RepRap: Before nanotechnology

It’s always nice to hypothesize about the future.

I think most will agree that nano-technology (as in nanomanufacturing) just isn’t there yet, not discounting ‘smart fabrics’ (nanomaterials) or chemistry for that matter. As you can see, higher up Wikipedia’s list of emerging technologies (commercial production) are 3D printers. An interesting belief that I share with the writer, is this:

“When the first “late beta” version of RepRap -the “replicating rapid-prototyper”- is released in early 2008, critics have a field day. It’s slow. It’s clumsy-looking. It can’t actually replicate itself without adding a few key commercial parts. But where critics see an ugly duckling, design students, DIY hackers, and open source enthusiasts see a swan-in-the-making. By the summer, dozens of novel fabber projects emerge (some forked from RepRap, but most based on original designs), and by the fall, some have actually produced devices that an adventurous home user could play with. Forward-looking strategists at mega-retailers and mass manufacturers feel a distinct chill run up their collective spine. The open fabber era had begun, and through the end of the decade, free and open source software hackers around the world turn their attention to hardware… By the time molecular manufacturing applications do mature at the nanoscale, Openfabs are a ubiquitous fact of global life. It’s not surprising, then, that the first atomically-precise devices are designed with Openfab-standard interconnects for integration into the existing open world standard for human-scale production infrastructures”. “

Source: Scenario 2 of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology Working Group

Their first scenario is a less optimistic scenario, but attaches the same promis of ubiquitous fabrication posibilities within years:
“Primitive computer-controlled fabrication machines, often called “fabbers” or “3D printers,” had been available to universities and commercial manufacturers since the mid-1990s, but over the new century’s first decade, this technology sees a dramatic drop in price combined with an equally-dramatic increase in sophistication. By 2009, these devices can easily “print” inexpensive electronic devices, low-efficiency photoelectric materials, and most “dumb” plastic products. Moreover, they prove able to make most of their own parts, the remainder being easily and cheaply obtained from hardware stores or by online mail-order. Refrigerator-size 3D printers more powerful than the best industrial fabbers of a few years earlier can be had for the cost of a used car.

These systems operate at the “meso-scale” of small-but-not-microscopic raw materials—resins, powdered solids, and other forms of “fabber toner.” This technology isn’t even close to precise molecular manufacturing, but for the first time, industrial designers as well as “do it yourself” hardware hackers can treat the material world like just more software. By the end of the decade, most universities have fabber design classes, and the “open source objects” movement rapidly gains steam (along with concerns about “product design piracy”). TIME magazine puts a $1500 Hewlett-Packard ThingJet on its July 2, 2010, cover, asking “Is this the decade of fabrication?””
Source: Ibid.

Scenario 3 end pretty inspiring:
“Economists I know are wondering about how to deal with a new economy that looks like it might begin to be based on abundance. The politicians are wondering what to do about a world where anyone can make just about anything. The rest of us are wondering about just what will come next.”
Source: Ibid.

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  1. If you haven’t seen Zeitgeist the Movie, go see it now. It’s free to watch online and you may copy it. It is a very thought-provoking documentary that dismisses many commonly held beliefs. It doesn’t do this in a subtle way, but the style is motivating an