“Wealth Without Money”
A machine that can make almost anything, including copies
of itself. By Matt Sparkes
QUIETLY AND DILIGENTLY, IN LOCATIONS
all over the world, an organization is working to bring the means of production to
the masses. Their motto, “Wealth without
money,” implies a political motivation, though
they’re not socialists, Marxists, or communists —
they’re hardware hackers.
Adrian Bowyer, at Bath University in the U.K.,
leads the RepRap project ( reprap.org) to develop a
design for a very special rapid-prototyping machine.
The device treads a fine line between being capable
enough to produce complex goods, and simple
enough in design that it can produce its own
parts. The result is a self-replicating machine,
with the potential to spread across the planet
at an exponential rate.
The RepRap (Replicating Rapid-prototyper) is a
fused deposition modeling machine that extrudes
molten plastic or metal from a heated nozzle. It
works in an additive fashion, building up an object
by depositing layers one by one. The nozzle is
controlled by a computer, which moves it in three
dimensions to create the necessary shape.
The machine’s replicating ability alone is enough
to provoke interest in the project, but the really
interesting part is what could be made with it — and
Bowyer has some potentially revolutionary ideas.
“Making complicated things is not a large step,”
Bowyer says, “certainly not as large as the step
from making nothing to making simple things.”
For example, RepRaps could someday build an
open source mobile phone network by creating
Photography courtesy of RepRap
38 Make: Volume 10