Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I got to see a real RepRap up close!

This evening I went to a presentation and demonstration of a real live RepRap by Bruce Wattendorf and his son. It was very cool to meet somebody who's built a real one and is totally up to speed on every aspect of the project. I asked some questions about the long-term future of the RepRap project.
  • Can they get much better spatial resolution without compromising the social goal of serving the developing world? Yes: better spatial resolutions can be gotten with finer nozzles, which would print slower. You could build a duel-nozzle gadget with a wide nozzle for fast clumsy printing, and a narrow fine nozzle for slow elegant finishing.
  • Will they bump into patent problems as they move toward the state of the art currently occupied by commercial 3D printers? A number of patents will expire in about three years and the RepRap guys will then be much freer in this area.
He wrapped up his presentation by showing the nanofactory video, "Productive Nanosystems: from Molecules to Superproducts". I came to 3D printers from an interest in nanotech, and he came to nanotech from working on 3D printers. It was gratifying to see that the similarity is clear to people on the other side of the fence.

It was a heck of a lot of fun. I took some pictures. Bruce also has many more pictures on his blog. Interestingly, the parts that are normally plastic in a RepRap are made of wood in Bruce's machine, and he's in the process of printing a set of plastic parts.

Bruce's talk was sponsored by a group called DC401, a bunch of Rhode Island folks who enjoy going to DefCon. They are working with a woman in real estate to arrange a lab space in a building in downtown Providence where they can do electronic and mechanical tinkering. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how she's making it all work by using the other floors for businesses and residential space. This reminds me a lot of MITERS, and it warms my heart.

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