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Fab 157

Posted by timothy
from the ulous dept.
Cory R writes "Neil Gershenfeld is an MIT professor and the director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms where he teaches a course called "How to Make (almost) Anything." In his book FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, Gershenfeld describes the current state of personal fabrication tools and the surprising impact that these tools have when made available to everybody from MIT students to villagers in India in the form of Fab Labs. Lots of fabrication techniques and some technologies are discussed including those that are still only in development today. The pace of development seems to be accelerating and as the capabilities of the tools advance, Gershenfeld predicts one day he will be able to drop the word "almost" from the title of his course." Read on for the rest of Cory R's review.
FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication
author Neil Gershenfeld
pages 278
publisher Basic Books
rating 8/10
reviewer Cory R
ISBN 0465027458
summary Personal fabrication may do for the real world what personal computers have done for the virtual world- let you have what you want when you want it.

I first heard of Gershenfeld and this book after listening to a podcast of a discussion he participated in at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. I'm a programmer by day but in my pre-parenthood days, I played with a bunch of microcontrollers and simple robotics-related hardware (mostly motors and sensors). The idea of being able to fabricate anything I could think of appealed to me instantly.

Gershenfeld asserts that personal fabrication tools are developing along a path very similar to the one taken by computers. Computers were once large, expensive, complicated machines accessible only to skilled operators. Now they are much more accessible and have evolved to the point that most people can make use of them to some degree. Machine tools, at best, are still at the mainframe-stage of evolution but that is changing rapidly. What happens when machine-building machines, which can manipulate atoms and molecules, are as accessible as computers are today?

Well, it turns out that machines already on the market can give you a pretty good sense of what's in store. While not quite at the level of Star Trek replicators or Nutri-Matic dispensers from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (both, oddly enough, seem to be mostly used to make tea or something almost, but not entirely, unlike tea), fabrication machines are getting smaller, and cheaper. Some of the tools discussed in the book include:

  • desktop milling machines : affordable
  • sign cutters : novel uses including cutting copper sheets into traces for circuit boards
  • laser cutters : very expensive
  • waterjet cutters : very expensive but extremely useful
  • 3D printers : expensive and slow, but very cool
  • functional material printers : print resistors and capacitors into circuits a layer at a time
  • microcontrollers : powerful and cheap
  • CAD software : difficult to use
  • CNC machines : expensive, difficult to use
All of these tools are available to some degree but most are very expensive and all are quite complicated to use.

The longest section of the book is called "The Present". The section is about the current state-of-the-art and it alternates between a chapter of anecdotes and project descriptions and a chapter on some aspect of fabrication (e.g. cutting tools, CAD software, electronics, etc...). By keeping the practical or social discussion next to the technical discussion, Gershenfeld makes what could be dry technical details accessible and engaging. It makes the book and the central ideas accessible even to (or perhaps especially to) non-technical readers.

In fact, the author has been very careful to not include too much technical detail in the text of the book. There are notes at the end with slightly more info, and a pointer to a website with some of the actual schematics and Python source code, but it is still very frustrating for a technically inclined reader who immediately wants to dial in on some of the details. The book will age better because of this, but it will send many Slashdotters running to their favorite search engine looking for more information.

The book includes a lot of illustrations and diagrams. They are all in black and white but have an inconsistent presentation. Sometimes the photos are presented on a weird background that looks like a network of circles and squares while others have no background. There are several photographs of circuits that do not add anything other than to show you how simple the circuit is (often just a microcontroller and a couple of other components). You usually cannot even make out what the individual components are or how anything is wired up. There are many photos of the people at the center of the stories and those pictures do manage to convey a sense of the awesome impact the tools have.

So, what's missing from the book? Personally I would have liked to see the technical appendix greatly expanded. I understand that this information doesn't age well and I'm guessing the author (or wise editor) didn't want to elaborate on the technical details for that reason. Fab is written for a very general and broad audience. Enough technical details are presented to keep the geeks reading, but it mostly wouldn't discourage a non-technical reader with the possible exception of the chapter on electronics. For a lot of Slashdot readers, the book definitely leaves you wanting more.

The chapters are generally under 20 pages each and the writing is fluid and simple. The book has a table of contents and a comprehensive index and even though Gershenfeld doesn't cite other publications in the text, I would have loved to see a bibliography or other list of materials that expand on the topic of personal fabrication. A few pointers from the author to complementary material would have been appreciated. The book definitely piqued my interest and fortunately, a little research has shown this to be a very active subject.

The book ends with a rather defensive look forward. There are many who feel self-reproducing machines could basically take over the planet. Gershenfeld acknowledges this and answers with his belief that any negative technologies that emerge will be fought with countermeasures, like the virus-antivirus battle on modern PC's. It's pretty much inevitable that evildoers will acquire this technology, but Gershenfeld is optimistic that fab labs can help address the root causes for conflict, largely assuaging any threat.

