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Benjamin Buck Visnesky

Sophomore at The Pennsylvania State University studying Mechanical Engineering

Blog Post #16 - December 11, 2012 - 'RepRap is just the beginning...' & The Mother of All Demos

In order to develop and become mature, new technologies take creative, ambitious minds and time to be explored and refined. As Professor Richard Doyle stated in his presentation to the class last semester, what we are doing with RepRap now, along with what others are doing with the project, is just the beginning of what RepRap could become. Over the course of the next few decades, there will be many developments that will help to not only improve the RepRap project drastically, but alter the way people use it. Already the designs of these relatively simple 3D printers are being improved to the point where high fidelity models can be created, printed, and used in real applications. The use of our printers to create more printers, though the concept behind the whole project, is already a testament to this. In the future, what's to stop someone from creating a huge RepRap and printing out the body parts for a car? or anything else for that matter? And in the future when 3D printing technology and RepRap get to that point, the people who are involved with the project now will be able to look back and say, "Hey, I was a part of this. I helped the technology that is available now to exist." What we are doing now is, in many ways, comparable to what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did to personal computing 40 years ago, and look where the personal computer is now. The only difference is, instead of a relatively small community of people working to build something almost completely new, the 3D printing community consists of a huge number of people who are building upon other's ideas to create something almost completely better and improved. So in my opinion, Doyle is completely right. What we are doing now is not important. It is vital. For the 3D printer to become what it one day could be, we need people to work on it and improve it so that one day society can reap the benefits.

In 'The Mother of All Demos,' Douglas Engelbart presented (in 1968) a number of technologies that would eventually change the function of computers and the way people are able to interact with them. The largest of the then-revolutionary technologies that was debuted was that of the mouse. Nowadays the mouse seems to be such an inherent part of the computer that one can't really imagine us being without it (or the ubiquitous trackpad featured on laptops), but before mice were used to interact with the graphical display of a computer, people were forced to use keyboards exclusively to interact with a primarily text based interface. This innovation that was conceived by Englebart and his team, as well as many other innovations, can be seen as a parallel to what is happening now with 3D printing. As we see them, RepRaps and commercial 3D printers have come a long way from their inception. However, they have so much potential to improve. For example, even right now, what is stopping us from creating a printer with n extruders? Is there anything other than our own space and size constraints (and perhaps a few software issues) that is preventing us from being able to create full chromatic models using only a noncommercial RepRap printer? And in the future, as the technology becomes more and more sophisticated, what's to say that we won't be able to 3D print entire buildings? Buildings with integrated HVAC, plumbing, electricity - you name it! If we could extrude any type of material and create a printer that is big enough, is there anything stopping this idea from becoming a reality? The age we live in is truly the dawn of a new era in which 3D printing has the potential to become a driving force in our society. Whether everyone will eventually have one or they will be commonplace methods of manufacturing for just about anything is irrelevant, their potential to transform and improve our society in limitless.

Media related to this post:

Professor Richard Doyle: Open Source Futures

The Mother of All Demos

Blog Post #15 - December 9, 2012 - The War on General Computing

General Computers - computers that can be used for a wide variety of tasks with no specific purpose - have been around for a few decades now and have drastically changed the way we live and interact with one another. With the advent of information technology, social media, and other forms of digital communication, new laws and regulations have been needed to control the way computers and the internet can be used. However, companies who deal in intellectual property (an issue that has been discussed at length) have also found it necessary to protect their property through their own means; technologies such as DRM exist purely because of the growth of general computing and its potential to dwindle the profits of companies whose products can be digitized. Stemming from this issue is the idea of limiting computers to do only certain tasks, or similarly, disabling them from being able to complete certain tasks. While this has been around for a while (as Doctorow mentions in his talk, products like gaming systems are literally computers that are only able to perform a certain function that will maintain the profit stream for the producing company), in the future it may become more prevalent and defined. Or in a different light, they could become less prevalent, with more computers continuing to be able to do a variety of tasks, but with programs running secretly in the background. And this is where things become tricky. As society becomes more digitized, how do we know what our devices are really doing? It wasn't long ago that Apple was at the center of a controversy because the much loved iPhone was using its hardware to track users and then send this information over the internet to Apple. Or, as asked in the prompt, what happens when cars begin to drive themselves, but are could be under the influence of advertisers who pay car companies to have the self guided cars drive by their stores or restaurants or billboards more frequently even if the routes are not the most efficient? This is the point where I think having closed source software is a detriment to the technology it is installed on. When it gets to the point where technology is actively acting against us (or at least has some sort of hidden agenda), that's when people will stop using devices that could otherwise be infinitely useful. However, as Doctorow also mentions in his speech, this will likely never happened. Just as copyright protection has, by and large, been a complete failure, so will the attempt to keep a device's source code and processes secret. To use the iPhone example again, this is already the case. Though the iPhone's software is very much closed source and controlled completely by Apple, there is an entire community of people out there who refuse to accept this and instead 'jailbreak' their phones by hacking into them and installing software that would otherwise be unsupported. This is the case for any item that utilizes technology. There are always those people who would rather use it for their own purposes or tasks than the ones the devices were designed for. And that is why, if I was asked by the UN to develop some sort of regulatory framework for 3D printing, I would probably just tell them that it can't be done. As the saying goes - where there is a will, there is a way - and there is almost always a will.

