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timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the ulous dept.


Cory R writes "Neil Gershenfeld is an MIT professor and the director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms where he teaches a course called "How to Make (almost) Anything." In his book FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, Gershenfeld describes the current state of personal fabrication tools and the surprising impact that these tools have when made available to everybody from MIT students to villagers in India in the form of Fab Labs. Lots of fabrication techniques and some technologies are discussed including those that are still only in development today. The pace of development seems to be accelerating and as the capabilities of the tools advance, Gershenfeld predicts one day he will be able to drop the word "almost" from the title of his course." Read on for the rest of Cory R's review.

I first heard of Gershenfeld and this book after listening to a podcast of a discussion he participated in at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. I'm a programmer by day but in my pre-parenthood days, I played with a bunch of microcontrollers and simple robotics-related hardware (mostly motors and sensors). The idea of being able to fabricate anything I could think of appealed to me instantly.

Gershenfeld asserts that personal fabrication tools are developing along a path very similar to the one taken by computers. Computers were once large, expensive, complicated machines accessible only to skilled operators. Now they are much more accessible and have evolved to the point that most people can make use of them to some degree. Machine tools, at best, are still at the mainframe-stage of evolution but that is changing rapidly. What happens when machine-building machines, which can manipulate atoms and molecules, are as accessible as computers are today?

Well, it turns out that machines already on the market can give you a pretty good sense of what's in store. While not quite at the level of Star Trek replicators or Nutri-Matic dispensers from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (both, oddly enough, seem to be mostly used to make tea or something almost, but not entirely, unlike tea), fabrication machines are getting smaller, and cheaper. Some of the tools discussed in the book include:

  • desktop milling machines : affordable
  • sign cutters : novel uses including cutting copper sheets into traces for circuit boards
  • laser cutters : very expensive
  • waterjet cutters : very expensive but extremely useful
  • 3D printers : expensive and slow, but very cool
  • functional material printers : print resistors and capacitors into circuits a layer at a time
  • microcontrollers : powerful and cheap
  • CAD software : difficult to use
  • CNC machines : expensive, difficult to use
All of these tools are available to some degree but most are very expensive and all are quite complicated to use.

The longest section of the book is called "The Present". The section is about the current state-of-the-art and it alternates between a chapter of anecdotes and project descriptions and a chapter on some aspect of fabrication (e.g. cutting tools, CAD software, electronics, etc...). By keeping the practical or social discussion next to the technical discussion, Gershenfeld makes what could be dry technical details accessible and engaging. It makes the book and the central ideas accessible even to (or perhaps especially to) non-technical readers.

In fact, the author has been very careful to not include too much technical detail in the text of the book. There are notes at the end with slightly more info, and a pointer to a website with some of the actual schematics and Python source code, but it is still very frustrating for a technically inclined reader who immediately wants to dial in on some of the details. The book will age better because of this, but it will send many Slashdotters running to their favorite search engine looking for more information.

The book includes a lot of illustrations and diagrams. They are all in black and white but have an inconsistent presentation. Sometimes the photos are presented on a weird background that looks like a network of circles and squares while others have no background. There are several photographs of circuits that do not add anything other than to show you how simple the circuit is (often just a microcontroller and a couple of other components). You usually cannot even make out what the individual components are or how anything is wired up. There are many photos of the people at the center of the stories and those pictures do manage to convey a sense of the awesome impact the tools have.

So, what's missing from the book? Personally I would have liked to see the technical appendix greatly expanded. I understand that this information doesn't age well and I'm guessing the author (or wise editor) didn't want to elaborate on the technical details for that reason. Fab is written for a very general and broad audience. Enough technical details are presented to keep the geeks reading, but it mostly wouldn't discourage a non-technical reader with the possible exception of the chapter on electronics. For a lot of Slashdot readers, the book definitely leaves you wanting more.