In summary, if the idea of having your own replicator is appealing (hello tea lovers!) or if you are interested in a new approach to giving people around the globe the tools they need to help themselves, then you will enjoy and likely be inspired by this book. Just be prepared to look elsewhere for the minutiae. I rate this book an 8/10.


You can purchase FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Fab

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  • How to make an atom bomb [winn.com]

    Are they even allowed to publish this kind of information? Or is it withheld under the PATRIOT act with the rest of our civil liberties?
    --
    NoVA Underground: Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax County forums and chat [novaunderground.com]
    • Already published. About thirty years ago. Please go study a high school civics textbook, then come back and ask intelligent questions about civil liberties.
    • The link provides a lot of garbage data.

      First off, the author mentions that you've got a thermonuclear bomb after a piss-poor description of a fission bomb.

      Secondly, in his description of a fission bomb, the author mixes up two different designs. In the one design ("Thin Man" and "Little Boy" approach), you impact two subcritical masses of Pu-238 together. The total mass/density of the combined material is supercritical, fission happens quickly, bang. In the second design ("Fat Man" approach), you have
  • Almost? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NoseBag (243097) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:04PM (#12807053)
    "Gershenfeld predicts one day he will be able to drop the word "almost" from the title of his course."

    Not until I can replicate the replicator.
    • Re:Almost? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rei (128717)
      That's a good issue. How is a home replicator going to build devices that take a complex clean-room fabrication plant with all sorts of expensive equipment (like modern CPUs)? I mean, the dream of manufacturing small, simple commodity items out of easily workable/affordable materials is one thing, but you shouldn't slap around words like "anything"
      • Atomic Assembly my friend

        That's a good issue. How is a home replicator going to build devices that take a complex clean-room fabrication plant with all sorts of expensive equipment (like modern CPUs)?

        Every single atomic assembler so far designed (sadly thus far, gedanken) does it's assembly in a vacuum environment and is atomically precise. Doesn't matter if you're making a chair or a CPU. But making a CPU this way will be cheaper. (!!!) And making it smaller will be CHEAPER (!!!!!)

        Today: photograph
    • From the classes currently online at Neil's Center for Bits and Atoms [mit.edu] it looks like they are already working on this. How To Make Something That Makes (almost) Anything [mit.edu]
    • I was ready to discount this as the typical futurist hype until I remembered where I recognized his name from.

      Dr. Gershenfeld is the author of The Nature of Mathematical Modeling [amazon.com], one of the best technical books I own on any topic. It's definitely worth a look if you want a concise overview of simulation, estimation, and machine learning algorithms.
    • and Earl Grey tea.
    • Then check out the self-replicating rapid-prototyper [cnn.com]. It's a 3D printer of sorts that can even solder basic circuit boards (mirco-controllers included).

      The best part? The inventor is releasing it free, as in SPEECH. Open hardware, open software. That, my friend, is called a disruptive technology.

    • Not until I can replicate the replicator.

      Posit: unobtanium is unneeded to create a replicator
      Posit: an atomic assembler can create ANYTHING given a large enough working space, the appropriate raw atomic materials, and enough energy.

      So the only constraint to a machine replicating itself is that with most of the assembly technologies we have right now, the act of creation is internal to the device.

      If the replicator was seperated into easily assembled parts (and you don't count the manual work of linking l
  • by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burnsNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:07PM (#12807066)
    A few years I read Automated Fabrication by Marshall Burns. The point that he made was that these machines are very similar to fax machines in the early 60's-they exist, and are being used, but are clunky and unreliable compared to where they will be in a few decades.
    • During my undergrad years at UCLA I was an intern for Ennex Fabrication Technologies - Marshall Burns' company. I spent many, many hours fueled by pizza & Mountain Dew operating his prototype "automated" fabricator, so I know first hand how "clunky and unreliable" some fab technologies can be today. However, his vision was amazing and I hope that, like personal computers, they'll become smaller, faster, and cheaper as time goes by. Some of today's fab technology reminds me of Jobs & Woz building
  • by Scud (1607) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:09PM (#12807083)
    I can't wait, finally a date!

    Anybody have the source code for Kelly LeBrock?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090305/ [imdb.com]
  • Gee, I'll be able to make gaming tokens just like the guy did on "Breaking Vegas" (The History Channel).
  • Piracy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Poromenos1 (830658) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:11PM (#12807102) Homepage
    Imagine what proportions piracy will take when everyone can copy their favorite car instead of buying it. That doesn't mean that it won't cost anything, but there probably will be a few objects that will cost more to buy than copy...
    • Re:Piracy (Score:4, Informative)

      by Rei (128717) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:16PM (#12807131) Homepage
      Two words: Mass production.

