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How Printable Computers Will Work

timothy posted more than 13 years ago | from the better-than-my-fax-machine-I-hope dept.

Technology 151

Gart points to this article on printable computers, an "Illustrated narrative [that] shows how users will simply download microchip designs from the Internet and print out a working ink-based, plastic processor on a desktop fabrication machine, similar to an ink jet printer." This is a nicely lucid account, and straightforward about the reasons that you probably won't start printing out a new motherboard this evening. Still, a glimpse of the future; this is one technology it will be cool to watch emerge from vapor.

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Re:E-Paper (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#391059)

Um... E-Paper is little plastic balls in oil held inside very small bubble wrap. I don't think there are very many ways to make electrical connections in that model.

Stack em (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#391060)

So in a few years time my 19" Server Rack will be full of paper...kewl
Babes for the geek: []

Won't take off. (1)

Have Blue (616) | more than 13 years ago | (#391061)

This won't take off unless the machine can make much more interesting things than single chips. 99% of the world has no interest in hardware hacking.

Re:Imagine... (1)

suitcase (4089) | more than 13 years ago | (#391063)


Re:E-Paper (1)

kevlar (13509) | more than 13 years ago | (#391068)

How about a self printing printer! You don't even need to design it, because it'll design and print itself!

And my boss thinks PHOTO paper is expensive... (1)

Brento (26177) | more than 13 years ago | (#391069)

And he whines about the cost of the Tektronix ink. Wait until he sees this stuff.

Re:The future... (1)

drivers (45076) | more than 13 years ago | (#391071)


To heck with the Pentiums, print me some Benjamins (1)

Monte (48723) | more than 13 years ago | (#391073)

Assuming ubiquitous printer technology capable of printing even primitive logic circuits, how hard could it be (with the right "ink" and paper) to print off some completely convincing Federal Reserve Notes?

Or am I just slow on the uptake?

Re:CNN picked up the story (1)

Enoch Root (57473) | more than 13 years ago | (#391074)

Disregard parent post... I was trying something and never meant to post it.

CNN picked up the story (1)

Enoch Root (57473) | more than 13 years ago | (#391075)

It's much more high-level, but CNN [] has an article [] on this as well.

Open Source hardware??? (1)

BluFinger (60149) | more than 13 years ago | (#391076)

Remember that story about Open Source hardware [] awhile ago? Many of the comments said that this would be too expensive because of manufacturing costs. Perhaps this story provides hope that this may eventually be a reality.

So we're going from .13 micron to (1)

Kanasta (70274) | more than 13 years ago | (#391077)

.1mm thick inkjet lines? I'm guessing u can't use a laser printer type thing since you'd melt the plastic.

So how big will our chips be?

And, are we buying a licence to print the processor, does the actual processor belong to us, and are we allowed to print duplicates when the dog eats the 1st one?


Think of the Implications! (1)

Ribo99 (71160) | more than 13 years ago | (#391078)

Now we trade music and movies over the net, the next thing will be trading hardware!
Download your own bootleg PS2!
Companies that deal in information, anything that can be represented in 1s and 0s are freaking out because it is so damned easy to trade their precious property on the net (or it will be really soon).
With this sort of technology what's to stop us from trading bootlegged schematics across the net? Hardware manufactures won't be safe anymore.
To project into the future with nanotech ala "The Diamond Age", NOTHING is safe. Why should you bother to buy the PS2-equivilent when you can just download bootlegged specs from Gnutella and have your army of nanos crank it out?
The future will be interesting on so many levels...


Need one now to Hack DTV (1)

mcdade (89483) | more than 13 years ago | (#391082)

It would come in handy right about now to print me out a boot blocker so I could watch DTV. The plans for building one is on the net, but i can't fab a PCB so i'm going to have to buy one off some company that did fab them. The thing that kills me is there are about $20 worth of components on these things that sell for $100.

I could be printing up a whole bunch for everyone i know.. sweeeeeeeeet.

Overclocking (1)

mberman (93546) | more than 13 years ago | (#391083)

And now, the truly 1337 can overclock before the fab!

Re:The power of being a troll! (1)

pauldy (100083) | more than 13 years ago | (#391085)

Is this a joke? Cause I'm left here thinking man thats what everyone was saying when I first got into computing. No one will ever have one of these in their home they are to big/expensive. I don't know about any of the other self proclaimed geeks out there but I can't wait to get my hands on something like this. It may be just out of my reach right now but I'm sure I won't have to wait more than a couple of years before I will be able to purchase one. Soon we could have true open source computing everything from your Motherboard to your software could be open sourced. It makes me all gitty thinking about it.