Media related to this post:

28c3: The coming war on general computation

(Transcript - The Coming War on General Computation - Cory Doctorow)

Blog Post #14 - December 8, 2012 - Bonus Blog: What Am I Interested In?

3D printing is something that interests me not only because it enables a person to create a real-world model of something digital, but also because of the many potential applications of this ability. Many of these applications have been discussed in class or through these blogs, but one that I feel has not been explored very far is bio-printing. Recently I was reading an article relating to bio-printing that was about 3D printing meat. This is a developing technique that is essentially the same as 3D printing organs for medical transplants, with one main difference. Instead of trying to print a working organ to replace one that is failing, the goal in this endeavor is to print animal muscle tissue to sell ready-to-eat meat replacements. As mentioned in the article, this method of producing meat would be a far more animal friendly because it would not actually involve any animals. For example, instead of slaughtering millions of cows each year to provide beef for hamburgers and steaks and many other products, this meat could be produced on a large scale by a 3D printing on some sort of assembly line. Furthermore, since the meat produced through a 3D printing technique wouldn't technically come from animals, it would be an alternative to beef (or any other type of meat) for vegetarians who don't eat meat because of moral reasons. Beyond being a more humane way of obtaining meats, 3D printing could help to provide food for areas of the world that are under nourished. Depending on the cost to produce food in this way, it could help to put a dent in world hunger. In general, this is just one more innovative use for 3D printing that may not come to mind when one first thinks of the technology, but has the potential to dramatically change the way we, as a society, lives and thrives.

Articles related to this post:

Investing in 3D printed meat

Blog Post #13 - December 4, 2012 - Recycling 3D Scraps

With the increasing popularity of 3D printing comes an increased demand for the materials necessary to use the 3D printing machines. While there are a variety of materials that can be used by printers to create solid models, they have varying material characteristics, and more importantly, varying costs. In order to the technology to be accessible it needs to be affordable, but current prices for filament generally hover around the $100 mark. While $100 worth of filament will enable a relatively large number of objects to be printed, it is still somewhat of a hefty fee for hobbyists and tinkerers to pay to create models of their designs. The solution to this problem is to recycle previously printed filament or other plastics. If, during the course of a print, the printer becomes misaligned or the nozzle clogs or any number of other things goes wrong, it would be nice to be able to recycle the material that is no longer of any use or value. Printing material could also be recycled from successful prints that are simply not needed any longer. The ability to recycle 3D-printable material would have a huge impact on the 3D printing community in general, but especially the RepRap community. Due to the fact that most of the RepRap community are essentially enthusiasts who are building machines in their free time because of their own interest, being able to save a little bit of money here or there in the process can end up saving a lot of money in the long run, thus enabling the technology to be more accessible to the general public. Each of the designs we looked at (included at the bottom of this post) look reasonably plausible. The general premise behind all of them is the same: collect old 3D-printable material, melt it down, and extrude a new filament that can be used to print a new object. The RecycleBot, in my opinion, is probably the best and most favorable design for most of the RepRap community because many of its parts, like a RepRap, can be 3D printing, thus further proving the whole concept of a RepRap. It seems to me that it would be a simple enough process as well. There are only a few moving parts, and as long as everything fits together, the machine should work. This is a topic that I think should be looked into by everyone in the 3D printing community, but especially our class. We currently have multiple boxes of scrap filament laying around, and with a working version of one of these machines, we might be able to replenish our filament stocks without having to allocate any precious funds towards the material and continue the class into future semesters with fewer material requirements.