      Building parts/objects for yourself doesn't benefit from mass production, and thus would tend to cost more. Perhaps some car components would have such a small margin in terms of mass production cost and personal production cost that it would outweigh transportation costs and profit margins for the auto manufacturers, but I doubt that most would.
      • Re:Piracy (Score:4, Informative)

        by JesseL (107722) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:35PM (#12807259) Homepage Journal
        You have to remember the reasons why mass production is usually cheaper. A couple assupmtions may not be valid any more.

        1: Tooling. Lots of things usually require specialized tooling to manufacture quickly and efficiently. The cost of tooling can only be effectivly amortized when you use it a lot. This doesn't necessarily hold true when you can get same result with cheaper, more flexible tools.

        2: Time. When you want to build a whole lot of something it makes sense to split up the job and assign people to different parallel tasks. This allows you to make more efficient use of labor. But the cost of the hobbyist's time is nil. They do it for fun.
        • WRT #1: It's reasonable to assume that manufacturers would also have access to cheaper, more flexible tools. This means that instead of Nissan building specialized machinery for Maximas, Altimas, and er... their other models, they'd just buy a whole bunch of generalized machinery and adapt it as orders demand. The end result: efficiency! Which means: cheaper cars for everyone (I hope).

          The point I'm circuitously trying to reach? That manufacturing will become cheaper for your average enthusiast at a fas

      • Re:Piracy (Score:3, Insightful)

        by roman_mir (125474)
        Not for a long long long time.

        There will be no way for a very long time to use the fabrication methods that are discussed here to make various types of metals and metal parts that are needed for cars. Various metal parts require special mechanical processes to be applied to them to get the necessary physical properties - ellasticity, toughness etc. Of-course if cars will end up being made from composite carbon materials, then maybe it would me more possible, but not before we stop using old methods of st
      • Re:Piracy (Score:2, Interesting)

        Building parts/objects for yourself doesn't benefit from mass production, and thus would tend to cost more.

        You're right, of course, that mass production is all about economies of scale. But distributed, personal-scale manufacturing has the potential to fuel innovation in a way that complements the centralized creation of manufactured goods. Specifically, folks who previously might not have been able to see their ideas turn into real hardware will be able to build stuff. In addition, putting small scale

      • That is until the fab machines become so detailed that they can rearrange protons, neutrons and electrons (either from "soup" or from any surrounding matter or something like that), which will probably require nanobots and/or a hell of alot of energy unless some advances are made(which most likely will be). At that point, I just give it some matter laying around and it builds the same thing as though some company made it, with no real additional cost to me. The fab machine is a one time cost and if built c
      • Building parts/objects for yourself doesn't benefit from mass production, and thus would tend to cost more. Perhaps some car components would have such a small margin in terms of mass production cost and personal production cost that it would outweigh transportation costs and profit margins for the auto manufacturers, but I doubt that most would.

        Mass production is designed to take advantage of a few economies of scale. First off, mass production is not necessarily more or less wasteful of raw materials c
      • Can we just start simple?

        How about one portable motor + batteries. That will have attachments like a weed wacker to a chain saw, or even a car scrubber.

        Every device in my garage has a separate motor.
    • Re:Piracy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TigerNut (718742)
      I (used to) occasionally make mountainbike widgets on my milling machine, such as disc brake caliper adapters, rim brake booster arches, chainring bash guards, handlebar stems, and derailleur hangers, on my milling machine. I tried to focus on parts or sizes that weren't available in the general market or that someone needed but wasn't available on short notice, because in low volume, ANYTHING costs more to make than to buy, especially when you figure in the cost of tools (on top of your time - even at mini
      • Re:Piracy (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cowscows (103644)
        Right on. I had a friend's woodshop that I could use free of cost, and I built myself a number of pieces of furniture. Even when I assigned my time a value of $0/hour, I can't make a desk cheaper than some of the stuff you can get at office max. Basically, just buying the materials for myself costs as much as the whole desk does from a big store, because I'm not getting any sort of bulk discount. You can bet that ikea gets a sheet of OSB for a whole lot cheaper when they order it by the truckload. Hell, the
        • Thinking about what you said about materials, I recall that the price of wood was jacked 300 percent back in 92 by the defacto wood cartel. The price of wood is virtually nothing, considering a lot of it comes from national forests given to the wood industry as a present from our representatives in congress, along with free logging roads. We are being reamed. Back in the 90's, a congressperson tried to hold hearings on how exactly the price of wood tripled overnight (I remember the industry blamed the newly
          • That's all pretty damn interesting stuff to think about. I wasn't involved in furniture making in the 90's, so I'm not aware of that history.

            On a pointles side note, since you mention Mennonites, I spent a summer working on a ranch out in the jungle in Belize. While there, just through a weird combination of events, I ended up watching South Park on my powerbook with a mennonite in the back of a pickup truck. He seemed fascinated by it.
          • by lgw (121541)
            95% or so of paper comes from tree farms (it's a bit less when paper gets expensive and recycling accounts for a little more). While logging in national forests may ruin your favorite theme park, it's not important economically.

