Fabulous fabbing

September 24, 2007

I’ve been reading about desktop manufacturing technologies. Can I say that I think it is hilarious that Windell Oskay got fed up waiting for the prices on the 3D-printers to drop and so he made his own – a machine that builds models out of melted sugar! Genius! And the RepRap prints its own parts – a self-replicating machine! (Hypothetically, any 3D-printer can self-replicate, no? All you need is the original design and the ability the construct a model out of a suitable material?)

It’s probably a reflection of my own self-centeredness but my first thought was all the random, useless, middle-class paraphernalia that machines like these could create. Bizarre forms personal expression enabled by technology. Just think of the amount of worthless printouts you print on your home computer and then make imagine them in 3D!

But more than that the amazing levels of geekery that can be achieved with this, I love the idea that product development can now be taken out of the hands of the dudes with the white lab-coats and into the hands of individuals and small businesses in the developing world who traditionally have no access to such technology. Mad props to MTI on their fablabs. Not quite desktop manufacturing but a similar concept. (I watched a 2005 Pop!Tech video of Neil Gershenfeld this afternoon. Very inspiring.)

As Bruce Sterling put it (in an old Wired article from 2004) –

“Fabbing would be the ultimate industry for the perennially unindustrialized; the consumer cornucopia for the anti-developing world; a mushroom patch of recycled decay that pops up whenever the World Trade Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, or US Patent and Trademark Office turns its back”.

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