Articles related to this post:

RecycleBot v2.2

Lyman Filament Extruder

Filabot: Personal Filament Maker

Blog Post #12 - December 3, 2012 - The Capitalist Side of 3D Printing

Of all the uses for 3D printing technology that we have discussed, I feel that using it to create novelty products like the figurines mentioned in the article is close to the worst. It's not that it is stupid concept or a waste of the technology, its simply that there are far better uses for it. If it is possible to 3D print organs that can save a person's life, or cheaply create parts for airplanes and other vehicles, why would someone use it to create small, essentially gag gifts? I suppose when it is possible to sell a small, 3D-printed model of someone's head for $25 when it costs only a small fraction of that amount to produce, the 3D-printed, personalized model industry could be quite lucrative. Furthermore, a 3D printed model of a close family member could be a neat (or creepy) gift. Or perhaps parents could get a model of their child at a young age and again when they are older to show the difference. It might still be a creepy idea, but at least it's a creative use of the business' product. In general, this kind of a business might be profitable, but it is far from a productive use of the technology. It's almost like taking a doctor's practice and diagnosing people with illnesses, but not helping them get better. Rather than use the technology for a purpose that could benefit society, these businesses are using it to create glorified dolls. Furthermore, if in the future the idea of a 3D photo booth takes off and they become commonplace, the price of such 3D printed personal models will surely decrease. If this were to happen, I believe it would be a business that is more fair to the consumer because the prices of printed models would be closer to what it costs to produce the models. Businesses such as these, however, are not the types of uses that 3D printing should be focused towards. Instead, with its potential to create things that could further innovation and increase the availability of items such as medicines for those who might otherwise be unable to afford them, 3D printing should be used to better the state of society and the human condition, whether through creative or philanthropic methods.

Articles related to this post:

Print yourself: the rise of the 3D photo booth

Blog Post #11 - November 25, 2012 - 3D Printing in Schools

As has been discussed at length, 3D printing is a technology that has a plethora of potential applications ranging from the most widely considered, that of rapid prototyping, to more obscure uses like producing artwork and sculptures. A setting that 3D printers are used in less, however, is the education setting. Sure, I am in a class about 3D printing here at The Pennsylvania State University, but there is far more potential for this technology in education than simply teaching about the machines and concepts themselves. As discussed in the articles, 3D printers could be used in primary and secondary schools, both public and private, in order to personalize the educational process for younger students. For example, if 3D printing technology were to be put to use in a high school biology class, a teacher could assign his or her students to do research on a specific part of the cell. To help facilitate the students' research and stimulate the learning process, the teacher (or students) could then use a 3D printer to create a model of whatever parts the students choose to research. In this way, the students wouldn't be limited to only a few areas to learn about; any part of the cell could be magnified and modeled on an individual basis. In addition, this principle could apply to any class or project type. Whether it be a high school biology class, a middle school art class, or an after school club, 3D printing could enable students to learn more intuitively about what may otherwise be abstract topics and ideas. Another reason to introduce 3D printing technology to students at an early age, however, would be to encourage them to think creatively. When a student sees a model of something that exists in nature or a machine that has been created before, it is only a matter of time until that student comes to the conclusion that such a machine could also be used to create, produce, and tests new designs. For example, in order to get this idea across, a teacher could assign his or her students to design a cup. The cup might have certain constraints, such as a minimum volume, to which students would have to adhere. In this way, students could design a cup to suit their own creative tastes that would allow them to explore the possibilities of the manufacturing technology. In general, 3D printing could not be more at home in an educational setting. It opens up a world of possibilities for improving primary, secondary, and even higher level education and allows students to explore the possibilities of design and creativity. These are the kinds of qualities that will be important for future leaders of tomorrows world, and can be accomplished through the implementation of current and upcoming technologies in today's curriculum.

Articles related to this post:

STEMulate Learning integrates 3D printing into classroom

Why 3D Printing & Fabrication are Important to Education

Geekteach: 3D Printing In the Classroom

Blog Post #10 - October 28, 2012 - Printing Outside the Box

In the beginning, 3D printing was a method of production that was used primarily for rapid prototyping. The ability for engineers and designers to be able to quickly produce a model of whatever project they may be working on, whether for personal use to see the dimensions and how the design will work, or for aesthetic purposes during a presentation, the potential that 3D printing has for this application alone is nearly unlimited. Rapid prototyping, however, is hardly the only application that 3D printing can be used for. On the contrary, the technology has applications that range from the professional world to the educational community to those who simply experiment with the technology, such as the RepRap community. Take, for example, academia. Within an educational setting, there are a plethora of opportunities for which 3D printing could be put to use. For example, a chemistry teacher could print out a 3D solid molecule for his or her students to look at to get a better idea of what substances look at on the molecular level. At the same time, a first or second grade teacher could print out model animals or alphabet letters in order to teach their students more basic knowledge. On the other hand, 3D printing could be considered somewhat of a boon for hobbyists because it allows them to create just about anything on their own. Whether it be a small part for their soap-box derby car or a plastic insert to aid in installing a car stereo, 3D printing can be used for just about any application that requires a some sort of a custom part to be made. These are hardly the only people that are able to utilize the technology, though. Due to the fact that 3D printing allows objects to be made in ways that were formally not possible, people like artists and graphical designers have been able to use additive manufacturing to create all sorts of designs, sculptures, or products that have pushed the boundaries of what was formerly possible. Take, for example, the 'Colored Mermaid Delight' in the article 10 3D Printed Objects that Defy Traditional Manufacturing. This is an object that would be extremely difficult to create without the help of 3D printing. In this way, the technology is pushing the limits of what is possible, not only in technical professions, but for people all over the world. As 3D printing continues to progress as a manufacturing technique, people will only find more uses for it and the limits of what is possible will continue to be pushed.

