The machine that can copy anything
By Simon Hooper for CNN
Thursday, June 2, 2005 Posted: 10:48 AM EDT (1448 GMT)
England (CNN) -- A revolutionary machine that can copy itself and
manufacture everyday objects quickly and cheaply could transform
industry in the developing world, according to its creator.
"self-replicating rapid prototyper," or "RepRap" is the brainchild of
Dr. Adrian Bowyer, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the
University of Bath in the UK.
It is based on rapid prototyping
technology commonly used to manufacturer plastic components in industry
from computer-generated blueprints -- effectively a form of 3D printer.
Bowyer told CNN the RepRap's ability to copy itself could put rapid
prototyping technology within reach of the world's poorest communities
by alleviating the need for the sort of large-scale industrial
infrastructure common across the developed world.
start manufacturing goods at a low price," said Bowyer. "All one needs
is a computer and a machine that can copy itself. It can spread without
enormous expenditure of capital and where labor costs are low.
is the first technology that we can have that can simultaneously make
people more wealthy while reducing the need for industrial production."
machines currently cost around $45,000 but Bowyer believes that price
could drop to a few hundred dollars as the number of self-replicating
models increases exponentially.
"It makes industry a little more
like agriculture," said Bowyer, who specializes in biomimetics, the
study and application of natural processes in technologies such as
engineering, design and computing.
"Farmers have been dealing with self-replicating products for years."
prototyping machines work by building a succession of layers, either
bonded by a laser or held together by alternating layers of glue.
key feature of the RepRap is its ability to print electrical circuits
by squirting a metal alloy with a low-melting point from a heated
The machine could build items ranging in size from a few
millimeters to around 30 centimeters, such as plates, dishes, combs and
Larger or more complicated items could be assembled from smaller parts, and by adding extra parts such as screws and microchips.
said the target of the project was to create a range of devices that
could be assembled for around $500 using additional components commonly
and cheaply available in hardware stores.
He also said that the
technology could help solve some of the recycling issues commonly
associated with plastics: "If the machine can copy itself, it can make
its own recycler. When you break something you can just feed it into
the recycler and break it down to its raw materials and re-build it.
key ecological point is that it cuts down on the transportation
necessary both to manufacture products and to dispose of them. Every
household would have its own recycling set-up.
"This is recycling heaven rather than recycling hell."
concept of self-replicating machines dates back to the work of
mathematician John von Neumann, who proposed the idea of a "Universal
Constructor" that could copy itself in the 1950s.
suggested that the generational development of a machine would display
similar characteristics to Darwinian evolution as users honed and
varied its design to suit their needs.
To encourage that
development, Bowyer plans to make the design of the RepRap available
online and free to use, in the same way as open source software such as
the Linux operating system or Mozilla's Firefox browser.
with a replicating machine could then start manufacturing copies. Once
someone owned the technology they could download other designs, or
create their own.
"The most interesting part of this is that we're going to give it away," said Bowyer.
these machines take off, it will give individual people the chance to
do this themselves, and we are talking about making a lot of our
consumer goods. The effect this has on industry and society could be