3d Printing! (1)

bagel2ooo (106312) | more than 13 years ago | (#391088)

It's nice to see that 3D printing is in the news again. Last I heard was a group who had made various electronic components from ceramic. This is definately a trend a lot of us hardware engineers and general geeks may want to look at. Although there are the definate limitations of material and how practical cost will be for something that can print at such a low level I'm sure that this could be very viable within 20 years.
| aim: | bagel is back |
| icq: | 158450 |

All we need, is one more reason.. (1)

kaoshin (110328) | more than 13 years ago | (#391089)

To keep killing trees. Way to go!

Re:All we need, is one more reason.. (1)

kaoshin (110328) | more than 13 years ago | (#391090)

Argh.. nevermind. I was misled by the summary. It's imprinted on plastic, not paper.

open source support (1)

crashnbur (127738) | more than 13 years ago | (#391091)

I would guess that this would have all kinds of support from the prp-Open Source side of the world. Printing up your own usually implies the ability, no matter the difficulty, to modify and individualize, which is what open source is all about, right?

Richard Stallman's Free Hardware Foundation(FHF) ? (1)

Jagasian (129329) | more than 13 years ago | (#391092)

Does such a thing exist yet? Just imagine a completely free computer, from hardware to software. Sure, it might cost the price of a piece of circuit paper or whatever it will be called and the circuit ink. If the prices of such materials ever approached that of regular deskjet-like ink and paper... we would live in a perfect techie world of free hardware and software, through and through. Costing pennies on the dollar to make another copy.

A printed CPU with a printed flatscreen display, printed speakers, keyboard, pointer device, and a nice install of GNU/Linux. All downloaded from the web. All GPL'ed.

Re:Printable Components (1)

Jagasian (129329) | more than 13 years ago | (#391093)

Not printable batteries, printable solar cells would make energy free too by converting abundant solar energy to electricity.

Re:Yes! (1)

Jagasian (129329) | more than 13 years ago | (#391094)

Uhhh... actually, I would have my walls simulate an environment: Playboy Mansion.

Re:That's not so bad... (1)

Jagasian (129329) | more than 13 years ago | (#391095)

true... true dat

Heat Problems (1)

bdigit (132070) | more than 13 years ago | (#391096)

Problem with printing circuits on paper is that they will generate alot of heat and cooling the bitch will be hard. Water cooling a paper board and now your left with a soggy board. People will be having fires in the computers everywhere!

ahem (1)

anotherone (132088) | more than 13 years ago | (#391097)

/me clears his throat.




Sounds nice, but (1)

yzquxnet (133355) | more than 13 years ago | (#391098)

I think that this technolgy would be nice. But, I don't think that the quallity and the practical power of the printed circits would be what the user really wants. Power and performance wise.

However, this might be a great product for the do-it-yourself electronics guru. I would have a hay-day printing out my own circits and testing them. My hands are too shaky at times and soldering can be difficult. Most notably before the daily intake of caffeine. Trying to get those surface mount electronics on the board, man, those are hard to do!

Re:The next big thing in security: (1)

Tyler Durden (136036) | more than 13 years ago | (#391100)

Yeah instead of downloading the piece of hardware you wanted, you get a robot intent on beating the living crap out of you!

"Hey wait a minute, I didn't download the newest heavyweight Battle Bot model. YAARAARRRRRRggggGGGGG!"


Re:Or... (1)

seanmeister (156224) | more than 13 years ago | (#391101)

HA! Do that and the crackhead [] will slap you with a cease-and-desist letter faster than you can say "foo [] "!!

Re:Or... (1)

seanmeister (156224) | more than 13 years ago | (#391102)

HA! Do that and the crackhead [] will slap you with a cease-and-desist letter faster than you can say "foo [] "!!

Hmmmmm...this looks FAMILIAR (1)

theseum (165950) | more than 13 years ago | (#391106)


In a story posted by CmdrTaco regarding open source chipsets/cpus (try this [] ), i said:

the notion of open source hardware coupled with conductive polymer technology could have big implications. You could download a chipset blueprint and print it using plastics. Of course, this won't be suitable for the microprocessor market, but it will definitely be big in things like small personal display units and other electronics like cell phones.

Printed microprocessors (1)

EvlPenguin (168738) | more than 13 years ago | (#391107)

I remember seeing a blurb on the news about the development of paper cell phones, prepaid, that you can just throw away. The inventor says one day she was calling someone on a cell phone and wanted to throw it out the window, and so she thought "hey, disposable cell phones!" The relevence here is that it contains no actual chips, only a three-layer peice of paper. I could only find a few stories about in, most notably this [] .


What's the application? (1)

isomeme (177414) | more than 13 years ago | (#391110)

I don't see how these are supposed to be used. If the hardware can operate at low power and using generic components, its probably more efficient to emulate it on a general-purpose processor. And it it can't be, I doubt you can print it up on plastic with conductive ink. What techno-ecological niche does this fill?


