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]
Earlier this week, the Guardian reported on engineer-turned-entrepreneur Dr. Siavash Mahdavi‘s combination of sintering and AI optimisation software. Potential applications, according to Mahdavi, include the rapid manufacture of ‘made-to-measure orthopedic implants’ –
“A surgeon will have the existing bone MRI scanned. This information is passed via a CAD programme to the 3D printer. By the time the patient gets to the operating theatre, we will have printed out a medical-grade titanium bone which is an identical match to the one being replaced.”
But can we be sure they will be as reliable as existing implants? “Better,” insists Mahdavi. “Firstly, they are much lighter as, like human bone, they are porous rather than solid. And having an internal mesh means you can fuse the implant to the bone, so the natural bone will grow into the holes and lock itself in. Because it’s a porous structure, you can x-ray the implant and see how the natural bone is melding with the implant. And, though these e-manufactured implants are only a quarter of the weight of solid ones, the laser makes a finer material than cast metal – so is it is actually stronger than the current technology.“
From the look of their website, Mahdavi’s company – Complex Matters – is making the most of the technology, capitalising on its applications in a variety of projects.
Self-replicating machines, as a concept, have been around since mathematician John von Neumann thought them up. But there has never been a working non-organic machine that has been able to construct a fully-functional working clone of itself … until now. [story via pretty much everywhere; image from the RepRap homepage]
“RepRap achieved self-replication at 14:00 hours UTC on 29 May 2008 at Bath University in the UK.”
I’ve linked to the RepRap Project before when I first started blogging here at Futurismic, and so I’m immensely pleased to see they’ve reached this major milestone. And the head-twistingly awesome bit about it is that, as RepRap is 100% open-source, you can just download a parts list and make your own, then set it to make copies of itself to give to your friends.
“The machine that [self-replicated] – RepRap Version 1.0 “Darwin” – can be built now – see the Make RepRap Darwin link, and for ways to get the bits and pieces you need, see the Obtaining Parts link.”
OK, so it looks clunky, and it lacks the conceptual elegance of Drexler’s engines of creation, but think of it as a proof of concept. Imagine that RepRap could build a functional replica of itself at half the size, and that then the replica could replicate to half the size again, and so on. Unless you’re worried about the largely improbable “grey goo” scenario, it’s possible that we’ll look back on RepRap as the dawn of a new age for the means of production …
… or the root cause of global unemployment, maybe. 😉
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.