The opportunities data science and 3D printing bring towards sustainability

3 minute read

You may have encountered these recent buzz words: data science (big data) and 3d printing, and topics that more often than not media outlets tend to report: security and safety. While we have heard the stories of Facebook running a social experiment on the ethical edge or every gun that has been 3D printed, it is easy to miss the larger picture of what we could gain. And while each topic typically doesn’t cross paths with the other, I believe there lies an opportunity to exploit one for the benefit of the other. In the coming words, I hope to give an insight on why sustainability is important to me - where and how I hope to align myself - and why in the coming weeks you will find posts from me about technology on a sustainability focused blog.

Data Science

As evidenced by this recent article, Data Science is a rapidly growing high net worth field that has been created solely out of the availability of cheap, rapid computing and cheap, accessible data storage. Don’t believe me? Amazon a 1 TB hard drive and come back to me. Or sign up for an account with OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox, etc. Universities - including my alma mater the University of Virginia- are quickly getting into the field to educate post bachelors (and indeed post master’s and PhD’s) with the skills and traits necessary to understand and conceptualize a data problem - a problem whose answer requires a careful analysis of available data. In engineering, or more recently the Humanities, technical experts and newcomers alike are exploring what can be discovered with the tools from larger and larger data sets. Of course, as with any trend, there are important pitfalls to overcome, as evidenced by these two articles: [1] + [2]. For sustainability, keeping traps in mind, data science backed by fundamentals of understanding the system can provide great visualizations as evidenced by the great work of users of the site Plotly, which I hope to be using in future articles.

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3D Printing's ties to Sustainability

Where I feel Data Science will come into play with 3D printing is in the feedback from sustainable production of not only products - and soon my area of vehicles - but potentially farming as well, to understand the impact of new processes and quantify it versus traditional methods. Farmbot, one group’s proposed solution to the increasing demand for food whilst minimizing the damage to our local ecosystems and ultimately our planet, starts life as a large format 3D printer combined with sensors to more carefully control the growth of crops / gardens. You can find out more about Farmbot here and in the video below.

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Farmbot Diagram, improving the process towards farm sustainability

While the Farmbot has a way to go and brings up important issues about the role of technology and data overload to our food system - although the Green Revolution long ago started that conversation to the detriment of our environment to the expansion of our society - Farmbot provides a perfect intersection of these dissimilar areas coming together to help solve problems and anticipate new ones. Its open source hardware and software approach put the emphasis on the solution to large varieties of scale to the problem of hunger at the cost of environmental degradation from rooftop gardens to massive “Farm Inc.” size plots over the potential for money first, environment later.

Farmbot Data Stream , improving the process towards farm sustainability


In the coming weeks you will get to know my transportation tendencies and shared values in mobility and efficiency, and I hope to bring into the discussion of typical topic areas - electronics, business, and data analysis - that you don’t typically see on a green blog to tie back into the larger focus of sustainability. Closed Loop’s interdisciplinary nature allows for this freedom and I am excited to see where it all goes. Because for me, the interconnection of disciplinary foci is what makes finding creative solutions to sustainability so rewarding. The people you meet along that journey provide great opportunity to tell stories and keep improving solutions, which I hope to recreate with my posts for this blog. Please leave comments below for your ideas of this possible interconnection of data science and 3d printing or your thoughts on Farmbot and similar new environmentally-focused farming technology.