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Posts tagged ‘CoolTechStuff’

Blackbelt 3D Printer: CoolTechStuff

Larrry Mortimer, AIA

So you’ve looked at 3D printers and thought they were interesting but only good for printing small things.  Well, here is a company (Blackbelt 3D) in the Netherlands that has rethought the way 3D printers operate and how large the prints can be.

What Does It Do: The Blackbelt 3D printer is a fused filament (FFF) 3D printer that can print an object 340mm (13”) high x 340mm (13”) wide x any length.

What Does It Cost: It’s not cheap, €9,500 (approx. $11,870) for the desktop version and €12,500 (approx. $15,620) with a standing frame and roller table.

How Does It Work: The Blackbelt 3D printer is similar to most FFF printers, except the printing mechanism is rotated 15-45 degrees from the horizontal and the printing bed is a moving high-precision conveyor belt that allows prints to be of any length.  There are still limitations on height (13”) and width (also 13”) but the length can be anything.  The printer uses a standard 1.75mm filament of ABS, PLA, Co-Polyester, or PETG materials.

Conclusion: This is a fantastic idea.  I’m surprised that no one thought of it before now.  I can see many applications for a printer like this in architecture.  For example, you could print a long streetscape model with this printer, or a mockup of a long building element.  The printer is also good at printing an endless number of the same part (good for repeating elements in a model).

This printer is in Kickstarter Campaign mode and is scheduled to ship December 2017 to January 2018 (which is now – I don’t know if it is shipping yet).  However, exercise caution when participating in any Kickstarter Campaign because shipping dates are notoriously optimistic, and sometimes they never ship at all.

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HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guides: CoolTechStuff

Larry Mortimer, AIA

As you may guess from the topic of this article, I just finished the chapter’s Post-Disaster SAP Training course.  Living and working in an industrial area of the city I’ve always been concerned about what kinds of nasty things are in, or passing through, my neighborhood and the SAP Training course renewed my concerns.  Here are a couple of mobile device apps that will give you information on questionable materials that you need to stay safe.

I found two apps that seem to do a good job identifying hazardous materials.  ERG 2016 by National Library of Medicine, and the HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guide by ThatsMyStapler Inc. (for all of you fans of the movie Office Space).

What do they cost: ERG 2016 is free, and the HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guide is $4.99.

ERG 2016:  There is both an iOS and an Android version of ERG 2016.  ERG 2016 contains an indexed list of dangerous goods, their associated ID numbers, the general hazards they pose and recommended safety precautions.  The home screen for this app opens with a choice to search by name or placard image, or to browse the guide section or reference materials. The guide section lists information on types of material, including; potential health, fire or explosion hazards, and recommended emergency responses, protective clothing, evacuation and first aid.  The reference section includes: “How to use this App,” “Hazard Classification,” “Protective Distance,” “Safety Precautions,” and “About/Contact.”


HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guide:  The HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guide is only available for the iOS platform. This app opens to an alphabetical list by name of hazardous materials, showing the proper placard, hazard class, isolation distances, synonyms/trade names, and a physical description for each. From the home page you can also go directly to the sections on guides, history of your inquiries and references.

The guide section is exactly the same as that in ERG 2016.  The reference section includes emergency phone numbers, other resources, and suggested actions.

Conclusion: Although both apps provide similar information, the HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guide format is easier to use, and it provides synonyms/trade names, and a physical description that ERG 2016 does not.  My choice would be the HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guide, but either app will do the job.

These apps both provide a quick reference to identify hazardous materials and guidance regarding the dangers they present. Hopefully you will never need the information these apps provide, but if you do, you will need it immediately.  Having one of these apps in your kit of tools is cheap insurance.

Download at:  Apple Store, or Google Play

Solar Squared: CoolTechStuff

Larry Mortimer, AIA

As the renewable energy industry is maturing we are beginning to have many more choices at our disposal, and photovoltaics is leading the charge (no pun intended).   We’ve had many photovoltaic options for some time now, but few that integrate into the building envelope itself.  The typical flat solar panels (even the ones with color) usually look like an afterthought.  For integrated options we are pretty much limited to photovoltaic shingles, and photovoltaic window glass.  Here’s an interesting addition to the mix based on research being carried out at the University of Exeter called Solar Squared.


