took the opportunity to bring his interest in 3D design and printing into his history class. Willem was living in Tokyo at the time and was given the assignment to create a presentation about a Japanese cultural tradition. Based on his love for Japanese architecture, Willem selected to present the unique and intricate craft used by Japanese carpenters to build houses without the use of nails, screws, or bolts. He decided it would be most exciting to show his class how the joints actually worked through a hands-on demonstration. Because of his previous experience with 3D design through VEX Robotics, he was able to recreate and 3D print each joint. His teacher and classmates loved putting the joints together and taking them apart to see how they worked.

An image rendering of Willem Van Dam's click joint for his Japanese architecture project. 

Even our furry friends are getting some futuristic upgrades. No more worrying if Fido wanders off. His GPS collar will help you be reunited quickly. You can also purchase a bed for your pet that tracks weight and adjusts temperature with automatic heating and cooling to keep your pet healthy and comfortable. And for the pet owner with separation anxiety, there are apps that enable you to watch your pet sleep (or tear up the couch pillow) and even trigger a robot that tosses them a treat.
As homes become smarter, getting ready for your day will become easier and more fun. There are already toothbrushes that give feedback on how well you brushed. Why struggle with the hot and cold water levers in your shower when you can simply ask your shower to get the water to the perfect temperature? Toilets offer warm seats, self-opening and closing lids, and some of them can even clean themselves. It is becoming more of a trend to remove tubs from bathrooms as they take up so much space and are not used as often as a shower. But what if your bathtub could fold away when not in use and you could adjust the size to fit the person using it? A personalized soaking experience on demand. Vlogger and product design student Jacob Dawson and his project partner Jake Clayton came up with an ingenious design that could change how we relax and get clean in the future.

Watch how product design students Jacob Dawson and Jake Clayton reinvented the traditional bathtub design. 
Technology is not new to the music industry. Microphones and electric guitars have been around for decades, and don’t forget those fabulous synthesized keyboards that were popular in the ‘80s. But how about using the design innovation process to design and 3D print your own instruments?
Are you slouching in front of your computer right now? Why not try a device that alerts you when your shoulders slump so you can improve your posture? Is your snoring driving your partner to sleep in another room? Try the bed with a snore detector that can raise your head when you start. Concerned that you are giving away all your secrets? There is an app that records you when you talk in your sleep.
With 3D design and printing skills, anyone can invent something for industries that once seemed to have no opportunity for technological advancement. You don’t even have to be an expert on a subject or career to be an entrepreneur. In fact, many successful entrepreneurs had little to no experience or background in the industry they’ve improved. Instead, they were able to offer a new perspective and see things in a new way.
“I think the reason a novice can see things an expert can’t is because a novice doesn't know specifically what they are supposed to look for,” says Willem. He hopes to become a product designer someday, but knows that some of the best opportunities to invent something new are in the most unlikely places. “It's like those search-and-find books, Where's Waldo. If you just look for Waldo, it’s the only thing you will find. If you keep your mind open and look at the bigger picture, you’re much more likely to see all the other funny pictures, items, and scenes on the page.”

Learning to think like an entrepreneur can take your new technology venture in different directions.

New frontiers are out there, ready for the next generation to insert its design ideas. Tune into your entrepreneur mindset and look at something mundane or ordinary and see if you can come up with a new product that might make that job or experience a little better. How will technology become part of occupations like dog walker, food server, wine maker, or truck driver? We’ll be watching to see what you invent.