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Monday, October 11, 2010

Returning to Greatness...

Why does US industry (including the print industry) lag?  And why hasn't an economic recovery taken hold?

Well, let's look at how a successful technological industry works.

In the UK Sun today I saw this picture:

This is the new Virgin spaceship which will carry customers into outer space.

The accompanying article says that tickets to fly into space will cost $125,000.00 USD (U.S. Dollars) when the service is first rolled out.

Seems like a lot of money, right?

Well, maybe.  But look at the cost trends of popular technology - for example: the flat screen TV.

When these TV's first came out you could pay $20,000.00 USD for one (probably early in the 2000's).  And today, less than a decade later, you can pay about $1,200.00 USD for a big flat screen.

Now that's a big drop - down to 6% of the original cost - that's right 6% - all in a few years.

Now, if Virgin is lucky, 6% of $125,000.00 USD is $7,500.00 USD.

Know anybody that wanted to go but couldn't at that price?  I doubt it.

Well, how about technology wise - is this spaceship really that advanced?

Actually, no.  Take a look at some history photos (also here) from almost 50 years ago.  Now compare them to this (scroll down a bit).

Same basic mechanical architecture for both the X-15 and Spaceship 1/2.

Same launch platform and flight plan - a one shot fast burn propellant takes the spaceship from a high altitude launch from the belly of a carry plane into space.

So the Scaled Composites company really just used a lot of new materials to get a really old idea up to date.

The concept and ideas behind the X-15 and the entire set of flight tests were clearly decades ahead of their time.  In fact, had the program continued the history of the US in space might be quite different.  Unfortunately, the program never went further and the era of big-rocket launches took over.

So what does all of this have to do with today's business climate and the future of print - a lot.

While we could all sit around and watch print dwindle away what would be the point?

Instead, let's look at a few things print could be doing in a much bigger way:

Printing (semi)conductors - (2003) - This exists and probably has many uses.  For one, how about creating a layer of printed conductors (basically wires) in the surface of plastics.  This could be used to detect impacts, to heat the surface, to measure the distance to remote objects - any number of things.

Roll-to-roll Plastic Displays - (2010) -  Flexible plastic displays.

Body Art - (2008) - Why limit yourself to body art?  How about other things with the same technology.  The kid in the video looks like he's about 10 or 11.  He's got a full life of tattooing available to him.  Perhaps an educational program demonstrating the wisdom of temporary versus permanent tattooing would boost the market.

Fabric Printing - (2010) - This idea has been around for a long time (see this and this) - probably since 1752.

Are these the same as Virgin's new rocket plane?  In some ways yes.  Even the expensive, far out ideas have merit because the rate of change in technology today is so great.


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