            Of course, all that land used for tree farms would be used for something even less environmentally friendly if not for the profitability of lumber. Remember, every time you recycle, you kill a tree!
          • the price of wood isn't really controlled by us here in the U.S. It's controlled no small part by korea and japan and canada. Tho we do have something to do with it. My dad has been logging all his life. I've lived in a logging camp for over half my life. In the 80's the logging industry in the U.S. was booming. In the early 90's, stuff started getting shut down by the environmental movement. My dad lost his job. Eventually they re-opened some selective logging where we had lived previously and we w
        • If you want IKEA junk you are cheaper to buy from them. Want quality furniture made of real wood, something that will fetch high dollars 100 years from now in a antique store, then you can make it yourself for less.

          IKEA is cheaper because they don't make the desk fit exactly where you want it. You have to settle for MDF (which is good for some things, but won't hold beauty like real wood). Eventully you scratch it, and the IKEA stuff is tossed, while the real wood is refinished again and again.

          • Well yeah, there is that. But sometimes I don't want super nice stuff. I end up creating a lot of what I call "utility furniture", which is what IKEA's stuff generally is, theirs is just dressed up a little bit.

            Most of what I make is done with a finish grade plywood (birch/maple), and pretty straight forwards. Rarely do I use more expensive woods, and I don't have any skills in carving and the like. I'm not even that good at staining.

            Making good "antique store" quality furniture takes a whole lot of skill
    • Imagine what proportions piracy will take when everyone can copy their favorite car instead of buying it. That doesn't mean that it won't cost anything, but there probably will be a few objects that will cost more to buy than copy...

      Yes, this is very interesting if you think about classic car parts for example. If there were a cost effective way to create the various doors, quarterpanels, trim, etc for that 57 bel air you always wanted then some very interesting things could happen.

      Then mix in simplified
      • If one were to make a replica of a 57 bel air, it would probably be a good idea to use an existing, more recent set of parts for the engine, transmission, steering, and braking systems. There are all sorts of safety and efficiency considerations here, and quite a number of improvements have taken place in the nearly 50 years since the original (disc brakes, dual brake circuits, fuel injection, rack-and-pinion steering, all come to mind as useful improvements over the original).

        Most of the body parts like

    • Anyone here work in the auto industry? How many parts are required to build a car? How many different materials?

      I can't see myself spending a whole weekend milling 50 different gaskets and the next weekend milling out 300 little plastic clips to hold the bodywork on and the next weekend ........

      You'd still have to buy hoses, springs, seats, pipes, filters...
    • but there probably will be a few objects that will cost more to buy than copy...

      This phenomenon is already here! Only the level of resolution is different. Basically most "luxury" products contain gratuitous details that are hard to copy. Usually this is the ephemeral "brand", or artificial scarcity. But most amusingly to me that's also why luxury goods usually emphasize that they are handmade or contain handmade components, illustrating that via variations or imperfections that a machine would not pr

  • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Blue-Footed Boobie (799209) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:12PM (#12807107)
    CNC machines : expensive, difficult to use

    Well, I disagree. I am actually building a homebrew CNC router. Does it take time and some skill? Yes. Is it expensive? Depends, all the components for mine have cost ~$2,000USD.

    Now, the ability to mfg anything that pops into my head is truly amazing! Many products I were thinking of buying, I am now designing my own versions - and planning on selling them too!

    I think that is the big thing. Who needs to pay some Giant Mega-Corp when I can make the product myself?

  • by HillaryWBush (882804) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:12PM (#12807108)
    We'll be able to solve all of the world's problems once scientists have invented magic.
    • "Technology, significantly advanced, is indistinguishable from magic." - unatributed
      • As an AC pointed out, this should be attributed to Arthur C. Clark. The so-far-as-I-know unattributed corollaries are:

        Any sufficintly advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

        Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.
        • Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

          I encountered this variation as the punch-line of a short story published in a science fiction magazine (Analog? Asimov's?) in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

          Appropriately enough to the discussion we're having, the story was about a group of people who were able to manufacture arbitrary products by some mysterious, one-step method. I think that it ended up having something to do with Navajo magic, unless I'm mixing it up with anothe [amazon.ca]

        • Any sufficintly advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

          AFAIK, this was first used in a short story in the late 1970s / early 1980s, appearing in one of Asimov's, Analog, or F&SF.
          The story was about a car company that was producing incredibly advanced automobiles very inexpensively.
          I don't remember very many details about the story (having read it over 20 years ago), but, as I recall, a corporate spy discovered that the company, run by American Indians, was using sophisticated Indian mag

        • Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.
          Rich Kulawiec.
  • so you can mass-fab DNA, cDNA, RNA, protein, and other biological output and measured material really fast (like 300,000 per second per printhead).

