Thursday, April 03, 2014

Last Night I Saw A (Plastic) Piece Of The Future

As part of the Law Of Cyberspace class I'm teaching, I have the students do a final presentation regarding some aspect of cyberspace and technology and related legal issues.

A pair of the students decided the future was


Plastics by way of a 3D Printer.

As part of their presentation, they brought in a friend 's 3D printer along with the friend (a prior graduate of the class, I might add) for a demonstration as they presented on both what a 3D printer was and its implications for democratized manufacturing and the legal landscape.

Here's the complete setup: The printer, the laptop for controlling it, the spools of ABS plastic that are the raw materials for the printer, and an XBox scanner used to scan 3D images for printing.

Here's a close-up of the Solid Doodle printer and some of the items made using it:

A GoPro mount, a couple square moving gears that actually work, a couple different iPhone 5 cases, and some legos.

He's also printed working rifle and pistol magazines, so yes, there was Second Amendment content.

The whole setup cost around $1,500 to have it up and running, and it is a very impressive machine. The tech-geek in me practically yelled out "Want!" at the top of my lungs seeing it and what it can do.

Heck, If you want to be your own action figure, there's an app for that. The XBox scanner and software can render you in 3D for printing in minutes as demonstrated by one of the presenters:

While doing their presentation, they had the class vote and decide what to make. The class chose an iPhone case, and the printer had one made in less than the time it took to do their presentation.

Oh, and that iPhone charger station beside the computer-the base is printed on the 3D printer and the iPhone cable is run through it.

The presentation touched on the various implications of copyright, patent and trademarks and both First and Second Amendment issues, such as the Liberator pistol which can be created by a 3D printer, or indeed a complete working metal 1911 made by Solid Concepts on a professional-class 3D printer, and the time isn't far off when such printers will be available on the consumer market. 3D printing creates lots of implications in all of these areas, and the law has yet to catch up.

Think of the Second Amendment applications - replacement of impossible to find broken parts from out-of-production firearms, not to mention creation of complete workable firearms. As 3D printers continue to drop in price, expect gun control to be functionally impossible. Already people have shown you can forge AK47 receivers out of shovel blades, just wait until you can print them out in perfect 3D functionality.

Also think of the implications when a person can simply print out a broken part to fix an appliance in the comfort of their own home rather than having to order the replacement from the manufacturer, or design their own prototypes for their inventions literally "in-house".

3D Printing has the potential to revolutionize how we do things, and it is going to be very interesting to see how the technology spreads, changes the physical and legal landscape while doing so, and how vested interests and politicians will try to stop it. New York, both city and state, for example, has already introduced legislation to ban the creation of 3D firearms. Making such a ban, and then enforcing it once thousands of homes have these devices with the plans easily obtainable form the internet will be as futile as Canute ordering the sea to cease rising.


jon spencer said...

Here is one that works with metal.

Aaron said...


Very neat. It's made at Michigan Technological University, which gives it the home state advantage. I'd probably wait until it is a bit more refined before getting one myself, but the future is coming fast in this field.