You can count on my support

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As any engineer worth their salt will tell you, the right support can prevent untold damage. Although even the ancient Greeks had worn simple garments to cover and support the breast, it was only 100 years ago when a German by the name of Sigmund Lindauer patented the idea of a mass manufactured brassière. Thanks to him, ladies blessed with an ample dairy shelf can comfortably support their assets providing they have picked one out of the right size. Providing such support is big business and the brassière market is worth a staggering $16 billion worldwide.

Since Sigmund’s invention 100 years ago, we’ve seen bras to enhance, bras to reduce and pointy conical bras. We’ve seen a frequent flyer bra which eliminates all the metal so women can pass through airport metal detectors without inadvertently setting them off.

As fashions come and go, bras change to match. Backless dresses brought along the strapless bra. With one shoulder dresses came one shoulder bras. In case you don’t fancy carrying your mobile phone, there are bras with a perfect pocket built-in. For ladies who work in the espionage industry, there are bras with a built-in holster for your Walther PPK.

What will the next 100 years bring?

Certainly more wearable technology. We’ve already seen bras that deliver a taser-like shock to would be attackers, which sounds a bit scary if your wife develops Alzheimer’s and forgets to switch it off one day.

I imagine there will be bras that change colour and texture on demand. One day, you could be scanned by a 3D scanner and print your perfect bra on a 3D printer all from the comfort of your own home. It can only be a matter of time before someone comes up with a virtual reality bra for long distance lovers.

With breast cancer one of the most prevalent causes of death among women, I like the idea of a bra which constantly monitors the shape and consistency of the wearer’s breasts. Using tiny sensors, they could detect the slightest change long before it became detectable by touch alone. Maybe such a garment could transmit the data to your doctor so that he could look for any danger signs. Not only that, but it could monitor your heart rate and rhythm at the same time. it would only take a slight tweak to the taser bra and it could become an on demand defibrillator.

Daisywheels, golfballs, thermals and lasers

From wikipedia commons.

From wikipedia commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If anyone ever had a Sinclair Spectrum, they probably remember the little ZX printer designed to be plugged into the back. Designed like an electric toilet roll dispenser, it used a roll of silver thermal paper. Inside, little pins literally burned into the thermal paper to leave behind (sort of) recognisable print. The poor thing used to get tired and slow down towards the end of a large print job and you almost ended up feeling sorry for it.

If the print was difficult to read when first produced, the fading over time meant that it was totally unreadable after a few days. Those in the know used to spray their printouts with hairspray to extend their longevity.

When I started work, there was one printer to rule them all. A dirty great big behemoth of a printer connected to the mainframe. Almost all processing happened overnight because it cost less and any output from that processing went not to a screen, but onto paper; tons of it. I don’t know how these printers used to work, but they were lightning fast and the paper was warm with a distinctive smell. All the screens in the building were dumb terminals so there was no concept of local printers.

As and when PCs started to appear, people wanted to print things which meant they needed a printer. The first such devices were dot matrix printers. Brutally mechanical affairs, they used a print head made up of a matrix of hammers which formed the print by bashing through an ink soaked ribbon onto the paper. If that sounds noisy and slow, they were. Each agonising line of print sounded like a mini machine gun.

The print quality was awful and if your printer happened to be more than 12 months old, the pins had a nasty habit of getting misaligned which made the text barely readable.

Daisywheel printers had a radial print head with characters on the end of spokes. When these struck the paper through the ribbon, a whole character came out. Golf ball printers worked the same way, only the characters were all stuck onto a small ball. These cut down on the noise and the print quality improved enormously, but they were limited to a single font.

Nowadays with inkjet and laser printers coupled with ever more sophisticated software, there is almost no limit to what can be printed at low cost, but they are restricted to two dimensional paper.

With 3D printing, which is widely used in industry, layers of material are laid down according to a digital blueprint in order to construct a physical object. Suddenly, almost anything can be manufactured one piece at a time if you have the right kit. The printers are tumbling in price, so it won’t be long before there are no limits on what you can create in your own home.