What Does It Do:  Solar Squared is a glass block that generates electricity using focused solar energy.

What does it cost: Cost is unknown at this point.  The developer, a company called Build Solar, is currently testing the product. They anticipate a finished product to be available sometime next year.

How Does it Work:  The blocks are transparent and contain thirteen optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell.  Within each block the cells are all linked together, and can be wired to one another.  The developer claims that the solar blocks provide better thermal insulation than conventional glass blocks while still letting much of the natural light pass into the building.  The company plans to offer coatings to control thermal gain and for different colors.

One question I have is what happens if one photovoltaic cell ceases to work?  I can’t imagine opening up a block wall to replace it.

Conclusion:   Solar Squared may become an attractive integrated solution to provide clean energy, however with efficiency and costs still to be determined, that remains to be seen.

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ArchiCalc: CoolTechStuff


Larry Mortimer, AIA

I recently upgraded my iPhone & iPad to iOS 11 not realizing that some of my most favorite apps would no longer work on that operating system.  All of the 32 bit apps (69 of them) on my machines were instantly not useable.  So the search was on for a 64 bit replacement for each of the apps that were lost.  One of the apps I lost was a feet-inch calculator, but fortunately I found an even better replacement called ArchiCalc.

What Does It Do:  ArchiCalc does exactly what you would think a feet-inch calculator would do but with a simple, clean, elegant interface and a few extra features you would not expect.

What does it cost: $3.99

How Does it Work:  ArchiCalc might more accurately be called a dimensional calculator because it works with linear dimensions, areas, and volumes.  It works with both imperial and metric units, and mixed units can be used in the same calculation without converting them in advance.  The answer can be freely converted to either format.

Lengths multiplied by lengths result in areas and areas multiplied by lengths result in volumes.  Other geometric operators include calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle, volumes of spheres and other useful geometric functions.  ArchiCalc has 10 storage registers, a tutorial, and an on screen rounding feature for decimal places and denominators of fractions of an inch. To get information about a key simply touch and hold that key and information about the key will be provided.

Conclusion: This app was designed by an architect for architects and it shows.  I love it’s simple intuitive interface, and if my iPhone’s in my pocket the app is already with me.  The only drawback I see to this app is that it only works on an iOS device.  The only Android app I found that seems to be similar is “Feet Inch Calculator Free” by ByOne Coder, Inc.  If anyone has used Feet Inch Calculator or knows of a similar Android app, please let me know.

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Colored Photovoltaics: CoolTechStuff

Larry Mortimer, AIA

While in the process of designing a new home for my family, I’m of course looking to make it as energy efficient as possible.  This includes photovoltaic cells on the roof.  While looking for my solution I came across colored PV panels, which I did not know about.  Here are three companies that offer colored solar panels.

Kameleon Solar:  Kameleon Solar is a Dutch company that designs and manufactures colored solar panels.  The company offers panels in custom sizes where the glass is colored or the cells are colored.  With the colored glass approach the cells are not visible and the panels appear to be one solid color.  With the colored cell approach, the cells are visible and the panels have a sparkling appearance.  The colored glass panels are available in eight colors (gold, green, blue-green, blue, terra-cotta, bronze, light grey, and grey).  The colored cell panels are available in five colors (sparkling gold, disco pink, emerald green, stone elegance, and diamond blue).

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V-energy: V-energy Green Solutions is an Italian company that makes photovoltaic panels in four colors (red, green, black, and transparent which appears blue). The panels come in two sizes (1000mm x 1980mm & 998mm x 1668mm) with 60 and 72 cells, and a power range of 250-320 W.  The panels are constructed of anti-glare tempered glass with low iron content for optimum light collection, and an anodized aluminum frame.

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Colored Solar:  Colored Solar is a company in Los Angeles that also provides photovoltaic panels in several colors (red, green, metallic gold, pink diamonds, lavender, earth brown, emerald green, polished marble, and polished slate).  These panels measure 1652mm x 990mm, with a power range of 230-245 W.

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Conclusion:  Colored solar panels could help integrate PV into your project.  They could be particularly useful in historic renovation projects, or projects that are subject to design review restrictions.  Be sure to check the efficiency of any panel you want to use, because some colors are not as efficient as others.