    we have some in Husky colors here at the UW, they're super cool.

    from small fabs come great discoveries.
  • a fabricated meatball sub will still taste like meatball sub.
  • by SnefruDahshur (844060) on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:27PM (#12807198)
    Gershenfeld is a true believer in technology, but unfortunately does not hold a very critical or insightful views. His book, When Things Start to Think [amazon.com], is a simplistic and excited jog through future visions of technology that merely repeats general myths and expectations about how computers can learn to understand human behavior and emotions. Also, Gershenfeld would be more convincing if he had not claimed in a conference presentation to have studied the "eskimo" herding reindeer in Norway and making good use of mobile phones. Fancy that. The people are called Sami, and make just as good with mobile phones as any other scandinavian person.
  • Why buy it in basic black when you can get a fab to crank out some high-def logos with inkjet fabs that are durable and last as long as the standard car finish ...

    think about it. you can have a rad car with fire curling around your headlights, a yellow Pikachu hopping on your roof, and doors with your name in lightning bolt cursive on it ...

    all in iridescent colors that last decades.
  • ...is the copy generator/fabricator first introduced?
  • I don't know (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iamdrscience (541136) <michaelmtripp@g m a i l . com> on Monday June 13, 2005 @06:44PM (#12807310) Homepage
    I can't help but think that a lot of this is bullshit. I mean, there's a lot to learn from his class and book for most people and that's great, but I think it's a ridiculous notion that most fabrication equipment will make it into home use. I mean sure, a lot of it's going to get cheaper in the future, especially a lot of the real high-end stuff (i.e. laser engravers) but it will never quite reach the point where a home user will have one. Even stuff that is affordable now like sign cutters is still expensive enough that most people wouldn't buy one unless they were using it to make money. Plus, while very cool, a sign cutter isn't actually that useful for making things, from what I've seen of the course it's mainly used for cutting out t-shirt transfer material and circuits. For both of those activities there are cheaper replacements -- kits for etching circuit boards can be bought for about $100 (some for less) and a basic screenprinting kit can be under $100, compared to a $500+ cutter (and that's if you cheap out, the ones they have in the lab are several thousand dollars).

    I own a thermal printer and sign cutter, it cost more than the car I brought it home in and it's relatively cheap for what it is. I would have never considered buying it if I didn't intend to make money with it.
    • And also the manufacturing problems we have today aren't the same ones we will have in 20 years time. After all, right now we are entering (or maybe just past ) Peak Oil. Which means that in 20 years time Basic Material (long chain hydrocarbons) will be much, much more expensive - it will be the shortage of oil (for plastics and energy) not the method of manufacture that will drive the economics of fabrication.
    • Re:I don't know (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shawb (16347)
      # "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
      - Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

      "There is no reason anyone in the right state of mind will want a computer in their home."
      - Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977.
      • Sure, 2 good examples, but don't forget the 20,000,000 products you've never heard of because they really were stupid ideas. Just because something sounds neat doesn't mean it's real.
  • All of these tools are available to some degree but most are very expensive and all are quite complicated to use

    Compared to getting Nagios up and running, fabricating the milling machine BY HAND from scrap aluminum is frigging child's play.

    Come to think of it, you can go look up a book series on exactly that and find out for yourself.
  • Once they invent a Fab Lab Fabricator, we're done.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday June 13, 2005 @07:08PM (#12807561) Journal
    It's pretty much inevitable that evildoers will acquire this technology, but Gershenfeld is optimistic that fab labs can help address the root causes for conflict, largely assuaging any threat.

    I'm afraid that's a pretty materialistic analysis - assuming scarcity of goods is the root of all conflict - and it misses at least two other root causes that are not easily addressed by improved production.

    The first is psychopathy. About 1% of the human race has a mental defect that amounts to having no conscience. Think "color blindness", but with moral behavior / internalizing others' pain, rather than color. (Another couple percent learn to act as if they have no conscience, but that's a social/upbringing issue.)

    A large fraction of these people don't learn how to compensate, and a lot of those don't think ahead to long-term consequences to themselves from their actions. Such people will do whatever pleases them, which includes such things as creating a new virus (computer style or molecular, depending on available technology) just to see how much havoc it can cause.

    Improving production won't address this root cause. Indeed, to address it directly may require brain surgery or its nanotechnological equivalent. This may be within the scope of the fabrication technology. But deploying technology to rewrite peoples' brains in order to suppress a class of destructive behavior starts down a very slippery slope.

    A second is ideological: Adherence to a belief system (especially a political and/or religious belief system) allowing, or even prescribing, the initiation of deadly force in response in various situations.

    If such a situation is perceived, the adherent with access to such technology may utilize it to create the deadly force. And in a classic case of asymmetric warfare, empowering individuals simply increases the ability of small numbers of people to create large amounts of damage. (Examples: Adherents to a confused splinter of such an ideology, mainstreamers who have perceived a threat where none existed, or mainstreamers who perceived an ACTUAL threat and overreacted).