Articles related to this post:

10 3D Printed Objects that Defy Traditional Manufacturing

3D Printing (Additive Manufacturing) Is Turning the Impossible Into the Possible

Blog Post #9 - October 28, 2012 - Implementing Developing Technologies in Libraries

Libraries have been a residence of education, higher learning, and creativity ever since the first one was built nearly two-thousand years ago. They have always offered a place for the general population, students, and professionals alike to gather and share information and ideas. In the past half-century , they have also been houses of the latest and greatest technologies. Since the advent and proliferation of electronic technologies (especially computers), libraries have become a place where people go not only to read, but to use services and machines that aren't necessarily affordable to everyone. When I was younger, I remember going to my neighborhood's public library (where my mother happened to be a librarian) all the time in order to use the computers because, at the time, my family did not yet have their own. That was back in the late 90's. Nowadays, computers are commonplace; according to The United States Census Bureau, more than 75% of American households have their own computer. Libraries continue to stay current with technologies however. Now that computers are the normal, libraries have begun to adopt technologies such as tablet devices, digital imaging, and (what we are interested in) even 3D printing. At the DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, there are currently two operational 3D printers that are available not only to students and faculty to use, but also the general public. I think that this type of technology implementation is wonderful because it enables people who could have great use to a service that they may otherwise not be aware of. That being said, I don't think that every library should go out and buy a 3D printer. At this point, the 3D printing technology is most useful for scientists and engineers who can use the machines to create prototypes of machines or use 3D models for research purposes. Small, local libraries, such as the one near where I live and at which my mother works, would have less use for such machines because the main clientele for these types of establishments are families and individuals who are looking primarily for reading material or community events rather than the types of technical services that a 3D printer could offer. Here at Penn State, I think that a 3D printer would be a welcome addition to a number of libraries such as the engineering library, the physical and mathematical sciences library, or the architecture & landscape library. These are locations where students with primarily technical interests would be able to best utilize the printers. That's not to say the printers wouldn't be used in the main library (Pattee and Paterno), but simply that they would have the highest demand in the libraries where students of those colleges could use them to aid their coursework. In general, however, putting new and developing technologies, such as 3D printers, into libraries and the hands of the general public is an amazing idea that enables more people to have access to the machines and promotes the usefulness of the technology.

Articles related to this post:

The future of higher education: reshaping universities through 3D printing

3D Printers in the Library: Toward a Fablab in the Academic Library

3D printing: coming to a library near you

Blog Post #8 - October 23, 2012 - New Developments in Digital Rights Management and 3D Printing

As has been the subject of blog posts of old, 3D printing technology presents problems to intellectual property and copyright/patent laws. Given that a 3D printer has the ability to create real-world objects out of digital 3D models, there is a great debate about how, or even whether, this ability will present a need to be regulated in some fashion. Unfortunately, a patent trolling company, Intellectual Ventures, has already undertaken that responsibility, whether it is needed or not. This company, whose only purpose is to patent ideas (that generally already exist, only not in patent form) and then license these ideas to companies that are already using them in one form or another, using legal force if necessary, has already patented the method of preventing a 3D printer (and any other computer controlled manufacturing device) from printing an object without the proper digital rights file associated with the object being printed. This is in some ways the possibility that was discussed earlier in the semester relating to the government or private companies some how implementing a system to prevent people from unauthorized printing of proprietary parts. This patent, however, is not necessarily the same concept. Due to the fact that Intellectual Ventures only holds the patent in an effort to charge other companies for the idea's use, there is little real world meaning at this point. Because at this point there is no real legislation regarding the printing of a company's proprietary designs, and few (if any) companies have implemented their own form of digital rights management, there is nothing for the average 3D printer enthusiast to worry about at this point. If in the future, though, techniques such as DRM become a common way to selectively allow people to print objects, then perhaps there will be a reason for worry among the 3D printing/RepRap community. On the other hand, however, maybe some sort of digital rights management is necessary for the 3D printing community. If DRM were to be implemented by companies, they could simply sell their 3D models and not have to worry about having the models stolen or illegally reproduced.