Get real (1)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 13 years ago | (#391112)

While I think this is a very interesting technique I totally dislike the hype coming with it. Maybe it is actually possible to manufacture cheap electronics with a cheap printerlike machine in a few decades, but this will be limited to slow low complexity circuits, like electronic price signs etc.

And even IF it will be possible to manufacture higher end electronics this way - it will most probably always be cheaper to do it industrial. Just compare it to books. Today everyone is capable of printing his own books with his very own printer - but how many people are actually doing it ? It is much more convenient to buy books.

Re:Not for CPU's (1)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 13 years ago | (#391113)

The smallest elements you can print are about 25 micrometers (.001 inch), which is over 100 times the linear dimensions in a modern Pentium chip. And that

The i4004 was manufactured in a 10micrometer process. So one could maybe do a i4004 clone with just 2.5^2=6.25 times the size of a real i4004. :)

Ok, probably it would not work due to capacitor leakage (it used dynamic registers) and if it worked it could just be clocked at xx kHz ..

Start an open source project to exploit this tech! (1)

TheNarrator (200498) | more than 13 years ago | (#391116)

Somebody with some electrical engineering experience should start laying down an open source framework for being able to print these transistors.

Maybe a spice interface or something like that? Get in touch with the engineers working on this! It would be great if Linux was the development platform for this tech...

Printable Components (1)

robbway (200983) | more than 13 years ago | (#391117)

Printable batteries, printable video displays, and now printable chips. This could easily change our media in the near future. Do I see the next version of Hallmark cards on the horizon?


Yes! (1)

stubob (204064) | more than 13 years ago | (#391118)

I can just hear your neighbors: "Oh my God, he killed Kenny!"

Or... (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 13 years ago | (#391120)

It means you can choose not to have a 'gay' color on your iMac, just download and print in your fav color, to match your favorite color scheme.

Geek dating! []

If it were advanced (1)

vinnythenose (214595) | more than 13 years ago | (#391121)

If it were advanced enough, could you imagine the legal battles?!?!?! Think about it, I go and buy some specs from Intel for a newish system. I give the specs to a friend, they do the same, and so on. It would be the whole copy music and videos all over again, but with whole computers!

But luckily, even were it to work quite like that, with systems that rivalled traditional circuitry, I think there'd be a few years before the courts good too tied up.

You could always photocopy your computer in case you overclocked it too much and it got fried :)

News at 10 (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 13 years ago | (#391122)

House erupts in flames as boy, 11, overclocks latest issue of MAD


spec sheets (1)

Leknor (224175) | more than 13 years ago | (#391126)

Will one of the "printers" new specifications be how many mHz is can print per page?


Great tool for rapid prototyping (1)

ni488 (241926) | more than 13 years ago | (#391130)

I see this as a great opportunity for EE and CE profs to use in the classroom. A student could design a digital circuit, then literally print it out. This, or people in industry could have a quick tool to rapidly prototype a complex digital system.

I'm not sure what the cost of printing this stuff out is though. I suppose that FPGA's for the time being are cheaper in the long run if you're going to be making modifications all of the time. Except that FPGA's can get expensive when you blow em up.

My biggest hope is that using plastic processors wil make computers more recycleable. I could imagine a process in which you send your computer to the recycling center, where they melt it down and separate the plastic from the metal. We can only hope the next generation of computers is a lot more friendly to the environment than our current batch is...

That's not so bad... (1)

dat00ket (249468) | more than 13 years ago | (#391133)

"...but those machines are still the size of your bathroom..."

I'm a college student currently lodged in student housing, and a machine the size of my bathroom could still fit comfortably on the average desk.

I'm not bitter. I'm not.
____________________________________________ ______

Re:E-Paper (1)

epicurus (252619) | more than 13 years ago | (#391134)

I was reading a while back that plastic semiconductors are making epaper a lot more viable...similar machines used to do this could be what you'd use for creating the actual circuits...

Re:stop it? how? why? (1)

SuperDuperMan (257229) | more than 13 years ago | (#391135)

It might be cheap to print something someone else already designed but it won't be cheap to design these systems and that is why it won't be freely downloadable. Why would anyone spend tons of money designing something that others will want to take and use for really cheap or free?

Re:And my boss thinks PHOTO paper is expensive... (1)

simonsays (264817) | more than 13 years ago | (#391136)

and so close to first post :)

Warezing your Processor. (1)

derf77 (265283) | more than 13 years ago | (#391137)

I can foresee a day when people will warez their CPU and their motherboard (not to mention 3d accelerator, soundcard and ethernet card!).