The chapters are generally under 20 pages each and the writing is fluid and simple. The book has a table of contents and a comprehensive index and even though Gershenfeld doesn't cite other publications in the text, I would have loved to see a bibliography or other list of materials that expand on the topic of personal fabrication. A few pointers from the author to complementary material would have been appreciated. The book definitely piqued my interest and fortunately, a little research has shown this to be a very active subject.

The book ends with a rather defensive look forward. There are many who feel self-reproducing machines could basically take over the planet. Gershenfeld acknowledges this and answers with his belief that any negative technologies that emerge will be fought with countermeasures, like the virus-antivirus battle on modern PC's. It's pretty much inevitable that evildoers will acquire this technology, but Gershenfeld is optimistic that fab labs can help address the root causes for conflict, largely assuaging any threat.

In summary, if the idea of having your own replicator is appealing (hello tea lovers!) or if you are interested in a new approach to giving people around the globe the tools they need to help themselves, then you will enjoy and likely be inspired by this book. Just be prepared to look elsewhere for the minutiae. I rate this book an 8/10.

You can purchase FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

cancel ×



Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807027)

Can you believe it? The American legal system works!

No he wasn't (-1, Troll)

cc-rider-Texas (877967) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807140)

Re:No he wasn't (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807157)

F.A.B.! []

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807031)


news flash micheal jackson found not guilty (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807032)

just incase you guys havent heard about it.

How long (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807045)

until the Feed is available?

Re:How long (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807054)

Shut up dork.

Sorry, I love you.

Nah (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807660)

You meant the Seed, right?

*brought to you by the Fists of Righteous Harmony*

Except how to make an atom bomb (3, Funny)

caryw (131578) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807051)

How to make an atom bomb []

Are they even allowed to publish this kind of information? Or is it withheld under the PATRIOT act with the rest of our civil liberties?
NoVA Underground: Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax County forums and chat []

Re:Except how to make an atom bomb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807136)

Considering I got taught that in high school phsycics, you're a damn troll with that PATRIOT remark.

Of course, what we should worry about is all the terrorists trying to disassemble all of OUR atomic weaponry with the convenient instruction manuel provided by U2 [] (Any wonder they were named after a spy plane!?!?)

Re:Except how to make an atom bomb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807167)

Are they even allowed to publish this kind of information? Or is it withheld under the PATRIOT act with the rest of our civil liberties?

Depends on you. There have been several hearings, including this notorious one [] last week. (change link to "rtsp://*" or look for it on

Call your congressman.

Re:Except how to make an atom bomb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807621)

"The following paper is taken from The Journal of Irreproducible Results"

That should be enough information to answer your own question.

Almost? (2, Insightful)

NoseBag (243097) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807053)

"Gershenfeld predicts one day he will be able to drop the word "almost" from the title of his course."

Not until I can replicate the replicator.

Re:Almost? (2, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807072)

That's a good issue. How is a home replicator going to build devices that take a complex clean-room fabrication plant with all sorts of expensive equipment (like modern CPUs)? I mean, the dream of manufacturing small, simple commodity items out of easily workable/affordable materials is one thing, but you shouldn't slap around words like "anything"

Author of "The Nature of Mathematical Modeling" (1)

currivan (654314) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808147)

I was ready to discount this as the typical futurist hype until I remembered where I recognized his name from.

Dr. Gershenfeld is the author of The Nature of Mathematical Modeling [] , one of the best technical books I own on any topic. It's definitely worth a look if you want a concise overview of simulation, estimation, and machine learning algorithms.

Re:Almost? (1)

Foole (739032) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808503)

and Earl Grey tea.

Re:Almost? (1)

cold wolf (686316) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808700)

Then check out the self-replicating rapid-prototyper [] . It's a 3D printer of sorts that can even solder basic circuit boards (mirco-controllers included).

The best part? The inventor is releasing it free, as in SPEECH. Open hardware, open software. That, my friend, is called a disruptive technology.

Automated Fabrication (4, Insightful)

randall_burns (108052) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807066)

A few years I read Automated Fabrication by Marshall Burns. The point that he made was that these machines are very similar to fax machines in the early 60's-they exist, and are being used, but are clunky and unreliable compared to where they will be in a few decades.

