PhotoThroughout most of history, the boring everyday details of life today would be considered a fantastically implausible science fiction tale: “Last night I had a realtime discussion with somebody on a completely different continent than me, then drove my personal transportation vehicle faster than a mile a minute, while carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo. The car has fireless headlights that shine brighter than the brightest full moon, and depending which dashboard buttons you press, you can make the air in the passenger compartment heat up, cool down or fill with rich music and the sound of singing.”

(Translation: “I answered some emails, then helped a friend move.”)

Still, for all the ways it's great living in The Future, you have to remember that what we call “modern times” will one day be “the olden days.” What aspects of life now will be considered hopelessly old-fashioned by-and-by?

Depending how 3-d printer technology evolves, it's possible that “Buying plastic toys, utensils and other small items” will be on the list: maybe in the future, if you need anything from a spatula to a cell phone case, you'll simply print one out on your computer.

For now, though, 3-d printers arguably remain too expensive and impractical for such commonplace everyday use – perhaps even too impractical for small-scale designers and inventors who need to make prototypes of their creations.

Pilot program

But the UPS Store thinks 3-d printing has enough of a future that this week, it announced plans to expand a pilot program it started last year: the number of UPS Store branches offering 3-d printing services will expand from six stores to 100, in 23 different states plus Washington, D.C.

The UPS Store website lists some of the possible uses of this technology: printing functional protoypes, constructing manufacturing jigs and fixtures, making architectural models and creating customized accessories (such as phone cases).

A simple object can be printed/created in four to five hours, whereas a more complex design might need 24 hours to complete. Prices also vary based on an item's complexity and size: printing an iPhone case would cost about $60, whereas a femur bone replica would cost about $325.

A full list of UPS Store locations that offer 3-d printing services is here.

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