Good grief 2012 already..er Happy New Year!
Sorry for the radio silence on this blog recently; it has been non-stop for everyone here getting all their projects in before the IT change-freeze. The change-freeze is that magical day when all us programmers take our hands off our keyboards and let the many servers that run Tesco.com just get on with serving customers!
We then switch tack and do everything we can to support the service. Indeed in the days before Christmas many of our staff go and work in store to help our colleagues there.
My in-store job was to help run the newly installed Click & Collect service at the Tesco Extra at Gallions Reach. It's on the Thames estuary not far from Beckton - and yes it's where the large merchant ships of two hundred years had to moor up because the river became too shallow further into London.
It was a fantastic job - customers who had ordered through the online service just drove their car under our Click & Collect canopy at the time they had chosen on the web site. After an identity check, we simply loaded all their groceries from the ambient store and special chillers and freezers into the back of their car while they watched, and off they drove. Several customers on the shift I worked told me it was perfect for picking up the groceries on the way back home from dropping off the kids at school. A couple had become regulars and were known to my store colleagues working at the Click & Collect point, adding to the friendliness of the whole experience.
I took a much needed recharging holiday for Christmas and New Year, then it was a deep dive into the Consumer Electronics Show CES 2012 in Las Vegas to pick out some great themes and trends. Of course I would love to tell you about them but my employer paid for me to go and so my employer is the one who gets my report and presentations. Sorry about that!
The good news is that I can tell you about something I uncovered which caused my jaw to drop to the floor. I can tell you about it because I really can't think of a use in Tesco for it. I can also tell you about because, despite its expense, I nearly bought one even though I can't think of a use for it myself:
It is a 3D Printer.
That is, a printer that builds 3D models in plastic. It actually builds real tangible objects from scratch. You use a 3D graphics/design/CAD application to create an object of any shape as long as no one side is greater than 50cm. Then you press "Print", then you wait about 6 hours… and there it is for you to take out and hold.
So for CES, one of the printers was building a castle out of components, each component individually printed and then joined with other components like huge toy building blocks. The castle was already standing 3 foot high with walls with brick effects, a drawbridge, battlements, and soldiers (each character individually printed). As I watched, the printer was completing some intricate circular detail at the top of a turret it was creating.
The printer works using thin circular strands of plastic fed into a 'print head' which is moved by servo motors. As the print head scans across the space inside the printer, it melts tiny droplets of plastic which is deposited either on the floor of the printer or on top of plastic it has deposited previously. Thus, a model is slowly built up over time as the plastic is built up. I was intrigued how the printer could build the castle archways where plastic would have to be dropped into thin air with no plastic below it. This was solved by a simple case of the model being rotated in its entirety. So to build an arch, it is built upside down. Clever stuff!
Now I'm back in the office I'll get my usual review of the year written up soon - my what a year 2011 was! There's also been an exciting change in our R&D team which I'll update you on shortly. Watch this space!