Re:Automated Fabrication (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807124)

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't call fax machines reliable in the present.

Re:Automated Fabrication (3, Informative)

bradwill (583073) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807224)

During my undergrad years at UCLA I was an intern for Ennex Fabrication Technologies - Marshall Burns' company. I spent many, many hours fueled by pizza & Mountain Dew operating his prototype "automated" fabricator, so I know first hand how "clunky and unreliable" some fab technologies can be today. However, his vision was amazing and I hope that, like personal computers, they'll become smaller, faster, and cheaper as time goes by. Some of today's fab technology reminds me of Jobs & Woz building the first Apple out of wood in Jobs' garage. One can hope that the outcome will be similar. iFab anyone?

Weird Science (4, Funny)

Scud (1607) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807083)

I can't wait, finally a date!

Anybody have the source code for Kelly LeBrock? []

Re:Weird Science (1)

Trollstoi (888703) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807128)

Ooh, my childhood.... The remembrance of this film brings tears to my eyes. Can we finally achieve this?

Breaking Vegas (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807094)

Gee, I'll be able to make gaming tokens just like the guy did on "Breaking Vegas" (The History Channel).

Re:Breaking Vegas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807575)

Which will work great once every single chip in vegas is implanted with a rfid chip giving it a unique signagture. You can fabricate yourself some new legs after your current ones are broken.

Piracy (4, Insightful)

Poromenos1 (830658) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807102)

Imagine what proportions piracy will take when everyone can copy their favorite car instead of buying it. That doesn't mean that it won't cost anything, but there probably will be a few objects that will cost more to buy than copy...

Re:Piracy (3, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807131)

Two words: Mass production.

Building parts/objects for yourself doesn't benefit from mass production, and thus would tend to cost more. Perhaps some car components would have such a small margin in terms of mass production cost and personal production cost that it would outweigh transportation costs and profit margins for the auto manufacturers, but I doubt that most would.

Re:Piracy (3, Informative)

JesseL (107722) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807259)

You have to remember the reasons why mass production is usually cheaper. A couple assupmtions may not be valid any more.

1: Tooling. Lots of things usually require specialized tooling to manufacture quickly and efficiently. The cost of tooling can only be effectivly amortized when you use it a lot. This doesn't necessarily hold true when you can get same result with cheaper, more flexible tools.

2: Time. When you want to build a whole lot of something it makes sense to split up the job and assign people to different parallel tasks. This allows you to make more efficient use of labor. But the cost of the hobbyist's time is nil. They do it for fun.

Re:Piracy (1)

aduzik (705453) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807350)

WRT #1: It's reasonable to assume that manufacturers would also have access to cheaper, more flexible tools. This means that instead of Nissan building specialized machinery for Maximas, Altimas, and er... their other models, they'd just buy a whole bunch of generalized machinery and adapt it as orders demand. The end result: efficiency! Which means: cheaper cars for everyone (I hope).

The point I'm circuitously trying to reach? That manufacturing will become cheaper for your average enthusiast at a faster rate than it will for big manufacturers, but it's still going to be cheaper for them, too.

Re:Piracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12808165)

But then you start getting into the material costs of the product.

Simple example, it's actually difficult to bake a loaf of bread at home cheaper than what you can purchase it at the store, and that's just based on material cost, not including the cost of the actual cooking and labor (or the bread machine if so inclined).

When you order your steel in large sheets delivered by the freight car load, the "buy big, buy bulk" nature of pricing starts making a significant difference.

Re:Piracy (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808450)

Simple example, it's actually difficult to bake a loaf of bread at home cheaper than what you can purchase it at the store, and that's just based on material cost,

No, it's not. You just buy a few cents worth of flour, add water and put in the bread machine. It's much easier and cheaper than buying a loaf from the store. Plus you save the time of going down to the store, and the transport costs.