Articles related to this post:

New Patent Could Saddle 3D Printers With DRM

3D Printer DRM Patent To Stop People Downloading a Car

How DRM will infest the 3D printing revolution

Blog Post #7 - October 18, 2012 - Printable Optical and Sensing Devices

The ability to print optical sensing components using a 3D printer is something that hasn't been very prevalent in 3D printing to this point, but is a printing technique that has a lot of potential to become useful. By integrating optical pathways directly into objects, the task of creating optical sensing devices becomes far easier because the actual problem of having to thread optical cables or fibers through on object would no longer be necessary. Practical applications of this manufacturing technology could include replacing LCD or LED displays on small devices with integrated, printed optical displays and/or sensors. This is a method of printing, however, that presents a few complications in terms of actual functioning devices. For our purposes in EDSGN 497D, in order to print optical pathways, we would first need to establish the ability to print with multiple materials/colors of material at the same time (e.g. Dual Extrusion). Furthermore, though we currently have clear plastic filament that could function similarly to the optical fibers used in current fiber optic devices, in order to create better, more useful objects, we would likely need to invest in some real optical material, as well as ensure that our extruders would be capable of extruding the material (since there may be different physical properties, such as melting point).

Some applications that optical sensing devices could be useful for a could include the movement controller or direction controller (as depicted in the Disney research video), but many more as well. For example, some projects that we could conceivably work on, given that we learn how to use the material and are capable of dual extrusion, could include creating light fixtures in which the light is piped through the fixture itself, rather than being shone from a light bulb and then directed into specific locations by the use of a shade or some other device. This could be a simple, yet creative, project that the class could work on and show off as something very cool, yet functional, that we are actually able to make using only the technology at our disposal.

Articles related to this post:

Seeing is believing, Disney crafts 3D printed optics

Blog Post #6 - October 16, 2012 - Printing Organic Objects

Bio-printing is one of the most impressive and potentially helpful uses for 3D printing that has been explored thus far. Using 3D printers to literally print human tissues, organs, and other objects made of cells has the potential to drastically alter the way medical research is done and maybe even eliminate the need for organ donors someday. Although this is an area of research that is relatively new, along with pretty much all of 3D printing, there has already been much progress. In the article How 3D Printers Are Reshaping Medicine, a company called Organovo is described as one company that is already using 'bioprinters' to print actual human tissues. This company produces custom tissues, designed for specific research projects of pharmaceutical companies. This technology is one that could have nearly infinite benefits, but could also create problems. Considering the amount of uproar over stem-cell research, and the idea that this type of technology would likely be able to make great use of stem cells, there are many legal and moral conflicts that need to be taken into consideration. With this taken into account, I think that if the bio-printing research could avoid using stem-cells to advance the technology, then perhaps it would be able to avoid the scrutiny of the media and politicians and instead simply continue to advance until the point where it can be useful for the general public. There are likely, however, technological problems to overcome with the technology as well. Life is a delicate thing, and the only machines that have been capable of replicating it in the history of the world (efficiently and reliably) are other living things.

In terms of using the RepRap project for printing bio-materials, I think that it is a possibility, but that most people probably wouldn't have the means. The places that would benefit the most, and have the most interest in utilizing bio-printing are chemical labs, pharmaceutical companies, and research universities. These are also the places, however, that would likely be able to afford a commercial bio-printer, or the services of companies such as Organovo. In my opinion, though many in the RepRap community might be interested in exploring bio-printing, most would be unlikely to have the means necessary to do so effectively. Since the materials required to print tissues and other organic objects would be living cells, these people would need to have the means to not only acquire the material, but also be able to store it. Furthermore, there would probably be some legal issues that people would run into. The government most likely doesn't want people handling and disposing of all sorts of organic materials without following the proper, safe procedures. That isn't to say, though, that it would be impossible to make a RepRap bio-printer, just unlikely and difficult.

Articles related to this post:

How 3D Printers Are Reshaping Medicine

Blog Post #5 - October 4, 2012 - 3D Printing Weapons and Other Regulatory Issues

3D printing is a technology that has a lot of potential to help tinkerers, hobbyists, and companies change the way things are designed and manufactured, but at the same time, the technology also has a lot of potential to allow people to do things that might be considered nefarious. One of these activities that might be considered nefarious, which has also been receiving a lot of media attention lately, is the construction of 3D printed guns. In the past week or so, a group known as Defense Distributed had a 3D printer, which it had leased from another company, repossessed because the leasing company found out that Defense Distributed was planning on creating 3D printed, plastic guns. This repossession seems unfair, but at the same time, who knows what may have been done with a 3D printed weapon made completely out of plastic; a weapon undetectable by security methods like metal detectors. The way I see it, by repossessing the 3D printer, the company Stratasys was protecting its investment as well as looking out for any legal issues it may run into for leasing their printers for the production of weapons. On the other hand, however, since it seems that the group is not creating guns for the purpose of selling them or using them to harm others, but rather just to see if they can do it, the repossession could be seen as unfair to them. Assuming that the group is only attempting the feat of manufacturing a gun using a 3D printing methodology in order to see if it can be done/improve the 3D printing technology/for their own, non-harmful purposes, I think that there are other routes to take to continue on with the project. If I were them, I would take the route of using with the RepRap project to build their own 3D printer to do with as they wish. This way, they don't have to go through other companies or agencies to get the technology they need for manufacture. It might still be considered illegal-ish by the government, because the group would still be manufacturing weapons, but Defense Distributed would at least be able to accomplish their goal of printing a plastic gun. Beyond guns, there are other items that might attract the attention of government and regulatory agencies that could be manufactured by a 3D printer. Items such as any sort of copyrighted or patented design (a topic which has been talked about thoroughly), or perhaps 3D printed drug paraphenelia, would likely draw the attention of either lawyers (of corporations) or the police. 3D printing is a very versatile technology that has a tremendous amount of potential for the creation and manufacture of products and designs, but the matter of the fact is that the technology could also be used for illegal purposes, as well as morally bad purposes.