No, actually, it's not a joke (1)

Niscenus (267969) | more than 13 years ago | (#391139)

These here young fellas in Madison, as I call them all to often, have successfully created tiny little crystal-like slates that, when acted upon by a light wave, act the same as cones being acted upon by magnets. Sequencing many of these little plates can produce the same level of sound and quality as a traditional sound system, and that was the biggest "it'll never be an all light system" hurdle, in my opinion (which is never humble).
The first photo-processor was made in 1998, by either Lucent or Agilent. It used the same theories as electronic processors, read: yes and no, 1 and 0; however, the first 8bit processor was made by another company.
I'll email you links to several relating articles once I feel the need to go forth and scour these things up. Web scouring is a weekend activity for me. Slashdotting is weekday-there's-no-one-at-the-scifi-chatrooms activity.
I may even sent the list into slashdot and query as to the general populous' thoughts into the future of photo-computing.
The New DSL will probably be the only thing using electricity in the future. You see, charged phophorus plates intermittenly lock some 800' of optical cable carrying 8bit signals; ultimately, the setup is capable of reaching many, many miles without any signal degradation
All this will become very obvious to even the casual techno-user within three years.
Trolls know these things, just watch and see.

Now, this doesn't mean "printing" future hardware, for testing or otherwise, won't happen, but I wouldn't wait for the expensive electrical things, when you may be going to the store to pick up very fine threads of optical fiber.
*raises glass* Here's to the hopes of open source designs in the age of photons.

Re:Not for CPU's (1)

markmoss (301064) | more than 13 years ago | (#391143)

I think the 4004 was clocked in KHz. That's often fast enough to control a machine that takes seconds to do anything. Capacitor leakage might be a problem, but it's not impossible to translate those old designs into static CMOS. And the patents have expired! Once they get decent plastic transistors (not a problem that's been solved to my knowledge, but it will be), the real problem as far as doing a low performance microcontroller in plastic isn't space or speed, it's cost. Tying up an expensive printer for hours to make one CPU, vs etching 10,000 at a time into silicon -- maybe it will eventually make economic sense, but I doubt it.

plastic brains (1)

RobertTheBrute (311947) | more than 13 years ago | (#391144)

OK, so just now the resolution is poor. If you consider a good ink jet printer can manage approx 1200 dots per inch, that gives a line width of about 0.8 thou = 20um (more or less confirmed by the article). But even so, you don't need to fully catch up with the current state of the art in conventional silicon processing to start building some awesome things on large plastic sheets. They would have to be fault tolerant structures, but can you imagine a neural network printed out on an A4 sheet? Soon we could have truly intelligent books!


Actual usable, printable CPU's? I think not. (1)

Trisk (314745) | more than 13 years ago | (#391148)

This system does work fine for fairly complex circuitry, but I do not see how this technology, in its current state, or even within the next few years, could be suited for manufacturing anything with the complexity and operating conditions of a processor that is the equivalent of those in modern consumer desktops. The first problem is simply the scale of precision and cleaness required. Your average CPU uses a < 0.20 micron resolution (that's 200 nanometres, recent CPU's use as small as 130nm) manufacturing process that is only possible with very, very expensive specialised equipment following a time-consuming process under extremely clean conditions where dust cannot exist at all. Also, a large number of 3-dimensional structures will simply not be printable, and there is a very possible limitation of materials (it's not all just silicon...). Another issue is the working environment, which will have to be extremely clean as before, and areas of the processor approach very high temperatures which would undoubtably heavily damage the plastic. So, it looks like illegally downloading CPU's or any other complex electronics over the Internet won't be a common practice for a few decades to come.


Sweetness.... (1)

Calamere (318591) | more than 13 years ago | (#391149)

This is gonna make one helluva under $1000 dollar PC!

DMCA (1)

jpetzold (319053) | more than 13 years ago | (#391150)

I wonder how the DMCA will be applied to somthing like this.

this would probably just become vaporware since it will be so hard to control the distrobution, no one would make any money on it.


If you can read this ... (1)

OlympicSporsor (321485) | more than 13 years ago | (#391153)

... you're a dirty redneck whose armpits are the home to a festering flea colony. Why don't you just go kill yourself, loser?

....and overclocking (2)

Sabalon (1684) | more than 13 years ago | (#391154)

This should have been one of the perils in the prior article on over-clocking.

Not only do you risk ruining your CPU, but now if you overclock your video card, you could melt your CPU! :)

wonder what it'll do for recycling - hitech and lotech plastic recyclables.

I've been printing computers... (2)

cluening (6626) | more than 13 years ago | (#391155)

I've been printing computers and then building them during class for the last few weeks. I get them from the Paper Mac [] page, and print them out with my laser printer. Then I take them to class and, while the teacher is babbling dumb stuff about what she has done with computers, I build macs. I've got a small army of them collecting here...

Denisty problems are worse than this. (2)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 13 years ago | (#391156)

Still, if they can get one transistor in 25 microns square, and handle all the wiring in other layers:

  • The original 80386 (with 275,000 transistors) fits in a 13.1 by 13.1 mm square.

It turns out that it's much worse than this. The minimum feature size gives you the minimum gate width you can use (if you're lucky). A transistor, contacts and all, takes up easily ten times this in both directions (after spacing rules and so forth have been taken into account).