    "Addressing" this "root cause" would again involve attempting to modify peoples' mindsets. And most such ideologies include, at the top of the list of situations where deadly force is mandated, attempts to suppress the ideology. "Addressing the root cause" creates the very apocalypse you're trying to prevent.

    This is not to say that the technology should be suppressed: On the contrary. It holds enormous promist for actually eliminating the root causes of many sorts of conflict. And it may be enabling for real solutions that would demotivate some of these hard cases. Cheaper resources are generally good for problem solving, making more solutions accessable.

    But counting on it to "address", or even "help address", ALL the "root causes of conflict", IMHO, expects too much from it. Some of these will need solutions that don't come out of fabrication technology.
    • The elimination of most material scarcity through molecular manufacturing [foresight.org] will go a long way towards reducing conflict [mccarthy.cx] in the world, but you're right that there will still be the psycho element to contend with.

      There can be no paradise on earth as long as the nastier bits of our evolutionary psychology are still holding us back. Egomaniacal, power-hungry, sociopaths (many of whom are now CEOs and politicians) may have been genetically successful in the past, but with increasing technological power, that mi

      • Most scarcity in the world is on purpose. The economic conditions are often the result of paying off a debt that the government of a country encurred without the will of the people and not to benefit them. Also, poverty and starvation are a good means of countrol.

        If poverty and starvation were ended, you could not have the disparity and strife that is so profitable for the elites who profit from it. Maid service and yacht prices would go up.

        Everyone really needs to read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"
    • But deploying technology to rewrite peoples' brains in order to suppress a class of destructive behavior starts down a very slippery slope.

      Worse than that, when you try to get close enough to them to put on the psychopathy-removal brain-rewriter nanohelmet, Republicans get squirrely and call you a fag.
  • Ok, so perhaps not EVERYONE will redesign their car, bed, desk, house, etc. but the implications for repairs and regulation seem pretty clear.

    It'd be great to see everyone driving/flying their own personal reinventions of the wheel, but I pity the repairman who has to try to fix them by the road, even if he can fabricate the necessary parts and tools on the spot. How the hell does he know if he's done it right? Nearly everything he works on is unique, subtly or flamboyantly.

    I pity the regulator who h
    • Do you think anyone would actually repair anything? I would hope that there's a universal garbage disposal that disassembles whatever you've fabbed into raw materials, and then you'd start over.
      • Terrible words to hear from a mechanic, these days.
        For small items, no, clearly not.

        For larger things; yes, I think it's possible. given the time, energy, and materials probably required to create an entire new vehicle vs. creating and installing a part, I think repair would often be preferable to complete reconstruction. That's assuming, of course, that the thing has been built with the possibility of repair in mind (which is, admittedly, a pretty big assumption).

        I agree that this manufacturing mode
  • nice hobby (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cahiha (873942) on Monday June 13, 2005 @07:30PM (#12807750)
    It doesn't take an MIT scientists to do those things. Go and look at hobbyist magazines on woodworking and metalworking: they are full of these kinds of computer-controlled tools. It's kind of ironic that good old American hobbies are being sold by futurists and scientists as the next great thing.

    However, all of those devices are still far from being "desktop fabs": they cannot create complex machinery, they require manual intervention, they require expertise to operate, they require expensive manufactured manufactured materials, and they certainly cannot replicate themselves. It will take a lot of engineering to address those problems, and that kind of engineering will not come from a bunch of publicity-hungry futurists.
  • At the Fab Lab (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NickFusion (456530) on Monday June 13, 2005 @07:36PM (#12807801) Homepage
    I've had the opportunity to use the Fab Lab in Boston, and it has been a wonderful experience, but it has some drawbacks too.

    The biggest source of dissapointment is that, due to litigation concerns, the Boston Fab doesn't have access to the same breadth of equipment as some of the labs abroad. That being said, there is a lot of interesting stuff to be done there. So no TIG welder for me (or the plasma cutter. Damn!)

    The biggest challenge is ditching preconceptions of what can and can't be accomplished with the current technology, and learning to work with the available materials. Bring on the plexiglass, cardboard, wood and PCBs. And machining wax, for making molds.

    I have a few pictures up from my first session (he cringed): Fab Lab Pics [chromecow.com].

    I should have some more pictures of finished projects up soon, and those I'll post on the Fab Lab site, SETC [mit.edu].
    • The biggest challenge is ditching preconceptions of what can and can't be accomplished with the current technology, and learning to work with the available materials. Bring on the plexiglass, cardboard, wood and PCBs. And machining wax, for making molds.
      Sounds like a major limitation. For parts that have to take high mechanical stress, having the option to use steel would be a major advantage.
      Let alone exotic stuff like making your own semiconductors...
  • My homebuilt router (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chroma (33185) <(chroma) (at) (mindspring.com)> on Monday June 13, 2005 @07:40PM (#12807844) Homepage

    This is a subject that has interested me for quite a while now. The biggest limitation at the moment seems to be the software that is needed in order to make complex objects.