Re:Piracy (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808912)

You mean that $150 bread machine whose costs you need to amortize into each loaf, right? That bread machine that requires power each cycle, right? That bread machine that has to be prepped and washed and cleaned each time, right? That bread machine that wears out and needs to be replaced about every year or so, right?

That bread machine?

Re:Piracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12809530)

The numbers aren't nearly that bad. Basic bread machines are about $50, they usually last longer than two years, the power cost is only about ten cents. Really, I think the long term cost isn't an important difference either way. Clean up can be as easy as taking out the paddle and knocking off the crumbs.

Whether it's more convenient to buy bread or spend five or six minutes setting up the machine and then waiting three hours will vary from person to person. Most probably find buying easier, but you have to balance that against the taste of fresh bread.

Slicing the home made bread is probably more of a problem for many people; bread slicers are either easy and expensive or awkward and cheap. It is difficult to make satisfactory sandwiches using just a knife.

Re:Piracy (2, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807305)

Not for a long long long time.

There will be no way for a very long time to use the fabrication methods that are discussed here to make various types of metals and metal parts that are needed for cars. Various metal parts require special mechanical processes to be applied to them to get the necessary physical properties - ellasticity, toughness etc. Of-course if cars will end up being made from composite carbon materials, then maybe it would me more possible, but not before we stop using old methods of strengthenning metals - reheating it, heating it, cooling it in a cycle and other methods.

Re:Piracy (2, Interesting)

Lurking Zealot (716714) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807653)

Building parts/objects for yourself doesn't benefit from mass production, and thus would tend to cost more.

You're right, of course, that mass production is all about economies of scale. But distributed, personal-scale manufacturing has the potential to fuel innovation in a way that complements the centralized creation of manufactured goods. Specifically, folks who previously might not have been able to see their ideas turn into real hardware will be able to build stuff. In addition, putting small scale machine tools into high school and college labs will help remove some mysteries of manufacturing and (I would hope) inspire more folks from all backgrounds to develop interest in technology.

There will still be room for mass production. Personal scale manufacturing will just make the ecology of manufacturing more rich and complex (complex in a good way).

Now, before we get all breathlessly excited about this emerging category of new tools, remember that in every city there are lots of small to medium machine shops that employ lots of talented folks. I know some (I'm not one) who have machine tools in their garage and basements. Smaller, cheaper, computer-controlled machine tools will give more folks access, and it will allow those who are already skilled to buy more toys^h^hols.

A friend of mine has the motto that "Any worthwhile project for the house should result in the acquisition of another tool" Do you think I could justify one of these [] or these [] to help finish that shelf in the basement?

Re:Piracy (1)

LnxAddct (679316) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807684)

That is until the fab machines become so detailed that they can rearrange protons, neutrons and electrons (either from "soup" or from any surrounding matter or something like that), which will probably require nanobots and/or a hell of alot of energy unless some advances are made(which most likely will be). At that point, I just give it some matter laying around and it builds the same thing as though some company made it, with no real additional cost to me. The fab machine is a one time cost and if built cleverly, or using something like nanobots, you only need to know someone else with a fab unit and have their fab unit reproduce one for you. It'll change our entire economy and the way we live. No more need to really work for food and just some initial costs to buy the fab machine and maybe land. Depening upon solar or nuclear power sources at the time, energy probably won't be an expense either, afterall if fusion becomes a reality energy costs will drop to essentially zero. It should be an interesting future, I hope all that research going into aging and living longer pays off, because I'd really like to see this all one day.

Re:Piracy (2, Insightful)

TigerNut (718742) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807214)

I (used to) occasionally make mountainbike widgets on my milling machine, such as disc brake caliper adapters, rim brake booster arches, chainring bash guards, handlebar stems, and derailleur hangers, on my milling machine. I tried to focus on parts or sizes that weren't available in the general market or that someone needed but wasn't available on short notice, because in low volume, ANYTHING costs more to make than to buy, especially when you figure in the cost of tools (on top of your time - even at minimum wage). This fact disappointed a lot of people that figured that I should be able to make anything they could also buy at the local bike store, for 1/10 the price, because hey, you only have to pay for the metal, right?
The main convenience of home fab will be (or is) flexibility - you can effectively build good custom parts in low volumes. There is no economic viability to copying stuff you can already buy in the mass market, where the manufacturer has huge pressure to build it for the lowest possible cost.