Speed is also inversely proportional to the square of the feature size. Going from 0.25 micron to 25 micron slows you down by a factor of about 10,000 (give or take). You'll end up with microchip wallpaper that runs at 50 kHz.

There are uses for this (big active displays comes to mind), but computers aren't one of them.

Re:The future... (2)

sharkey (16670) | more than 13 years ago | (#391157)

I have a name to suggest for this: Breadboards!

Neat, huh?


Re:The next big thing in security: (2)

ryanr (30917) | more than 13 years ago | (#391159)

Now there's a strange thought.. presumably, condoms would be a workable substrate for circuits.

"Um... no... that's not a webcam printed on my condom, or something.."

Just another example of (2)

slickwillie (34689) | more than 13 years ago | (#391160)

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Re:stop it now. (2)

Coward, Anonymous (55185) | more than 13 years ago | (#391161)

There could be a licensing agreement, but how do you track pirated hardware?

There seems to be a new trend to have software contact a company's servers to see if it's been pirated or not. Hardware could do the same, and if it's pirated it could explode and leave an inky mess all over just like the capsules banks put in with stolen money.

Re:'A' For Everything (2)

Kintanon (65528) | more than 13 years ago | (#391164)

Good question. I don't think the book ever addressed the point of Land ownership at all...
And it didn't really occure to me until you mentioned it that Land really should be the most valuable item in a society like that... I think I'll reread the book tommorow and see if they mentioned it while I wasn't paying attention.


Long time?... (2)

RussGarrett (90459) | more than 13 years ago | (#391165)

Surely, if you're "printing" a chip, even of today's standards of size, you're still looking at the printer moving the substrate along minute amounts to get the design right. It would probably take several days...

Big implications for and against freedom (2)

crucini (98210) | more than 13 years ago | (#391166)

The article says we can expect roughly 1/100 the speed of current silicon. I guess that means CPU's with 500khz - 1Mhz clock speed. The kind of machines that started the PC era.
At the same time, we're seeing a strong attack on the programmable, user-controlled computer by the Intellectual Property cartel. Maybe we'll end up using CP/M on 1979-vintage machines because the current crop of hardware is too locked-down and tamperproof. A machine like that could be open-sourced and downloaded from the internet.
On the flip side, I see many possibilities for abuse. Manufacturers could build flat computers into cereal boxes, shipping labels, even software packaging. Lots of places to monitor, advertise, and present license agreements. Lots of stuff that quietly 'phones home'.
Is it good or bad on the balance? Doesn't matter - nobody can roll back technology.

Re:The next big thing in security: (2)

realdpk (116490) | more than 13 years ago | (#391167)

For some reason when you said Trojan hardware I imagined a condom with "chips" printed onto them. Oh the possibilities there.

Re:All this technology is useless... (2)

Jagasian (129329) | more than 13 years ago | (#391168)

Yeah, then we would have to put up with script kiddies writing VBScripts that add unwanted anchovies to those aforementioned pizzas.

Transistors, yes, but what about a full CPU? (2)

CrazyMadPsychoBandit (135946) | more than 13 years ago | (#391169)

Getting the transistors to work in this process is important, but there's lots of other stuff that needs to be considered to build a full CPU.

What about the metal interconnect? Aluminum or copper... or not metal at all? What about metal layers and via's? What kind of package will this "die" go into?

I'm curious as to how they plan to address these issues

Just imagine.... (2)

brad3378 (155304) | more than 13 years ago | (#391170)

....Overclockers could edit their circuits in Photoshop.

Or maybe the Gimp could have a plugin for printed circuits

Oh great.... (2)

seanmeister (156224) | more than 13 years ago | (#391171) Apple will be able to simply print out gay-ass color-coordinated Bondi Blue motherboards to stick in their iMacs. Wonderful.

Another A.C. Clarke prediction? (2)

ThePez (178288) | more than 13 years ago | (#391172)

I haven't read it in years, but I seem to remember in Clarke's "The City and the Stars" a passage regarding the village "foundry". Every village had some sort of self-contained "millworks" about the size of a refrigerator that produced "useful devices" (my quotes). Can my recollection be any more vague? Anyone have a copy on hand to refer to?

Forbidden Knowledge (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#391173)

You realise that all that hardware that has all of that copy protection built in goes right buy the boards when anyone can create and print out un-authorized devices to do unauthorized things.

Come to think of it, this moves computer technolgy, such as creating machines to do "x, y, or z" into a freedom of the press realm.

The petty little potentates pop paranoia and profiteering must be trembling in hooror at this, once they figure it out and see it coming down the road.

This could be fun!