    I've designed and built a computer controled (CNC) 6-axis router using easily available parts. I estimate that the whole thing could be built for $500-$1500, depending upon how good you are at scrounging parts.

    I have a gallery of photos at CNCZone, as well as a [cnczone.com] site for the control software [sourceforge.net] at SourceForge.

    • It's very disappointing that CNCZone won't allow unregistered guests to view the photos. I hate registering at sites that I'll probably only visit once. Perhaps you could use Flickr or something.

      Also, the "older photos" link at SourceForge is pointing to a 'file:' URL. Makes it hard to view them.

  • by thefon (718807) <fon@thefon.net> on Monday June 13, 2005 @07:42PM (#12807866) Homepage
    Soon you can make your own fabricator!

    http://reprap.org/ [reprap.org]

    A universal constructor is a machine that can replicate itself and - in addition - make other industrial products. Such a machine would have a number of interesting characteristics, such as being subject to Darwinian evolution, increasing in number exponentially, and being extremely low-cost.

    A rapid prototyper is a machine that can manufacture objects directly (usually, though not necessarily, in plastic) under the control of a computer.

    The project described in these pages is working towards creating a universal constructor by using rapid prototyping, and then giving the results away free under the GNU General Public Licence to allow other investigators to work on the same idea. We are trying to prove the hypothesis: Rapid prototyping and direct writing technologies are sufficiently versatile to allow them to be used to make a von Neumann Universal Constructor.

    • thefon wrote:
      >
      > A universal constructor is a machine that can replicate itself
      > and - in addition - make other industrial products. Such a
      > machine would have a number of interesting characteristics,
      > such as being subject to Darwinian evolution, increasing in
      > number exponentially, and being extremely low-cost
      > ...A list which pretty much adds up to the plot of any Fred Saberhagen "Berserker" paperback.
  • There is a dark side to the fab, highlighted in that good ol' RPG Cyberpunk and of course with more flair in The Diamond Age, namely-

    -people making weapon systems with these things.

    Imagine if the Sunni/Baathist/aQ types could fab high quality gun tubes or missile parts- a lot more Strykers would be dead.

    The chaos inherent in the release of unlimited fab powers was a major element in both these futures.

    And of course there is the dark Ogre future in which the fabs are controlled by nuclear-armed AI tanks,
    • I've got an interessting tid-bit on that: Rumor has it that Lego dropped their Mindstorms Line not because it wasn't profitable, but it was to easy for people to built hellmachines (bombs, traps, etc.) with them and thus various officials forced them to drop it.
      A rumor of course, but an interessting one nonetheless.
  • by John Carmack (101025) on Monday June 13, 2005 @08:15PM (#12808204)
    I have a good sized CNC mill in my garage that I use practically every week to make various rocket parts. It is certainly cool, but the realities of tool reach, work holding, and chip removal make it more of a "super power tool", rather than a free-form-fab.

    The various technologies that essentially rasterize arbitrary parts are what excite the imagination, but I don't expect any radical changes in society any time soon from them. Stereolithography is pretty mature, and getting arbitrary parts rasterized in plastic is fairly common today. However, in 99% of the cases, these are still used as models / proof of concept / R&D, not actual manufacturing, because they are drastically more expensive than, say, injection molding, and more mechanically limited. There are a lot of technologies touted for rasterizing 3D metal parts, but I spent some time recently trying to find a place to fab modest sized rocket engines, and none of the companies I spoke with were able to handle it for various reasons.

    I do expect this to become very exciting, but it is several years away. The excitement won't be about fabricating things that you currently buy (conventional mass production will retain significant cost benefits), but allowing low cost R&D. When you can send an arbitrary 3D CAD model over the net to a company with a metal rapid prototyping machine (they will remain expensive for quite some time) and get your part overnighted to you in a couple days with no setup fees, you will be able to iterate design cycles twice a week at quite low expense. You can do this today with plastic, and in some limited cases of small metal parts, but when you can start doing it in significant engineering materials that can be used in functional prototype machines, lots of new opportunities will arise.

    John Carmack

    • by Oooius (882757)
      I'm familiar with CNC, Stereo Lith, and variations that use metals, ceramics, etc. The problem is, you can't make most of the things people find interesting - how about a pen? A book? Anything electronic? Anything with parts that are made of more than one material? How about an electric motor, necessary for half the gadgets in your house? The only things these kinds of technology will allow you to make are relatively simple mechanical things, which if you think about it, aren't very interesting. Almost all
    • You can do this today with plastic, and in some limited cases of small metal parts, but when you can start doing it in significant engineering materials that can be used in functional prototype machines, lots of new opportunities will arise.