This whole 3D printed, plastic gun ordeal does bring up a number of questions regarding whether or not a technology that allows the creation of just about anything should be regulated, and if so, in what ways. From the eyes of the federal government, as well as the general populace, it does seem perfectly reasonable to need to regulate a thing that can create guns, or at least parts of guns, that allow them to be essentially untraceable. I don't think something like a prohibition on 3D printers would need to be implemented in order to regulate the technology, but something like needing a license to operate a 3D printer of a certain size, or of a certain capability (e.g. being able to print multiple materials, super high resolution printing, etc), would be reasonable to implement and police - at least for commercially made 3D printers. As far as the RepRap project is concerned, regulation might be a little bit more difficult because people build the printers themselves rather than buying or leasing them from other companies. At the same time, perhaps RepRaps, at least in this point of time, wouldn't even need to be subject to the regulation. Since the RepRap community is mostly a community of tinkerers and hobbyists, the vast majority of people involved in the project have no criminal intentions. Furthermore, even if they did have criminal intentions, there wouldn't be anything stopping a person from building their own 3D printer, against any regulations put in place, anyways. Thus, it could be a moot point as to whether or not people should be allowed to build their own 3D printers or not. The only regulation that might be feasible for noncommercial 3D printers would be to have them registered with an organization of some sorts. That way there would at least be a list of who has a 3D printer.

Articles related to this post:

3-D Printer Company Seizes Machine From Desktop Gunsmith

Blog Post #4 - September 27, 2012 - Makerbot, Thingiverse, and What's Happening to Open-Source

In recent news relating to open source 3D printing and associated people, companies, and projects, the creator of Makerbot, Makerbot Industries, has been the target of intense feelings over using the open-source RepRap project as the basis for one of its products, the Replicator 2. Furthermore, the company has been criticized for a change in the terms of use for its popular site, Thingiverse, that essentially states how Makerbot Industries is the sole owner of any digital files uploaded by its users to the website, whether they be STL files or other file types. In my opinion, Makerbot is doing some things right and some things wrong. First of all, by creating a product that they intend to market to the general public as a device everyone could and should own, Makerbot is helping to further the awareness of 3D printing, and by extension, the RepRap project. However, by creating a closed-source product that is based on open-source information and technology, Makerbot is limiting the creativity and potential of the technology before its users know what the machines are capable of. Furthermore, the change in Thingiverse's terms of use that essentially renders all of the files uploaded by users to the site the property of Makerbot Industries creates an issue for many contributors because most of the work people upload to the site is work that was either the product of much labor or meant to help others with/improve the RepRap project. The fact that Makerbot is violating the trust of its most loyal users through what almost amounts to stealing their work is unacceptable. In this way, I think that Prusa's concerns are based on real problems. To play devil's advocate, however, Makerbot and Thingiverse have said that the reason's for this clause in the terms of service is so that the company can actually provide the service as described. Without the clauses, Thingiverse would be unable to properly manage and store the vast amount of files that are contributed by its users. As long as Makerbot continues to only use the clause for this reason, I believe everything will remain the way it has been since the sites inception. If Makerbot should choose to exercise what is technically their legal right and use its users ideas to make a profit, then the site will likely have a 'digital riot' on their hands. Until then, it doesn't seem to me to be much to worry about.