Hardware free speech? (2)

dstone (191334) | more than 13 years ago | (#391174)

Thinking out loud here... If a CPU or board design can be expressed in a printer markup language under this scheme, then I believe it would be possible to translate that description into plain english. Or a suitably different reverse-engineered piece of hardware could be described this way. It could be expressed out loud on street corners in songs or poetry or t-shirts. (Just like what happened with DeCSS.) Only free speech would be used to distribute hardware. Great for spreading not only the word but the means of useful hardware to the masses.

Now, granted, these would be pretty screwed up songs. And pretty long! And I guess haiku is out of the question. But in theory, this could lead to free-speech-like implications that the hardware industry may not have had to deal with yet.

Sing me a song, you're the VLSI man...

Yes! (2)

graveyhead (210996) | more than 13 years ago | (#391177)

One of the most exciting applications for printable electronics is creating a wallpaper that doubles as a television screen or computer monitor.

I can't wait to have a 10x8 foot monitor! I'll scare the heck out of my neighbors with life-size Q3A!

Copyright? Mix IP and copyright all of a sudden! (2)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 13 years ago | (#391178)

It'll raise the level of computer literacy by a notch. Not only will it be divided into the standard 2 groups:

Can program VCR
Cannot program VCR

The Can program VCR group will be divided into

Can read PCB
Cannot read PCB

Joking aside, it wouldn't be difficult to, like a script kiddy, just download blueprints and get yourself a homebrew mp3 player, but how can you 'trust' such kits, implicitly, any more than you can trust software?

Mostly it should be okay, but the odd virus here and there could wreak havoc on someone. So a new class of 'anti-trojan' software, as well as more literacy in computer skills in general, needs to taught.

I would like to have a private fab and rapid prototype lab in my garage. That would be muy nifto.


Geek dating! []

Duh! (2)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 13 years ago | (#391179)

Open source, man!

I spend time and effort to develop a car Ogg player and GPS receiver.

I am part of a group of people who have similar interests, so we all share our variations on the designs, LCD or display implementations, voice activated, IR, bluetooth, etc.

Over a period of months or years, we all have in car dash Ogg players, GPS recievers with voice activation and other random stuff.

Other people take this and adapt it to Visor handspring modules

They add power saving and cycling functions, or something. Or they make it smaller.

Feedback occurs, and the indash unit becomes smaller. We get enough space to add more features.

Back and forth.

Isn't this how the Open Source model works?

Geek dating! []

Dammit! (2)

Will The Real Bruce (235478) | more than 13 years ago | (#391181)

"The fab jammed again..."

"Is there a jam?"

" says it's out of toner?"

Uses (2)

GruffDavies (257448) | more than 13 years ago | (#391183)

I think the important uses of these won't be in the home. Let's face it, enough the cleverest of us don't yet have enough specialist knowledge, nor the design to print our own circuit boards at great expense.

The biggest use of these is likely to be in units that have to travel to places where getting replacement hardware is difficult. Such as extraterrestrial expeditions, or armies at war on earth. Combine this technology with a fabber and you can build whatever replacements you like when things break.

The far ahead possibilities include virally spreading across the universe using fabbers that build more fabbers...

E-Paper (2)

derf77 (265283) | more than 13 years ago | (#391184)

I wonder if E-Paper could be adapted to form circuit boards.. Download the chip, plug it into your e-paper, watch it assemble itself. I bet it could be done.

Ooh, there's some ideas (2)

Niscenus (267969) | more than 13 years ago | (#391185)

The headlines:
2010 eGates hardware over throws governments
2012 eGates hardwar controls 90% of the internet
2013 TuxBoard Manufacturing, ESR CEO started in conjunction with the GNU Project has begun. The EG Supercomputerweb laughs.
2013 People sick of having their homes burn down try TuxBoard Manufacturing out of curiosity and hope
2014 EG SCW now scared. FUD attacks: TuxBoards don't burn down, they must not be capable of the high-level processing.
2015 Cox on a Chip capable of making eGates hardware work without burn out and without the need for Windows 9000 XPIJFLSFN
2016 Helsinki almost nuked, but bombs fail to go off, and land 300mi out of range...hardware failure.
2018 Redmond uprising attempts to overthrow EG SCW
2020 After the 100 GHZ war, Linus Torvalds reigns as occaissionally benevolent emperor over 98% of the world.
2021 New Zealand finally ready to cater to AmigaSketch users.
2024 Massive solar flare damages most of the computer world.
2025 Etchasketch becomes popular
2026 Printable punch cards arrive on the outskirts of the remaining ecivilization.
2027 Last Beowulf cluster dies in captivity.
2028 Torvalds frozen and displayed for all to look at.
3028 Cockroaches and lawyers wonder why there is a frozen person on the European continent. Lawyers wonder if he has money (which looks a lot like punch cards)
3030 The Troll Niscenus and a band of AnonCows re-establish world order with a central hub of infromation they call DotSlash.

So, who's up for volleyball?

