Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Star Trek Replicator Becoming a Reality?

      I recently came across an article about a technology called "3d printing," a confusing name for a technology that more closely resembles the Star Trek replicator.  The technology can be used to scan objects then "copy" them using a special powder heated by lasers.  Although most of us have never heard of this, the technology has been used by industry for over 20 years.
      The recent excitement over 3d printing is due to the fact that prices for these machines has plummeted in the past couple years.  Now affordable consumer models are starting to make their appearance. The Makerbot Replicator costs 1,749 dollars and can be used to "Make shower curtain rings, bath plugs, door knobs, or create custom gifts for special occasions."  Another company, Z Corporation, has a machine the size of a refrigerator that can copy and build tools, such as this wrench.
       I've found YouTube videos of a "3d printed" bicycle, a skateboard and even a car that gets 200 miles per gallon on the highway.
       There are quite a few implications of this technology becoming widespread.  One is reduced dependence on imports from low cost countries such as China and Vietnam.  Why import when you can build your own stuff at home?  Another is that it will be possible for people to copy their toys the way we already do with illegal file sharing.  One father actually built his own Legos using 3d printing.  

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