CoolTechStuff: American Hardwoods Species Guide

Larry Mortimer, AIA

What Does It Do: The app provides information on selecting hardwood species, including:  Alder, Ash, Aspen, Basswood, Beech, Yellow Birch, Cherry, Cottonwood, Red Elm, Gum, Hackberry, Hickory & Pecan, Hard Maple, Pacific Coast Maple, Soft Maple, Red Oak, White Oak, Poplar, Sycamore, and Black Walnut.

System Requirements: The app works on mobile devices that run the iOS or Android systems.

What does it cost: Free (the best price of all)

How Does it Work: The app has six tabs: Species, Photos, Info, Properties, Share App, and Contact Us.  The “Species” tab shows a color image of each species with a clear, light, medium and dark stain.  The “Photos” tab shows a photo of the selected species used in an actual project.  The “Info” tab give general information on each species, such as description, where it grows, main uses, abundance, availability, physical properties, and workability.  The “Properties” tab displays the strength and mechanical properties for each species.  The “Share” tab simply opens up your mail program to send info about the app to others (I think they should remove this tab).  Finally the “Contact Us” tab is just what it sounds like, using your choice of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or email as the media.

Conclusion: If you need a quick idea of the look and properties of a particular hardwood, this is a good app to have in your tool box.

More Info: (much more good information for design professionals at this site)

For Android Devices:  Download at

For iOS devices:  Download from the App Store on your iOS device (note: Apple has changed things, you can no longer download apps in the iTunes store from your desktop).


CoolTechStuff: Seek thermal Compact

Larry Mortimer, AIA

A friend of mine was concerned about heat loss/gain in one room of his residence.  The room was cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  To help diagnose the problem he purchased a little device called the Seek thermal Compact that plugged into his smart phone to provide a thermal image of the room.


What Does It Do: The Seek thermal Compact is a thermal imaging camera that plugs into your smart phone or tablet to allow it to take thermal images or videos of anything including buildings and building systems.

System Requirements:  iOS or Android smart phone or tablet

What does it cost: $249 – $499 (depending on model)

How Does it Work: Simply plug the camera into your smart device to capture a thermal image or video that will show energy loss/gain caused by air leaks, missing or damaged insulation, inefficient HVAC systems, electrical faults, and more.  You can save, send, share, and store the thermal images or videos the same way you would any other image or video on your smart device.  This compact, pocket-size, portable device measures only 1 x 1.75 x 1” and weighs less than 0.5 ounces.  It runs on power from your smart device, does not require batteries or charging, and has low power consumption (up to 4 hours of battery operating time).  There are three models of the Seek Compact:  the Compact, the CompactXR and the CompactPro. The main differences are the size of the thermal sensor, field of view, frame rate and detection distance.  For design professionals the Compact or CompactXR would probably be sufficient.

Conclusion:  This looks like a useful device for quick, convenient on-demand thermal imaging with your smartphone or tablet.

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CoolTechStuff: Contour

Larry Mortimer, AIA

If any of you are Sci-Fi fans you may remember a movie from 2000 called Red Planet.  Not a great movie, but not a bad one either.  What I remember most about it was a cool gadget that mapped the inside of an alien structure.  Well here is a new gadget from Pittsburgh-based startup, Kaarta called Contour that will do almost the same thing.  If you’re interested in seeing the movie you can rent it on Amazon Prime or see it on Netflix (DVD only) – it’s full of other cool devices too.

What Does It Do:  Contour scans the interior or exterior of a building in real time and produces a 3D mapped model of the space/structure.

What does it cost:  Don’t know yet.

When will it be available:  Don’t know yet.

How Does it Work:  This lightweight, battery-powered, hand-held device uses a circular LIDAR (light imaging, detection, and ranging) scanner to record a space or structure as you walk through or around it. It does this quickly and in real time (a 110,000 sq ft space can be scanned in about 2.5 hours).  As you scan, a 7” touchscreen display shows you what has been scanned and what still needs to be scanned, so you don’t leave the site with incomplete information.  Contour scans distances up to 20 meters (65’), and exports the 3D model in Point Cloud Model formats (.ias and .ply) that can be imported into many CAD programs.