Articles related to this post:

Makerbot, Occupy Thingiverse, and the reality of selling Open Hardware

Blog Post #3 - September 18, 2012 - Intellectual Property, Copyright Issues, and Passions

Copyright Issues

Digital Rights Management is a technology that is used today in an attempt to limit the amount of digital media and software sharing that is possible. While the idea of such technology is good because it is designed to help the people who make music, or movies, or software (or anything that can be distributed digitally) obtain the money they are owed for their creative property, it can also be very limiting. Sometimes even when a person legally obtains a song or an application, because of digital rights management software included in the file(s), the ways in which the consumer can utilize the products they just purchased can be severely hindered. For example, if a person downloads a song from iTunes that includes DRM, that song become connected to the account with which it was purchased. Each computer or device that the consumer wishes to listen to this song on then has to be authorized with the account to play the music. However, only five computers/devices can be authorized at a time. Furthermore, if the consumer eventually needs to create a new account for whatever reason, it becomes even more of a task to be able to continue to listen to all of the music he or she may have bought using the former account. This is a problem many people have had to deal with since Apple Inc. began to implement DRM into its widely used iTunes software. This article provides a more detailed explanation of how DRM works in iTunes, for those who are interested. Getting more to the point, though, as 3D printing becomes more prominent and digital files containing models of physical products designed for consumer use become widespread, it seems inevitable that some sort of digital copyright management will need to be implemented. Whether or not it is good for the development of the technology, for the consumer, or for creativity in general, corporations and manufacturers will undoubtedly want to implement some sort of system that will disallow all of their profitable ideas from being spread around the internet for free. The way I think it would work is that when a person wants to buy a product or design which they would like to print, they will pay the manufacturer or retailer directly and then be able to download the file. The file, however, will be connected to an account with the store it was purchased from. The manufacturer or retailer would then also provide proprietary software which would be used to connect the computer to the printer. In order to use the software, the consumer would have to log in with their account information for the merchant. They would then be authorized to print whatever product or design it was that they purchased. Depending on what the product is, the manufacturer would most likely be able to limit the number of times it could be printed. Now in my opinion, this type of regulation would severely limit the creativity that could potentially result from the 3D printing platform. However, I think that something like this would be necessary in order to maintain a sustainable economy in the future. If large corporations were to suddenly become unprofitable, there would be dire implications for the world's economy.

Life Passions

Of the things I am passionate about in life, ideas, hobbies, activities - whatever they may be - I think the thing I am the most passionate about in life is music. Since I was a young kid, I have always loved music. My dad used to take me to concerts all the time. In fact, the very first concert I ever went to was Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Band. This was back in about second grade when I had no idea who Bruce Springsteen was, let alone the East Street Band, but regardless, I believe it to be a major reason why I love music so much now. Some people might think that music is a strange thing for an engineering major to be passionate about, but I say that's ridiculous. Music is something that is very free flowing in how it is composed and how it sounds to a listener, but is often times also something that is very structured and calculated. In this way I think it is similar to the field of engineering itself. Engineers obviously do many calculations and take a lot of measurements for whatever project they may be working on, but engineers are also very creative people when it comes to designing machines, mechanisms, or whatever they may be working on. I don't necessarily see this as a way to attract future mates, but then again, I've never really viewed it that way. I suppose it could, as it is probably a good indication of my personality traits, but I don't think it is something I would rely on to woo or win a girl's heart. But hey, you never know I guess...

On Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is an idea that has always confused me to an extent. Is it really possible to own an idea? I think intellectual property is something created by patenting and copyrighting ideas; the idea itself doesn't belong to a person or corporation, but rather the rights to profit from the idea. In this way, I think 3D printing could very well bring about the end of intellectual property, at least for the realm of physical objects. If it turns out that designs and models for objects manufactured by corporations become easily downloaded from the internet, then even if the idea of intellectual property still exists, in practice it will be meaningless. I think this will be both a good thing (for consumers and creators) and a bad thing (for businesses and the economy). For consumers, creators, and tinkerers, this ability to download schematics for all sorts of objects and mechanisms will be a boon never before heard of. These people will be able to tweak designs and products to their hearts desire to better suit their own purposes and intentions. For the people who make money from these products, however, they will need to adapt and find a way to continue to be profitable from the industry, or else find a new job. If 3D printing technology becomes ubiquitous one day, then it may become impossible for companies to be profitable from manufacturing goods. Instead, these companies will become manufacturers of ideas - churning out ideas for possible inventions and products rather than the products themselves. So while intellectual property may be on its deathbed and inventors and creators may have much to look forward to, there are other issues that will undoubtedly arise as a result.

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Why Accountants are Dull and Guitarists are Glamorous - The End of Intellectual Property

Blog Post #2 - September 9, 2012 - RepRap Background: Then, Now, and in the Future

Universal Constructors

A Universal Constructor, as originally proposed by John Von Neumann, is an idea that, to most people, sounds like something out a science fiction film. A machine that can replicate itself? Impossible! There are, however, varying degrees of self replication. As Adrian Bowyer points out in his background piece on the RepRap wiki, Wealth Without Money, the initial idea for the Universal Constructor was something that could make its own parts and assemble them as well. This is a lofty goal, though, and as such, there are some things that only fulfill one component of the original Universal Constructor idea; some things can make their own parts, but cannot self assemble those parts, or vice versa. The RepRap project itself is a good example of a machine that can make its own parts, but is unable to assemble itself without the help of an outside party. However, just because that is as far as we have come to creating an ideal Universal Constructor so far does not mean that the original idea is not possible. The biggest obstacle to the achievement of this goal is technology itself. There are machines and technologies in existence today that a hundred years ago people would have considered magic or voodoo. In order to create a true self replicating machine, it will need to be possible to simply have raw materials available for the machine to process and turn into more self replicating machines. There are likely a multitude of ways in which this could occur, whether through artificial intelligence or advances in material sciences. Regardless, the main limitations to a true Universal Constructor coming to fruition is the current technology and the amount of time and money put into research and development of the idea.

