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From the Hive

Davis Square: the next hub of innovation?

Highlights from boston.com/hive, Boston’s source for innovation news.

Where is Greater Boston’s next innovation hub? GrabCAD marketing guru Rob Stevens says his money is on Davis Square, where his growing company moved a few months ago.

“Davis is the new Kendall Square,” Stevens said last week in GrabCAD’s spacious new digs on Cameron Avenue in Somerville. The start-up, which helps engineers share computer-aided design files, spent the previous year renting space on Third Street in Kendall Square. Feeling squeezed — literally, by cramped quarters, and figuratively, by high prices — the GrabCAD team took the operation four stops up the Red Line in April.


Plenty of other start-ups are being pushed out of Kendall Square by skyrocketing rents, which routinely top $50 per square foot. Cambridge is addressing the problem with a plan to require new commercial developments in Kendall Square to reserve 5 percent of their space for young companies, offering low rates and flexible lease terms.

In the meantime, South Boston’s Innovation District has become a popular landing spot, where $20 to $30 per square foot is more common. But several entrepreneurs have warned that it won’t be long before the Innovation District has to confront the same issues as Kendall Square. That would open the door for another neighborhood to attract local start-ups, and Davis Square is an appealing option, Stevens said.

“It has a really nice mix of amenities,” Stevens said. “It’s got coffee shops, restaurants, Hubway bicycle spots.”


T riders: Time for bike envy?

Jonathan Lansey, a founder of Loud Bicyle, which makes horns, has plotted the time it takes to ride the MBTA vs. biking from Cleveland Circle to a variety of points around Boston. Pedal power is surprisingly effective.

Jonathan Lansey

“The fastest places to go by T are, not surprisingly, along spindly corridors defined by rail tracks and bus routes. The flashing colors reflect the rhythm of bus and trolley schedules,” Lansey notes. “In contrast, the time to bike is solid and steady. There is no arbitrary network of paths defining where you can go quickly — and no pressing constraints on when you must leave.”


The map was created using a mashup of Google Maps’ API, Stamen Design’s map tiles, and a few other open tools, which are detailed on Lansey’s blog, loudbicycle.blogspot.com.


Simplifying 3D printing

Three-dimensional printing may be all the rage, but figuring out how to work the nascent technology to make lifelike objects with intricate surfaces can tie you up in knots. So who else but some bright minds from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to come up with a way to simplify the process so you don’t need a degree from, well, MIT, to make your cool idea into a realistic image.

The MIT researchers created a programming language to streamline the process so it will be easier to print objects with multiple materials, so they can be squishy and flexible at one place, firm at another, or reflect light and conform to touch. Right now, making objects like that is an arduous and technically challenging task and beyond the ability of off-the-shelf 3D printing software.

“The problem is that you have to jump through a lot of hoops to do this,” said Kiril Vidimče, a doctoral student and lead author of one of two papers MIT researchers produced on the subject. To demonstrate the advancements, they printed flexible TINY 3D teddy bears and bunnies that feel like foam.


Most commercially available 3D printers, which transform digital files into physical objects, are single-material machines. Those printers can create hard bowls, sculpture, or toys out of plastic but aren’t able to turn out intricate objects with varied surfaces.

The 3D printers Vidimce and his colleagues work with are more advanced than printers most enthusiasts buy for about $2,000. The one they used costs $300,000.

The next step is to develop applications to integrate the new techniques for complex 3D printing, which could be useful in health care or even Hollywood costume design.