Solar sintering, Super 8

Paul Raven @ 28-06-2011

Interesting: take the two things deserts have an abundance of – bright sunlight and sand – and use it to make stuff. Solar powered 3D-printing, basically. [via m1k3y]

Now, this is an art/design project, so more of a spur-for-thought than a realistic business proposition – I wouldn’t wanna have to maintain all the bearings and drives on that machine in a sandy environment, for a start – but the underlying point is sound: materials and energy are abundant. We just need to think of new ways to source and use them.

Speaking of 3D printing, though, there’s definitely a whole new flotilla of work coming down the pike for hungry IP lawyers. Via BoingBoing, we find Paramount Pictures sending a C&D notice to some guy who knocked up a rendering file for a gimcrack from the movie Super 8; apparently some other outfit will shortly be selling “official” versions of the box, but I’d be willing to bet the idea never occurred to Paramount until they’d seen this dude had taken the time to do it himself. But just how similar would the reproduction have to be to be considered a breach of copyright, anyway? I rather suspect that line will get drawn by whoever can afford to take it to court for longer than the other.

This isn’t the time for another debate on the validity of IP law – I think most of you know my stance on that already – but it’s always a good time to point out that this stuff is going to get harder to police and/or enforce at a geometric rate, assuming fabbing and rendering technologies continue to cheapen and mature as they are at present. We’re slowly approaching the Napster moment for physical objects, and I remain to be convinced that anyone in line to be steamrollered by the rise of ubiquitous reproduction of 3D objects has any plan in place beyond “sue ’em until they go away”… which is their choice to make, of course, but it’s not a strategy that seems to have worked very well so far.


Architectural fabrication: printing buildings

Paul Raven @ 08-04-2011

Via Alex “Robot Overlords” Knapp, here’s a Technology Review piece about architect and MIT Media Lab boffin Neri Oxman, who’s picking up the architectural-scale 3D printing ball – still currently in its crude early phases, but eminently plausible – and running with it. The possibilities offered by bespoke design speak seductively to these geologically troubled times:

The work is at an early stage, but the new approach to construction and design suggests many new possibilities. A load-bearing wall could be printed in elaborate patterns that correspond to the stresses it will experience from the load it supports from wind or earthquakes, for instance.

The pattern could also account for the need to allow light into a building. Some areas would have strong, dense concrete, but in areas of low stress, the concrete could be extremely porous and light, serving only as a barrier to the elements while saving material and reducing the weight of the structure. In these non-load bearing areas, it could also be possible to print concrete that’s so porous that light can penetrate, or to mix the concrete gradually with transparent materials. Such designs could save energy by increasing the amount of daylight inside a building and reducing the need for artificial lighting. Eventually, it may be possible to print efficient insulation and ventilation at the same time. The structure can be complex, since it costs no more to print elaborate patterns than simple ones.

Just a proof-of-concept at this point, admittedly, but given how quickly 3D printing at a smaller scale has moved from theoretical future-thing to affordable DIY technohobby, the way we design and build our buildings – at least in the affluent parts of the world which can afford to consider aesthetics and disaster-proofing, rather than focussing on the simple need to construct a shelter quickly and cheaply – could change pretty rapidly. Which means that the Walkabout 3D Mobile augmented reality app is the precursor of a tool that will be essential to privileged NIMBYistas everywhere… after all, everyone loves progress, right up until the point that it interferes with their line of sight or property values. (NIMBYism is inherently a legacy of Gothic Hi-Tech; Favela Chic accepts intrusions and makes the best it can of them.)


Interview with an organ printer

Paul Raven @ 15-03-2011

Doctor Gabor Forgacs of the University of Missouri is one of the clever people working to make bioprinting a reality; via Fabbaloo, here’s an interview with him at PopTech:

We have worked with pharmaceutical companies, most of which spend $1 billion to develop and market a drug, if it is successful. When they go from animal trials to human clinical trials there is a good chance that they will lose the drug. In fact, 65% of the drugs that are developed in the labs that go through successful animal trials are thrown away once human clinical trials commence because what is good for the animal is not good for the human.

We tell them, we’re going to print you a truly 3D little organoid – let’s say a liver from human cells. We take human liver cells and we build a 3D little teeny tiny liver that still can be maintained in culture and we tell them, OK, why don’t you try the drug on the 3D human structure and if the drug does not work and the little liver dies, well then don’t go any further because chances are that when you put it into a human, it’s not going to work. We are already working with some pharmaceutical companies and they realize the value of this.

Even if we’re never able to print an organ, which I don’t believe, because there are already good results, our ability to print expanded 3D structures will have serious and very far-reaching implications and applicability in many other places.


Physical objects and the-internet-as-copying-machine

Paul Raven @ 08-02-2011

If you think we’re struggling to police the duplication of non-physical items on the internet, just wait until 3D printing gets a little bit more commonplace. Here’s a sort of soft-run test case at Fabbaloo, wherein a Thingiverse user subbed a set of playing piece designs for the Settlers of Catan board game. Copyright infringement? Well, possibly not, at least as things stand:

Another view comes from website Public Knowledge, who have taken the time to analyze this a bit deeper. Their approach was to examine each of the methods of protecting ideas: Copyright, Patent and Trademark. What did they determine?

  • Copyright: They believe that copyright extends only to the images and logos used by the game. Since the Thingiverse objects don’t include or attempt to include the images, they likely don’t violate copyright. The object designs are effectively not copyrightable, since they are simply common shapes and would be considered “functional objects”.
  • Patent: Patents are typically used to protect the rules of the game, rather than its components. In this case, the inventor did not patent the game, and even if he did, it would be expiring in 2015 anyway.
  • Trademark: A trademark protects only the icon or symbol of a product. In this case, the Thingiverse submission did not use in any way the trademark.

It then appears that the offending Thingiverse user is likely not offending at all. But if that’s the case, then this opens up a pretty wide hole in the generation of intellectual property. We may see a lot more “functional objects” appearing in the future, and it’s not sure how this may affect the inventors.

One thing’s for sure – there’ll be no shortage of work for lawyers.


All the roads that’s fit to print

Paul Raven @ 15-11-2010

Gasp in awe at the crazy range of stuff we can ‘print’ nowadays… and then try not to think too hard about the economic job-destruction implications as you watch video footage (which, given it was linked to by BLDGBLOG, I’m assuming isn’t some sort of clever spoof) of a machine that can ‘print’ a paved Tiger Stone road as easily as laying a long roll of linoleum:

Geoff Manaugh’s post linked above already mentions China Mieville’s Iron Council as a fictional almost-precedent, but it’s such a powerful conceptual image that I think you could get more stories out of it without treading on anyone’s toes…

Stuff-we-can-(theoretically)-print bonus content: we’ve mentioned transplant organ printing before, but here’s an explanatory video from the Biophysics Lab of the University of Missouri-Columbia [via Fabbaloo]:


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