"Wealth Without Money"

The phrase "Wealth Without Money" is an interesting concept. In today's society, most people consider wealth to be the equivalent of money; if you have a lot of nice things, a big house, lots of shares in a valuable stock, or even a stockpile of cash, you are considered to be wealthy. However, this phrase debunks that idea. With the idea of a Universal Constructor and the continued development of the RepRap project, soon wealth will not be the same as having a lot of money because the things that a person would buy with their money today, they will simply make with their Universal Constructor tomorrow. The implications of this idea, that anyone will someday be able to make anything, are resounding. If a person can make their own goods instead of buying them from a manufacturer who mass produces the same goods, it is great for the consumer because it is cheaper and requires only time and raw materials, but it is horrible for companies that manufacture goods and their employees because they no longer have a business. Furthermore, because of the prominence of the internet and file sharing, anybody with a Universal Replicator would literally be able to manufacture anything. As a result, anyone with access to the technology would be in effect infinitely wealthy. They could make whatever their heart desires with no regard for how much money it costs because cost would be a non-issue. To be honest, this idea is a great one, but a dangerous one. The possibilities are wide ranging and could have dire implications. For example, what happens when normal people start making weapons of mass destruction, or even just hand guns. These are things ideas that will need to be dealt with for the technology to be both successful and safe.

The Future of RepRap

In the years since its inception, the 3D printing and RepRap community have come a long way. However, the strides that have already been taken in the development of the technology are less an indication of its current greatness than the greatness it could one day embody. Today's 3D printers, for example, are not true Universal Constructors because they are unable to assemble themselves. With the continued development of the technology and input from the greater community, though, that could very well change. Someday RepRaps and 3D printers may be able to literally print out a working copy of themselves. Furthermore, more and more uses of the technology are being thought of. Innovators in the architectural and civil engineering fields have already adapted the technology, to an extent, in order to print out actual scale buildings and structures. Though the structure in this article is only a monument, modern art type of creation, someday the technology could allow for much more. Just think, being able to print an entire skyscraper with HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems integrated directly into the structural components and walls of the building. Construction crews could be a thing of the past. This application, however, is only one of the nearly infinite possible uses of the 3D printing and RepRap technologies. It could also be used to create ornate drawings and paintings, make foods, or manufacture just about anything. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

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Wealth Without Money

Blog Post #1 - September 4, 2012 - Exploring Thingiverse is a very cool website on which anyone can contribute designs for a wide variety of objects, which users of the site can then download and create using a 3D printer. I found exploring Thingiverse to be a great exercise in discovering the great variety of things that can be 3D printed, both useful and useless. These are just a few of the notable designs that I found while browsing the site.

Thing 1 (Useful) - Camera Lens Cover

~ This is a lens cap for a small, pocketable camera designed to prevent the lens damage while being carried in one's pocket. It is a one piece print and requires only minimal assembly.

Thing 2 (Artistic/Beautiful) - Fractal Lamp Shade

~ This is a lamp shade created to mimic the appearance of a fractal pattern. Because of its intricate features, I think it would be a very complex and difficult print, but at least one user in the Thingiverse community as successfully managed to print the design.

Thing 3 (Pointless/Useless) - 'Fire'

~ I suppose that some things are designed and created just for fun. This printable 3D 'fire' is a great example of that. Beyond having no actual purpose, in my opinion it does not really look all that much like fire...

Thing 4 (Funny) - Decorative Garden Frogs

~ These little decorative garden frogs are a good example of the more comical side of things that can be 3D printed. I find these frogs to be funny simply because of their goofy, quirky appearance. These frogs are also interesting, however, because the .stl files for them were made using a program called 123D Catch, which turns a set of 2D pictures of an item into a 3D rendering of that item. At least in this instance, the program worked extremely well.

Thing 5 (Weird) - Strange Sculpture

~ This is a thing that was derived from a statue of a lion that was posted to Thingiverse by another user, but was altered to feature a different head. As noted in the comments on the design, the head seems to resemble a young Frank Sinatra or perhaps Lee Harvey Oswald. Needless to say, it is a strange thing.