The power of being a troll! (2)

Niscenus (267969) | more than 13 years ago | (#391186)

I can only assume we'll need Cox on a Chip to write the drivers for the new e-paper.
I don't think we'll see printers sketching 8-atom wide paths on unborn microchips, ever.
A) The "printer" would cost way to much for any common use.
B) Have you seen the size of the machines that currently do this? They're ENIAC, hyperbolicly speaking.
C) By the time anyone gets this going, computer will be communicating on their boards and processors with 8bit light streams rather than electonic anything...err, not that I know anything. If Century Tel didn't buy GTE from Verizon, you wouldn't not know anything either.

I usually get turned into a troll everytime I say this, but, "Who's up for volleyball!?"

Not for CPU's (2)

markmoss (301064) | more than 13 years ago | (#391187)

I hate to spoil all this dreaming with realism, but you'd really be pushing this technology to make even an 8-bit CPU. (See the third page of the article.) The smallest elements you can print are about 25 micrometers (.001 inch), which is over 100 times the linear dimensions in a modern Pentium chip. And that means the transistors will be 10,000 times the area, and 10,000 times the capacitance. Add the inferior performance of the plastic transistors to the complexity limitation implied by the dimensions, and what you wind up with is something like a 6502, but running at a few KHz...

There are actually many control applications where a small 8-bitter running at KHz speeds is quite sufficient. But you can buy good 8-bit silicon CPU's for $0.50 to $15 (depending mainly on how many pins you need), and I don't see any chance of these plastic circuits beating those prices.

What this might be good for is the custom interface circuits that are virtually always needed between the CPU and the world. These usually wind up either as a large number of generic components, soldered onto a fair-sized circuit board, costing perhaps $20 to $100 to utilize a $5 CPU. Or you can use a few programmable logic device chips -- but these cost more than the CPU. So if they can get reasonable price/performance, you might eventually see printed plastic circuits containing the "glue logic" as well as the resistors, capacitors, and ESD-suppressing diodes -- so you just solder on the CPU chip and its ready to go. (But not for a Pentium motherboard -- think about the speed.)

More realistically, there are many applications where large, low-performance circuits would be ideal. Displays, for instance -- you can etch a wonderful display into a silicon chip, but you need a microscope or a good projection system to read it. Maybe they will soon be able to print the same circuit in plastic at readable size.

Agreed - how about BEAM? (2)

cryptochrome (303529) | more than 13 years ago | (#391188)

This wouldn't be suitable for most computing applications, where designing software for a generalized processor would be easier and more effective most of the time.

But for dedicated and experimental electronics, it'd be golden. Just think how much this would accelerate prototyping and design for BEAM robots [] , since you don't have to mess around with soldering bunches of components!


Isn't this old news?? (2)

kaveh (321496) | more than 13 years ago | (#391189)

Technology Review [] had an article [] about the very same topic months ago. Surprised it didn't hit slashdot then. Well anyway, it is an interesting read as well for anyone who want to hear more.

'A' For Everything (3)

Kintanon (65528) | more than 13 years ago | (#391190)

This reminds me of a book called "'A' For Everything" where an inventor created a duplicating device. You put the object you want duplicated on one side, and press a button, and a copy comes out on the other side. Within hours almost everyone had one. Within days the economy had reverted to Slaves being the only valuable form of property. From there people figured out how to clone other people using the device and a bizarre slave/owner hierarchy was born. A very interesting book, I recommend it to everyone.


It's all ready been done! (3)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 13 years ago | (#391192)

Check it out here [] !

Re:Density issues (3)

OmegaDan (101255) | more than 13 years ago | (#391193)

Its true the density isn't as great, but in this case the medium is just a piece of plastic, not a VERY expensive piece of silicon, so real estate is not a commodity... however it sounds like their switching times are much slower then silicon transistors ... given that and the distance between the resistors growing (because they're less dense) it sounds like the problem will infact be speed.

Re:Density issues (3)

crgrace (220738) | more than 13 years ago | (#391195)

handle all the wiring in other layers

Now that's the real trick, isn't it? In modern integrated circuit design the interconnect uses up more area than the transistors. Even if you could do all the wiring in other layers (by the way, only VERY recently have ICs come out with lots of layers. One or two wiring layers was the standard for YEARS) you would still need lots of vias to move the signals between layers and down to the transistors.

And as for cost, I just checked MOSIS and if you needed a 6.5mm by 6.5mm square silicon chip fabbed, MOSIS would charge you about $70000 for a lot of 25! Kind of pricey for a 68k processor, don't you think?

There are a lot of reasons silicon is useful, and I'd be VERY suprised if people started printing chips out on their desks.

stop it now. (3)

perdida (251676) | more than 13 years ago | (#391196)

downloadable and printable hardware, if it develops to fruition, will destroy the need for a computer hardware insdustry in certain sectors.

the gamers, the kids, everyone who uses their computers as a hot rod and doesn't have mission critical stuff running on them, will pirate hardware.