Re:Piracy (2, Insightful)

cowscows (103644) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807552)

Right on. I had a friend's woodshop that I could use free of cost, and I built myself a number of pieces of furniture. Even when I assigned my time a value of $0/hour, I can't make a desk cheaper than some of the stuff you can get at office max. Basically, just buying the materials for myself costs as much as the whole desk does from a big store, because I'm not getting any sort of bulk discount. You can bet that ikea gets a sheet of OSB for a whole lot cheaper when they order it by the truckload. Hell, they probably have their own factory where they manufacture their materials themselves. Not to mention the fact that I don't have a machine to edge laminate, nor do I have a CNC router to cut out shapes in just a few quick minutes.

Now, the upside is, I can make totally custom stuff, completely suited to my needs. I also get a lot of enjoyment out of designing and building this stuff, so that's good too. But yeah, I've had friends ask me to make them stuff, but unless it's something creative and fun, I generally point them to or something. I can't make a boring bookshelf any cheaper than a huge factory full of robots and machines.

Re:Piracy (1)

Catbeller (118204) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808139)

Thinking about what you said about materials, I recall that the price of wood was jacked 300 percent back in 92 by the defacto wood cartel. The price of wood is virtually nothing, considering a lot of it comes from national forests given to the wood industry as a present from our representatives in congress, along with free logging roads. We are being reamed. Back in the 90's, a congressperson tried to hold hearings on how exactly the price of wood tripled overnight (I remember the industry blamed the newly elected Clinton - foreshadowing a lot of hot air - because he was going to be an environmental president - logic wasn't a factor) but the hearings stalled out. The wood cartel was too well connected to answer to the Congress.

Back to the noodling. Since we have the tools to make nearly anything we like, and what we need mostly is good wood at sane prices, it might be reasonable to plan for the future, end-running the wood cartel, by simply planting hardwood trees wherever possible, on our own property. We can cut down our own trees, make our own wood, bring back woodworking craftsmanship into our lives. Mennonites and the Amish sell hardwood furniture today using this method.

Another thought wanders in. Why are only lumber corporation allowed to wander into national forests and nick all the trees? Maybe, thinking crazy here, we could create some laws allowing interested citizens to choose, say, one tree every decade for his very own wood source. This isn't crazy; the wood companies think they are entitled, so why not a real person?

Re:Piracy (1)

bluGill (862) | more than 8 years ago | (#12809350)

If you want IKEA junk you are cheaper to buy from them. Want quality furniture made of real wood, something that will fetch high dollars 100 years from now in a antique store, then you can make it yourself for less.

IKEA is cheaper because they don't make the desk fit exactly where you want it. You have to settle for MDF (which is good for some things, but won't hold beauty like real wood). Eventully you scratch it, and the IKEA stuff is tossed, while the real wood is refinished again and again.

Re: Copying Classic Car Parts (1)

KidSock (150684) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807313)

Imagine what proportions piracy will take when everyone can copy their favorite car instead of buying it. That doesn't mean that it won't cost anything, but there probably will be a few objects that will cost more to buy than copy...

Yes, this is very interesting if you think about classic car parts for example. If there were a cost effective way to create the various doors, quarterpanels, trim, etc for that 57 bel air you always wanted then some very interesting things could happen.

Then mix in simplified CAD design and suddenly after-market modification could enter a new era.

Re:Piracy (1)

Clover_Kicker (20761) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807766)

Anyone here work in the auto industry? How many parts are required to build a car? How many different materials?

I can't see myself spending a whole weekend milling 50 different gaskets and the next weekend milling out 300 little plastic clips to hold the bodywork on and the next weekend ........

You'd still have to buy hoses, springs, seats, pipes, filters...

