Imagine if rather than downloading software, you could download products. I’m talking real objects like furniture, tools, and even electrical goods. In other words, a multitude of man made objects which would usually be produced in a factory somewhere in China. Well, it might sound crazy, but that’s exactly what the developers of the “self-replicating rapid prototyper” or “RepRap” are dreaming of.
The first obvious question is, how the hell is this supposed to work? In short, a specially adapted 3D printer will be able to “print-out” the blueprints of the objects that you download. RepRap’s motto is “Wealth without money” and that’s the exciting aim of the project. It embodies the essence of freeware because after all, that’s exactly what all the freeware we download everyday is – free products that add value to your life. The developers point out that, through printers we already have the power to start our own printing press. The RepRap project simply aims to take that concept a step further.
If you think this sounds like science fiction so far then bear in mind that such 3D printers have already been around in factories for 30 years. The problem is they’re prohibitively expensive for general consumers costing around €20,000. However, the developers of RepRap claim that their printer can be built yourself for a measly €500. Even better, if you make one, you can download the blueprint, print out the components and build another one for free!
RepRap is the brainchild of Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath in the UK who embodies the open source spirit saying that he doesn’t want any individual, corporation or organization to make money from this. RepRap is being entirely developed under the GNU open source license by hundreds of members worldwide. As you can see from the demo video below, the current possibilities aren’t exactly stunning with the creation of plastic coat hangers seemingly the showcase of its capabilities so far. However, more impressive is RepRap 1’s ability to clone itself making basic plastic components. The team are working on RepRap 2 which will be able to make electrical components and circuit boards creating a whole new world of possibilities.
The Guardian say RepRap has been referred to as the invention that will “bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment.” The prospects are indeed tantalizing as Bowyer says, “If people can make anything themselves, what’s the point in going to the shops?” However, it sounds like a corporate nightmare and if it ever takes-off, it will be met by serious opposition. As Michael Hart, founder of free book repository Project Gutenberg says, “In 30 years replicators are going to be able to make things out of all sorts of stuff. Somewhere along this line the intellectual property people are going to come in and say ‘No we don’t want you all printing out Ferraris and we don’t want you printing out pizzas’.” However, the same could be said of music, film and software downloading. Just because you can download something, doesn’t automatically mean that people will stop going out to buy them and the industries will die.
So forget iPhone app stores and software downloads. RepRap is the only download you may ever need!