Conclusion:  Contour looks like an ideal device for architects to quickly scan interiors and exteriors of buildings, as well as building sites. There are several companies working on similar 3D mapping devices but where Contour stands out is its ability to do the mapping in real time, and display a visual image of the data on the touchscreen so you can instantly see if you missed anything.

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CoolTechStuff: Cone – Live Color Picker

Larry Mortimer, AIA

A few years ago I purchased a gadget called Pantone Color Cue that I thought was pretty cool.  It could scan any color and it would give me the Pantone and RGB equivalents. The problem with it was to take a reading you needed to be right on the sample (fine for graphic artists but not always good for architects).  Also the interface was not very good, and it was bit pricy (a discontinued version sells for around $350 and a new model goes for over $600). Cone is an iOS app by Kushagra Agarwal that does everything Color Cue did but with more style and for much less money.

Samples of Screen 1

What Does It Do: Cone uses your iOS device’s camera to scan anything (I mean anything and from any distance) and it gives you the equivalent Hex, RGB or Pantone color.

Screen 2

What does it cost: $1.99

How Does it Work: Simply place the cursor circle over any part of the image on your iOS device and see a real-time sample of the color, a color name, and Hex color at the bottom of the screen (see Screen 1 samples).  To save the color simply tap the color sample and swipe up from the bottom to see a new screen with all saved colors (see Screen 2).  In the new screen you can tap on any saved color to see a third screen showing a range of lighter & darker versions of the selected color plus it’s Hex, and RGB values and the two closest Pantone colors (see Screen 3).

Screen 3

Conclusion: What I really love about this app is it’s simple interface (no need to read a manual here) and if my iPhone’s in my pocket the app already with me.  Also I like that you can be close to the sample target or be hundreds of feet away and still capture a color.

The only drawback I see to this app is that it only works on an iOS device.  The only Android app I found that seems to be similar to Cone is Color Picker by Ratonera, Inc.  If anyone has used Color Picker or knows of a similar Android app, please let me know.

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CoolTechStuff: USB-?

Larry Mortimer, AIA

Confused about USB (Universal Serial Bus) connectors and standards?  Here’s an explanation of the various USB connectors, standards and their capabilities. 

USB Connectors/Ports: Currently there are five basic types of physical USB connectors/ports (see Image 1).  USB-A, USB-B, USB Mini, USB Micro and the latest one USB-C.  The original USB connectors were the A and B plugs and receptacles.  The B connector was designed to prevent users from connecting one computer receptacle to another and accidentally creating a loop.  You will often see a cable with an A on one end and a B on the other used for printers. The Mini plugs and receptacles were added in April 2000 for smaller devices such as digital cameras, smartphones and tablets.  Micro-connectors came in January 2007 to accommodate integration into even smaller devices.  To further confuse things, the Mini and Micro connectors each have an A and B version and the Micro has an AB version.  The C connector came into use in 2014, and is a small reversible connector meant to replace the A and B connectors.

Adaptors can be used to connect one type of connector to another, and a hub can be used to increase the number of available ports.

USB Release Standards: Currently there are five major versions of the USB standards (protocols), USB 1.0, USB 1.1, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 3.1.  Each version has a different ability to communicate data and transfer power between computers and other devices (see Image 2).   All connectors/ports will not work with all standards (see Image 3).

Conclusion:  Although somewhat confusing, the USB protocol provides
a universal system to power our devices and allow them to communicate with each other.  The speed you experience will only be as fast as the slowest element in your system.  For example, a USB 2.0 device communicating with a USB 3.0 computer will only transfer data at 480 Mbit/s.  For that reason always purchase devices that use USB 3.0 or greater.

There is one last thing for Macintosh users.  In the last few years Macintosh computers have had both USB and Thunderbolt ports.  Thunderbolt (also known as Lighting) is a competing standard co-developed by Intel and Apple, but mainly used by Apple on Macs and iPhones.  Recent Macintoshes can accommodate either USB or Thunderbolt 3 standards by using USB-C connectors for both.  Rumors have it that Apple will ditch the Thunderbolt port on the upcoming iPhone 8 in favor of a USB-C port, and since some Android phones already use USB-C ports, USB will most likely be the winning standard (at least until the next standard comes along).

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