Thoughts from my day in a smart home – the importance of connecting right

When I was asked to take part in a demonstration put on by one of our local communication companies, Cox Communications, showing off what a “smart home” looks like, I of course said yes.  I love gadgets, and smart gadgets more.  On top of that it was another chance to evangelise on the power of 3D Printing.  And I got to hang out in a brand new luxury condo in Downtown Phoenix, a post kid lifestyle change that is very appealing.  Plus we deal with customers designing and improving Internet of Things (IoT) devices all the time, and this is the perfect chance to see such products in action.

So I packed up one of our Makerbots, none of our Fortus machines fits in the back of my Prius, and headed downtown.  The first thing that shocked me was that I had the printer, my iPhone, iPad, and laptop connected to their network in about one minute.  The printer showed up on the Makerbot Print app on my iPad and I was printing a part in about three minutes.

My station, showing off 3D Printing in the home.

The whole point of the demonstration was to show how the new high-speed Internet offering from Cox, Gigablast, can enable a true smart home.  So I was focused on the speed of the connection to the Internet, which was fast.  What I didn’t get till I connected was that the speed and bandwidth of the WiFi in the house was even more important.

When everything was connected, we had 55 devices on the local network talking to each other and the Internet. At one point I was downloading a large STL file to the printer while on a teleconference on my iPhone and my “roommate” was giving a violin lesson to one of his students in Canada.

Oh, and the roomba started to vacuum the floor. On the balcony someone was giving a golf lesson and a doctor was diagnosing a patient in the master bedroom.  That was on top of the smart kitchen gadgets.  And it all worked.  Yes, it all worked.

I’m trying to convey shock and surprise because the reality is that nine times out of ten when I show up for some event, at a customer, or at a friends house and we try and connect things to the internet… it doesn’t work.  If you are a technical guy you know that feeling when your vacation or visit for dinner turns into an IT house call.  All I could think of was how awesome it was that everything worked and it was fast.

So I went to work printing little plastic Arizona style houses with COX on the roof. And then a reporter showed up. “3D Printing, interesting.  Hmmmm…  they are cool and all but really, what does that have to do with a smart house?”  Damn reporters and their questions.  I was still reveling in the fact that everything worked so well, I hadn’t taken to time to think about the “so what.”

Then I thought about it.  3D Printing in the home is just now starting to take off, and the reason why is actually high-speed internet connections. If you wanted a 3D Printer in your home in the past you needed the printer, a high end computer, and some good 3D modeling software on that computer.  Basically you had to create whatever you wanted to make.  Unless you are a trained engineer, that may not be so easy.

My “house” that I was printing at the invent sits on the cloud in my Thingiverse account.

But with a well connected home you have access to places like Thingiverse and Grabcad to download stuff you want to print.  And if you do want to create your own, you can go to Tinkercad or Onshape and use a free online 3D modeler to create your geometry.  All over the web, even on a pad, phone (I don’t recommend trying to do modeling on a phone, but it does work), or on a basic computer.  The files are stored in the cloud and downloaded directly to your printer.  No muss, no fuss.  All you need is a reliable and fast connection to the internet and in your home.

High speed internet and a smart 3D printer makes anyone a maker.

And when we had a three hour break, I went downstairs to a coffee shop on the ground floor of the condo and worked, while monitoring my builds using the camera in the smart 3D Printer.

Pretty cool when you step back and think about how far we have come from that first Stereolithography machine that PADT bought in 1994.  We had to use floppy disks to get the data from our high-end Unix workstation to the machine.  Now it sits on the web and can be monitored.

This may be what we have been waiting for when it comes to 3D Printers in the home moving beyond that technologists and makers.

I’ve been focused on my experience with the 3D printing in the smart home, but there was a lot more to look at.  Check out these stories to learn more:

Phoenix Business Journal: Cox shows off a smart home with 55 connected devices and fast gigabyte internet

The Arizona Republic: Cox ‘smart home’ in Phoenix displays future at the push of a button

I also did a piece for the Phoenix Business Journal while I was at the event on “3 keys to success for smart home devices” based on what I learned while playing with the other devices in the smart home.

All and all a good day.  Oh, and being a 10 minute walk from my favorite pub made the idea of living downtown not such a bad idea, which doesn’t have much to do with high speed internet, connected devices, or 3D Printing.  But one of my goals was to check out post-child urban living…