Well... (5, Interesting)

Blue-Footed Boobie (799209) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807107)

CNC machines : expensive, difficult to use

Well, I disagree. I am actually building a homebrew CNC router. Does it take time and some skill? Yes. Is it expensive? Depends, all the components for mine have cost ~$2,000USD.

Now, the ability to mfg anything that pops into my head is truly amazing! Many products I were thinking of buying, I am now designing my own versions - and planning on selling them too!

I think that is the big thing. Who needs to pay some Giant Mega-Corp when I can make the product myself?

Question. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807170)

What does CNC mean? k thx bye

Re:Question. (3, Informative)

Kiryat Malachi (177258) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807551)

Computer Numeric Control machining. Basically a catchall term for any machining process running off of a computer. Also known as CAM (Computer Aided/Assisted Manufacturing/Machining - pick your word depending on who you ask.)

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807211)

Where did you get the design? I'm curious, I've been thinking about this myself...

Re:Well... (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807275)

I have spent 1.5 years on my own 3D printer. It's moving in all dimensions and I made the soft necessary to print. I am struggling with the printing materials though.

Re:Well... (1)

mikelang (674146) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808686)

Maybe you submit photos when you finish? :-) (Best read with how-to-make ;-)

Fab is the first step (5, Funny)

HillaryWBush (882804) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807108)

We'll be able to solve all of the world's problems once scientists have invented magic.

Re:Fab is the first step (1)

paco3791 (786431) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807753)

"Technology, significantly advanced, is indistinguishable from magic." - unatributed

Re:Fab is the first step (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12808034)

The real quote is:
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
-- Arthur C. Clarke, "Profiles of The Future", 1961 (Clarke's third law)

Re:Fab is the first step (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12808717)

Hey, that's not what Steven Unatributed said in his address to the myxamelodian society in 1823!

Best thing is 3D highspeed inkjet bio printers (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807187)

so you can mass-fab DNA, cDNA, RNA, protein, and other biological output and measured material really fast (like 300,000 per second per printhead).

we have some in Husky colors here at the UW, they're super cool.

from small fabs come great discoveries.

Here's hoping... (1)

dubmun (891874) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807190)

a fabricated meatball sub will still taste like meatball sub.

Re:Here's hoping... (1)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807272)

that your fabricated lightsabre will slice limbs cleanly and not burst into flames like a fluorescent tube filled with gasoline.

Re:Here's hoping... (1)

Doctor Crumb (737936) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808628)

I'm pretty sure it'll taste like chicken, actually.

Neil is excitable, but not a very rigorous thinker (5, Interesting)

SnefruDahshur (844060) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807198)

Gershenfeld is a true believer in technology, but unfortunately does not hold a very critical or insightful views. His book, When Things Start to Think [] , is a simplistic and excited jog through future visions of technology that merely repeats general myths and expectations about how computers can learn to understand human behavior and emotions. Also, Gershenfeld would be more convincing if he had not claimed in a conference presentation to have studied the "eskimo" herding reindeer in Norway and making good use of mobile phones. Fancy that. The people are called Sami, and make just as good with mobile phones as any other scandinavian person.

Re:Neil is excitable, but not a very rigorous thin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807279)

>but unfortunately does not hold a very critical or insightful views

According to the mod rating of your post, neither do you!

I kiid, I keeed!

Looking forward to home car paintjob fabs (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807237)

Why buy it in basic black when you can get a fab to crank out some high-def logos with inkjet fabs that are durable and last as long as the standard car finish ...

think about it. you can have a rad car with fire curling around your headlights, a yellow Pikachu hopping on your roof, and doors with your name in lightning bolt cursive on it ...

all in iridescent colors that last decades.

Re:Looking forward to home car paintjob fabs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807269)

Good God - this technology must be stopped. Now!

Re:Looking forward to home car paintjob fabs (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807306)

Good God - this technology must be stopped. Now!

too late, the cat's been let out of the bag!

First it was people making their old cars into art cars - now people will decide what they want their car to look like - no more trying to find your car in a parking lot, because everyone will be unique who wants to be.