      There is, after all, no super-material. To design complex machines, the differing properties of materials are often exploited. And in electronics, we still need some pretty rare earth elements.

      These problems may be lessened by nanotechnology, where it is possible to cr

    • by Anonymous Coward
      You mean like this place [emachineshop.com]? I haven't dealt with them but I've been tempted given the shoddy quality of PC parts (I build my own PCs). The only problem is you really want to be able prototype variations to fine tune a design before you commit to a production run.

      I think part of the problem is they no longer make generic parts that you can custom build from any more. It's all custom made and not reusable for any other purpose. It will only get worse until the ability to customize becomes cheap and ubiquit

    • "but allowing low cost R&D"

      Too true. In Delft, a professor working on quantum representations of electronic circuits told me the following: it takes them 3 months to get a chip from a fab. Sometimes the chips are flawed...so there go another three months. Sometimes everything is correct, but the circuit still doesn't do what it's supposed to; a quick modification to the design...and another three months worth of waiting. Not to mention the expense! A different group in the faculty is working on systems
  • i just assumed this was going to be about The Beetles. one of these days i'm going to click into a topic with no surprises
  • Communities (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Renraku (518261) on Monday June 13, 2005 @08:22PM (#12808275) Homepage
    What if people in communities banded together to buy a super-expensive laser-design-type machine for cutting metal/plastic?

    Just so you could make widgets for fairly cheap. Invention rates +1000%.
  • by vik (17857) on Monday June 13, 2005 @08:49PM (#12808507) Homepage Journal
    It's a field in which the Open Source community are already active, and as with the software industry it's hard to get something in print before it gets out of date. As reported earlier on Slashdot, the RepRap Team (and I'm one of 'em) are going for the materials deposition route as per http://reprap.org/ [reprap.org]

    We believe that this is the easiest to implement of the designs listed by Professor Gershenfeld, in a way that will be capable of producing the majority of its own parts. Open Source, shareable hardware. The sooner we get MkI out, the quicker others will be able to develop it - and the harder it is for anti-social types to patent what we're going to be doing.

    We've devised a way to deposit a low melting point but durable plastic called Polymorph - it's recyclable - and have also deposited a low-temperature solder as an electrical conductor.

    While the project may appear a simple affair, it really does need to be. It's about more than just re-inventing the glue gun; the RepRap will be capable of fabricating itself, and so the simpler the design the less work we have to do. Sometimes, simple is hard.

    Vik :v)
  • by tjic (530860)
    In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson proposed HEAP [metaweb.com] (Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod - an open source recipe for homebrew firearms.

    In Hardwired [amazon.com], Walter Jon Williams talked about CNC machines spitting out custom firearms.

    It is already the case that one can, with some skill and difficulty, make a reasonable firearm using desktop machine tools [tjic.com].

    Sherline, maker of the preeminent hobbyist desktop lathe and mill, is already shipping turn-key desktop CNC [sherline.com] machines, based around linux boxes.

    Technical Vi [technicalvideorental.com]

    • In 20 years, no matter what the politicians say, gun control is going to be DEAD.

      You simply make it illegal to own the weapons and place heavy penalties on those who make those weapons.

      Societies that carry weapons are generally unstable societies. People carry the weapons because they are afraid. I would hope that 20 years from now people will feel safer and thus less inclined to feel the urge to carry a weapon.
  • So basically instead of spending huge amounts of money on products, the machine tools of the future will make us spend huge amounts of money on space to use them. Maybe it isn't the machines but the availability of useful floor space which gives India/China such an advantage.

    It costs $4 for 1 sq ft of useful floorspace in U.S. every month, with power, allowable noise levels, acceptable environmental impact, and proximity to a day job to pay for these machines.

    You'd need at least $4000 of floor space ever
  • Invisalign (Score:2, Interesting)

    by samkass (174571)
    My previous employer was Align Technology, Inc. [invisalign.com] ("those invisible plastic braces"). This guy sounds like he looked at what they were doing years ago and wrote a book about it. They can scan hundreds of molds a day, and probably output over 20,000 aligners a day, each a unique rigid 3D plastic shell that's accurate to less than 0.1mm in all three dimensions, then cut exactly along the gumline according to a precise algorithm, sanitized, and packaged.

    Anyone interested in this stuff would probably get a kic
  • There are many who feel self-reproducing machines could basically take over the planet.


    There are others who would say this has already happened.

  • I can almost guarantee you that some people will see the whole purpose and meaning of the FAB age to extract patent and usage royalities for unlimited growth and profit. They will attempt to extend patents forever (like copyrights today) and they will attempt to enforce royality collection using violent and coercive means (because copyrights are information, physical coercion of individuals will not work well, but since most patents are physical by nature physical coercion will be the most obvious strategy

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