Bruce Sterling's Take on Fab Labs: From Goop to Goods

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In the most recent issue of Wired mag, uber Viridian Bruce Sterling writes about fabrication laboratories, or "fab labs", mini mobile manufacturing systems. A fab lab is a tiny factory that works digital-style and the latest version uses three Linux PCs, a laser cutter, a combination 3-D scanner and drill, a numerically controlled X-Acto knife, and a handful of RISC chips to work its magic—cranking out basic solid objects and now, at MIT, even electronic devices like radios...According to Sterling, fab labs are well on their way to Napsterizing manufacturing. Here's the story: Today's top-of-the-line desktop fabricators, a.ka. 3-D printers, rapid prototypers, and stereolithographs, have already proven successful in the realms of architecture, design, medicine, and packaging. They assemble bits of matter—powder, glue, ceramic, paper, plastic—into solid objects, which tend to be frail, just prototypes really.

Now, to make an object with a desktop fab, there are three essentials--the equipment, a digital mock-up of the object, and the "goop" with which it'll take shape in the physical world. The first, says Sterling, are easy to come by via open-sourcing resourcefulness, but where to get the goop? "You've got to round up some low-cost atoms," as he puts it. The source? Garbage. Scrap plastic, glass, and wood pulp—itemss a lot of people pay to get rid of—are excellent materials that come to mind.

And once you've got goop, you've got goods. Sterling imagines a "consumer cornucopia for the anti-developing world; a mushroom patch of recycled decay that pops up whenever the World Trade Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, or U.S. Patent and Trademark Office turns its back." And though it will surely be a long time before desktop fabs turn out quality "functional circuitry, it might not be long at all before they can make nearly every essential possession in a third world village. Nobody copyrights those." Sounds like a resourceful, recycling situation to us. Rejoice! Via World Changing ::Wired [by MO]