Fabrication technology – sometimes known as ‘rapid prototyping’ or 3D printing, among other names – is a real Pandora’s box. The benefits of being able to ‘print’ a solid object are manifold (reduced industrial wastage, low overheads and so on), but the technology doesn’t care what it is that you’re printing out, or who’s doing it… or what they’re doing it for.
This is a topic that Futurismic‘s own Sven Johnson has discussed here and elsewhere, but it’s rapidly moving from the realm of the theoretical into reality. For example, fabrication start-up Shapeways has a video of of a guy who has printed off a miniature remote controlled helicopter:
“So what?”, you might be thinking. But as Bruce Sterling points out:
… all that’s missing from the nightmare scenario is a tiny fabbed bomb and some fabbed GPS. Given those, the Israelis are in for hell on earth.
It’s still a relatively pricey way of doing things, but as the overheads drop the potential of 3d printing to put dangerous tools in the wrong hands rises in parallel with its ability to make our lives better. A rising tide floats all boats, after all.
The latest instalment of Sven Johnson’s Future Imperfect is part of the Superstruct project.
Within it, a future iteration of Sven takes a moment on a cruise-gone-wrong to reflect on the history of 3D spam – the flipside of the fabrication revolution. Continue reading When 3D spam got old
Via Jamais Cascio and BoingBoing comes word of the beta launch of Shapeways, a Philips spin-off company that specialises in on-demand fabrication services. In other words, they’re like a LuLu for 3D objects: you design ’em and email the files, they’ll “print” them out. Go check out their blog if you’re interested in seeing the machinery they use.
Fabbing is a great science fiction trope, because it has the potential to be used in both good and bad ways. For the good, companies would only ever need make as many of something as they could actually sell, leaving less for the landfills.
But here’s a flipside scenario for you: let’s say a marketing outfit manages to scrape the electoral register for names and addresses, feeds the resulting database into a service like Shapeways and instructs it to ship some dumb gimmick to every home on the list?
3D spam, folks. You heard it here first*.
[ * Well, I imagine Bruce Sterling beat me to it more than a few years back, and I’ll bet Sven Johnson has mentioned it more than once, not to mention countless others. “On the shoulders of giants”, and all that… ]
[image by oskay; object pictured actually made by CandyFab, a 3D printer that specialises in printing edible confections but which can work with other materials too.]
Here’s a little something I missed the other week: a Swedish research team are working to develop “nanopaper”, a material based on wood-pulp cellulose nanofibres that can be stronger than cast iron.
The new method involves breaking down wood pulp with enzymes and then fragmenting it using a mechanical beater. The shear forces produced cause the cellulose to gently disintegrate into its component fibres.
The end result is undamaged cellulose fibres suspended in water. When the water is drained away Berglund found that the fibres join together into networks held by hydrogen bonds, forming flat sheets of “nanopaper”.
So what, you may be thinking. Well, as Charlie Stross suggested, if the current generation of 3D-printing/fabrication systems (like RepRap) swapped the soft plastics they currently extrude with for the nanopaper formula:
“… the future may turn out to be made of papier maché.”
Anyone have any idea how recyclable this cellulose nanopaper would be by comparison to plastics or steel? [image by Tina Raval]
3D printing, fabbing, rapid prototyping … call it what you will, it’s a pricey cutting edge technology, right? Well, not necessarily – Bruce Sterling has spotted this Russian-made 3D printer built from lab junk. Looks like a similar idea to the Rep-Rap project.