Friday, 30 March 2007

"Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!"

Anyone who has watched Star Trek will remember the replicators that could make nearly any object materialize through a simple voice command.

While that is still lightyears away, we're getting much closer than one might think.

A new device can create 3 dimensional objects at home. These objects can be made of plastic, metal, and other materials and can be produced in a matter of minutes. It's like a 3 dimensional printer that can "print" anything you have the schematics for. You could make an action figure of yourself, "print" some new candle holders, or some replacement parts for your washing machine. The way it works is by a large number of very small nozzles that spray the plastic/metal/etc in a heated, liquid state, much like a printer sprays ink. Once a layer of material is cool and solid, a new layer can be sprayed on top of it, and so on, until the full figure is formed. At first this may seem neat, but trivial. When you think about it, it really has the potential to turn the entire manufacturing and retail industries upside down. Who would ever need to buy toys if you can just create them to whatever desing you want? Just download what you want, and go. Break a small piece of your car? "Print" a new one. Want a new set of silverware? Make some instantly! The technology is still young, but will undoubtedly improve very quickly in quality and affordability. In twenty years, I imagine these will be as universal in households as computers or microwaves. File sharing networks will probably carry more design schematics than music files. It would also seem to threaten the jobs of millions of people, especially in economies like China, which is largely based on producing cheap plastic shapes. It may sound hyperbolic, but I think a device like this will have as much impact on our lives as computers themselves.

Original story is from The Guardian.

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