A few weeks ago I was discussing 3D printing with Ken Rother, the former Prez of TreeHugger and an electronics whiz. Ken said "3D printing right now feels like computers did in the late seventies, an explosion of creativity and building in garages and basements, just waiting for the killer app."
Joshua Pearce, Adjunct Professor, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario says much the same thing. "At this point, 3-D printing is like the beginning of the computer revolution in terms of possibilities. You can design and print anything you dream up.”
He isn't waiting around, but is actively searching for it with a design competition to come up with applications using 3D printing as a tool for sustainable development. “The designs don’t necessarily have to be complicated or complex, but they need to help solve a development goal, whether that’s clean water, access to energy or education.”
Professor Pearce thinks 3D printing can change the world.
“People will be able to ‘print themselves out of poverty’ as the technology continually evolves, cheaper and more accessible 3-D printer ink develops, and a bank of open source designs grows”
He has developed the Recyclebot, that converts waste plastic into a usable feedstock for 3D printers.
Our goal is to have a fully automated system running off of an Ardruino. Imagine pressing a button for recyclable plastic 1-7, shredding your given plastic waste container in a office shredder, having the Recyclebot automatically shift its setting and output commercial grade 3-D printer filament while you go for lunch.
In a recent paper in the Journal of Sustainable Development, Pearce expands his point on how 3D printers "enable the use of designs in the public domain to fabricate open source appropriate technology (OSAT), which are easily and economically made from readily available resources by local communities to meet their needs." He notes that 3D printing is still at the "hacker/development stage and does not have the reliability nor the testing and verification needed to deploy in the field in developing countries."
But what a vision: imagine an inexpensive printer made from local materials, making inexpensive and rapidly fabricated parts from locally available materials (found at the dump) and powered by locally available renewable energy resources. He concludes:
Given appropriate resources, there is clearly enormous potential for open source 3-D printers to assist in driving sustainable development for all of the world's people.
That is why the competition he is running is so exciting, inviting "everyone to design sustainable technologies and their components for printing on open source 3-D printers." Anyone can enter the competition; It isn't exactly X-Prize money, (first prize is C$1000) but winners also get a copy of Cory Doctorow's book Makers.
Solutions should carefully consider and demonstrate thoughtfulness, investigation, and validation regarding the capabilities, limitations and needs of the individual user and of multiple users. Designs should advance, directly or indirectly, the safety, well-being, and performance of human beings.