3-D printers such as the one shown above are now available for as little as $1,400
The Digital Fabrication Revolution Is at Our Door
Fabrication Labs (Fab Labs) are cropping up all over the world.
The Future is here now and it remains to be seen what we will do with it.
The last significant technical paradigm shift came with the appearance of the personal computer in 1981 and then Tim Berners-Lee’s gift of the WWW interface to the world in the late1980’s. [Most people don’t even know of him much less appreciate his gift of the WWW interface. Had he been more like Bill Gates he would have monetized his development and thus he would have been even richer than Bill Gates today. The rest of us would be paying a royalty fee every time we used our computers. Fortunately Tim Berners-Lee was not Bill Gates.]
Before personal computers no one could afford a computer. First of all, most of us had neither the room in our homes nor could afford the electricity to run one. Then, on top of those two drawbacks there was the technical expertise needed to use a computer to perform its intended functions. With the advent of the personal computer and then with the WWW interface, the Internet became as accessible as a magazine to the world and put a great technical tool in the hands of the masses. That paradigm shift was of the same magnitude as the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, around 1440. With the printing press came the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. The Catholic Church lost its control of knowledge and “education” of the masses.
A new technological revolution has arrived. We can now program/digitize the physical world.
Up until now programmers have manipulated only within the realm of the virtual world. Now they can develop programs that will allow people to design and produce objects on demand whenever and wherever they need them.
3-D printing is at the heart of digital fabrication and it has been around since the 1980s, but not widely available to the public. Today, a wide range of 3-D printing processes is available and many business use 3-D printers to create prototypes. Medical research groups are even using 3-D printers to build cellular structures for the purpose of creating live body organs.
Moving Toward Affordability
Already today the next-generation digital fabrication products are on the market
(Ultimaker, RepRap, MakerBot, PopFab). These sell for thousands of dollars assembled, but they can be purchased for hundreds of dollars as parts. Integrated personal digital fabricators (comparable to the personal computer) will soon be introduced into the economy—then watch the change.
Consider this Manufacturing Paradigm of the Near Future
A design you create on your personal fab lab can be sent electronically to any fab-lab in world for on-demand production. This eliminates the cost of shipping, and the means of production can be owned by anyone.
Cities with savvy are taking advantage of the coming fab lab revolution before it fully arrives.
Vincente Guallart, chief architect of Barcelona (also author of The Self-Sufficient City) is leading efforts to build Fab Labs all over Barcelona. His goal is to globally connect the city for knowledge but to make them self-sufficient for what they produce and consume.
As mentioned in a previous article I wrote, the City of Detroit Michigan has its FAB LAB, Incite Focus.
AS FOR MY OWN LOCAL ENVIRONMENT OF GARLAND TEXAS: Let’s get started on creating the Walkable Main Street Village!
I hope that leadership and citizens alike will awaken to the potential that a new and different type of sustainable, self-sufficient development, such as that proposed by the Walkable Main Street Village, offers to the residents of our city. We can follow the innovative examples of Barcelona and Detroit and begin now to create a truly sustainable and self-sufficient city.
Read and add to the plans for creating a Walkable Main Street Village here:
Explore a growing body of knowledge about an exciting ongoing project to create a plan for building a vibrant sustainable mixed-use neighborhood! Send your ideas to Douglas Athas, Mayor of Garland Texas.
ADDED NOTE: Will this new technology be able to create edibles?
I don’t know—possibly. I would think so if experiments to create living organs are being undertaken in some Fab Labs. However, regardless the extent to which we are able to produce food, that knowledge comes from nature—the ultimate professor. Thus, I think it will always behoove us to maintain an ongoing relationship with the balance and wonderful lessons that we can learn just from observation of nature in action. In fact, Incite Focus, a Fab Lab shop in Detroit, is moving forward with its design efforts closely in sync with permaculture principles.
Perhaps it will be possible to use our Fab Labs to figure out how best to clean up our environment—and easily and inexpensively remove some of the damage we have done with our old ways of manufacturing and retail marketing.