The first area in which technology is disrupting convention for the greater good is in housing. Notoriously known as one of the areas which reveals some of the greatest inequalities in society, housing could greatly benefit from the intervention of technology in bringing greater accessibility and affordability.
A charity based in San Francisco, called New Story, recently found an innovative solution for tackling the global issue of homelessness. Affordability and accessibility are front of mind for this company which is using 3D printing to even the global inequalities of housing. After finding that standing construction methods are simply not sufficient for keeping up with the rates of homelessness around the world, the company is now helping communities construct 3D printed homes.
The company hires local workers and builds entire communities of homes, each home taking 24 hours to print. This use of 3D printing accelerates the speed of production while diminishing its cost, and leaves the benefits of the work and housing to the locals who need it.
An architecture firm called Onion Flats is similarly reducing the costs of housing and using their designs to tackle sustainability issues at the same time. Knowing that 38% of greenhouse-gas emissions can be traced back to building, this architecture firm wants to design housing that reduces both carbon and cost in construction.
Their current project, called Front Flats, aims to establish a ‘net zero’ building which produces the energy that its residents require. By coating the building in solar panels, the company is enabling the creation of electricity on site, as well as keeping the building cool by blocking the sun. In the year that the building has been up and running, the system has effectively generated energy, so much so that their excess was sold to the grid, furthering the economic viability and low costs of the project.
Innovative technology holds the potential to revolutionise the way business and consumers engage with housing, making it accessible and affordable for the everyday consumer by bringer unprecedented levels of efficiency and sustainability into its design.
2. Supply Chains
3D printing is enhancing accessibility in not only housing, but across an array of industries, as it is making products and their production available to their consumers.
The years to come will likely see 3D printing become mainstream in some powerfully disruptive ways. In their book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler name 3D printing as one of the world’s most exciting new technologies — referring to it as the ‘democratisation of distribution’.
Unlike previous forms of disintermediation which has forced middlemen such as retailers, wholesalers, distributors and brokers to clarify the value they add, the significance of 3D printing is that it disintermediates those at the very beginning of the supply chain: the manufacturer.
We first saw an indication of how fundamentally 3D printing would impact the world of manufacturing and when Nokia released the design files for their smartphones a number of years ago encouraging consumers to print their own case at home – removing the need for an entire supply chain. More recently, a company named Mink has developed a 3D printer for eye shadow which allows consumers to literally ‘print’ the required amount of a cosmetic matched to any colour in the spectrum.
The current market leader in small-scale residential 3D printers, MakerBot, are going beyond creating low-priced and easy-to-use 3D printers — they are helping create the very ecosystem of downloadable designs that will make personal printer ownership viable and attractive.
The numbers give some indication of how quickly 3D printing is moving towards the mainstream. In 2016 more than 278 000 home desktop 3D printers were sold worldwide, and by 2020 it is forecast that the global revenue of the 3D printing industry is expected to top $21 billion. Driving this march towards the mainstream, Siemens predicts that 3D printing will become 50 per cent cheaper and up to 400 per cent faster by 2020.
Beyond the physical world of construction and supply chains, emerging technology is granting new levels of accessibility to places we didn’t know we needed it.
The last 12 months proved to us the inefficiency of our old ways of communicating, as well as granting us new ways of communicating that are more effective, efficient and accessible than ever. The world of the Zoom meeting showed us new methods of remote communication, that allowed for greater levels of global communication at next to no cost.
Beyond Zoom and Skype, emerging technology is empowering accessibility and affordability in some unconventional ways. Technologies like augmented reality are making it possible for specialists in fields like engineering and medicine to have a first-hand look at a problem from the other side of the world. Global semiconductor manufacturer, Intel, did just this when one of their top engineers could not be flown in to solve a pressing manufacturing issue. Donning his AR goggles, he was able to examine the issue up close and remotely give repair instructions to onsite engineers.
Beyond enhancing accessibility for people across the globe, business utilising such opportunities are cutting travel costs and saving time by empowering the communicative capacities of technology.
Innovative technology often appears as something that simply makes the rich richer and propels high business into greater levels of wealth and status. However, in these cases, technology is doing just the opposite, by making life easier for workers, consumers and the underprivileged. Developments such as these are seeing technology perform the function that it always should have performed: serving people.
Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.
He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.
 Khoury, K, 2021, ‘3D-printed communities provide housing for unsheltered families’, Springwise, accessed 17 February 2021.
 Gold, R 2021, ‘An Architecture firm’s push to build net zero apartments on a budget’, Wall Street Journal, accessed 17 February 2021.
 Collister, P. 2017, How to Use Innovation and Creativity in the Workplace, Pan Macmillan, London, p. 14.
 Rothman, W. 2014, ‘MakerBot Unveils a 3-D Printer Nearer to $1,000’, The Wall Street Journal, 6 January.
 Columbus, L. 2015, ‘2015 Roundup Of 3D Printing Market Forecasts And Estimates’, Forbes, 31 March.
 Fitch, A 2020, ‘Coronavirus Makes AR’s Potential a Reality for Chip Makers,’ The Wall Street Journal, 31 August.