There could be a licensing agreement, but how do you track pirated hardware? use it on the Net and it sends out a call signal? I don't think so. Even if it could be traced, people would just set up parallel intranet networks with the stuff instead of using it on the Internet, where cops, et al could track it.

All in all, opening the doors to terrorists, foreign intelligence agencies, and anybody else who wants to reliably gather information without much expenditure and without being traced.

Napster Anyone? (3)

Protohiro (260372) | more than 13 years ago | (#391199)

This will bring a whole new definition to the word "warez"



Carver Mead (3)

blair1q (305137) | more than 13 years ago | (#391200)

Cripes, I'm old.

It must be 20 years ago now that Carver Mead was talking about having a machine on your desk that would fabricate silicon integrated circuits for you.

Anyone who's seen a fab line knows it's not that simple. The closest anyone came was e-beam lithography, but those machines are still the size of your bathroom, and still only do some of the processes.

It's pretty interesting to think about printing chip layers like a multi-pass color laser printer.

But can you imagine the toner-cartridge spam you'll get when there are ten kinds of toner material needed, and some run ten bucks a pass?

"Dammit! I left my TiVo folded up in my pocket and it went through the wash again..."

Critical for long-distance space travel! (4)

Bluedove (93417) | more than 13 years ago | (#391201)

When the ability to create hardware (in the context of digital logic) on the desktop becomes trivial and commonplace, this will be a BOON for long distance space travel!!!

One of the critical problems for long distance space endevours is what to do when/if you need to replace hardware in your systems when you're far far away from any fab plant. This kind of technology will go a long way to making the problem moot.

More fun filled facts! (4)

Paul the Bold (264588) | more than 13 years ago | (#391202)

This article [] has a few more facts about this technology, and its references are from journals like "Science" and "Applied Physics Letters" and "Chemical Review," so you can do some in-depth research if you wish. It's not so complicated that the layman could not read it, and it has some information not covered in the article. I did like some of the pictures in the article.

The electron mobility in polymers is MUCH lower than Si (a slow semiconductor), a fact that is mentioned in the article, but glossed over on this page. Overclocking these guys still won't get you very far.

One thing not mentioned is the short shelf life of these things. They tend to degrade in days to weeks, depending on the material.

I could go on, but I won't. I'm just glad to see this finally out in the popular media.

Density issues (5)

JoeBuck (7947) | more than 13 years ago | (#391203)

They are talking about achieving a 25 micron feature size. The current generation of processors is being done with an 0.13 micron feature size, meaning that the number of gates you can fit on your plastic chip is about 40000 (200 times 200) times lower.

Still, if they can get one transistor in 25 microns square, and handle all the wiring in other layers:

  • The original 68000 (with 68,000 transistors) fits in a 6.5 by 6.5 mm square.
  • The original 80386 (with 275,000 transistors) fits in a 13.1 by 13.1 mm square.
  • The original 80486 (1.2M transistors) needs 27.4 by 27.4 mm (just over a square inch). Once we get to this stage a lot of the transistors are L1 cache.

Trying to get much bigger than this (do the P5 in two inches square) is likely to be a loser because getting the signals across these large chips is going to be slow unless you use enough power to melt the plastic.

Memory: if you can do one bit in 25 by 25 microns, a square inch (2.54 cm on a side) gives just over one megabit (bits, not bytes). You're probably not going to be running Gnome or KDE on this.

All this technology is useless... (5)

Aggrazel (13616) | more than 13 years ago | (#391204)

... until they figure out a way to download and print a Pizza.

"Hello, Domino's? Can you e-mail me a large pizza with mushrooms and extra cheese?"

But then, that might bring a whole new meaning to "Spam Mail" ... hmmm

Bad business model (5)

ryanr (30917) | more than 13 years ago | (#391205)

I wonder if they realize they are only going to sell a handful of these things... The first guy to get one of these printers is just going to print up more printers for his friends...

The next big thing in security: (5)

ryanr (30917) | more than 13 years ago | (#391206)

Trojan hardware.

The future... (5)

drivers (45076) | more than 13 years ago | (#391207)

In the future... motherboards may be nothing more than layers of nonconducting materials with thin conductors connecting various chips and sockets (into which other boards can be connected). Imagine the possibilities!

Woo (5)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 13 years ago | (#391208)

The same way that literacy, pencils, pens, ink, paper, and books destroyed the iron grip of the autocracy and nobility of hundreds of years ago, printable computers can break the grip of monolithic oligarchies dictating hardware and standards to people who don't need them.

Don't you have any sense of decency, to post such utter garbage in the first place, perdida?

(go ahead mark me as troll or whatever, it really doesn't matter)

Geek dating! []

Imagine... (5)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 13 years ago | (#391209)

a copy of Beowulf printed on a cluster of these...


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