I predict 99 percent will be still almost the same, people have very limited imaginations today, but this too will change with time.

Which Asimov Foundation book (1)

dhanes (735504) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807270) the copy generator/fabricator first introduced?

I don't know (2, Interesting)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807310)

I can't help but think that a lot of this is bullshit. I mean, there's a lot to learn from his class and book for most people and that's great, but I think it's a ridiculous notion that most fabrication equipment will make it into home use. I mean sure, a lot of it's going to get cheaper in the future, especially a lot of the real high-end stuff (i.e. laser engravers) but it will never quite reach the point where a home user will have one. Even stuff that is affordable now like sign cutters is still expensive enough that most people wouldn't buy one unless they were using it to make money. Plus, while very cool, a sign cutter isn't actually that useful for making things, from what I've seen of the course it's mainly used for cutting out t-shirt transfer material and circuits. For both of those activities there are cheaper replacements -- kits for etching circuit boards can be bought for about $100 (some for less) and a basic screenprinting kit can be under $100, compared to a $500+ cutter (and that's if you cheap out, the ones they have in the lab are several thousand dollars).

I own a thermal printer and sign cutter, it cost more than the car I brought it home in and it's relatively cheap for what it is. I would have never considered buying it if I didn't intend to make money with it.

Re:I don't know (1)

KeensMustard (655606) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807526)

And also the manufacturing problems we have today aren't the same ones we will have in 20 years time. After all, right now we are entering (or maybe just past ) Peak Oil. Which means that in 20 years time Basic Material (long chain hydrocarbons) will be much, much more expensive - it will be the shortage of oil (for plastics and energy) not the method of manufacture that will drive the economics of fabrication.

Re:I don't know (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12808593)

it will never quite reach the point where a home user will have one.

Just like computers. Only ten will exist, and be owned by the richest kings of Arabia, etc., etc.

Never is a long time. Assuming humanity isn't wiped out soon, I would disagree with you strongly. Of course, for irony, it will probably see common home use soon after you die.

Re:I don't know (2, Insightful)

shawb (16347) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808801)

# "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
- Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

"There is no reason anyone in the right state of mind will want a computer in their home."
- Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977.

CAD software - I don't find it difficult to use (0)

Harry Balls (799916) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807374)

There's a startup company called Alibre [] that offers 3D solid modeling CAD software.
The lowest cost version, below $1000, handles anything that starts out with a solid block of material (for instance, milling a complex heat sink out of a solid block of copper, or turning some big jack screw out of a solid block of aluminum, things like that.
The medium priced version, $1500, adds sheet metal design to that.

I use their sheet metal CAD for things like server enclosures.
Very simple to use:
You start out with a flat rectangle of sheet metal (on the screen). Then you add a flange on the left side and a flange on the right side, with just a few mouse clicks, and - bingo! - you have a U-profile. Then you add studs and/or standoffs as needed, holes as needed and you have the bottom part of a sheet metal case.
Having designed the bottom part, you then proceed to design the cover and the front panel and the rear panel. Thus, you get a sheet metal box.
What is it?
A custom rack mount server case.
You can then generate 2D drawings from the 3D model, print out the 2D drawings and take them to a local sheet metal shop for a quote.

Re:CAD software - I don't find it difficult to use (1)

vik (17857) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808534)

We're using ArtOfIllusion [] at RepRap. It does STL output, is cross-platform (Java-based) and it's free, Free, FREE!

Vik :v)

I love one line (1)

suitepotato (863945) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807413)

All of these tools are available to some degree but most are very expensive and all are quite complicated to use

Compared to getting Nagios up and running, fabricating the milling machine BY HAND from scrap aluminum is frigging child's play.

Come to think of it, you can go look up a book series on exactly that and find out for yourself.

Fab(Fab) (1)

umbrellasd (876984) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807435)

Once they invent a Fab Lab Fabricator, we're done.

Not unless they fab brainwashing nanomachines... (4, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807561)

It's pretty much inevitable that evildoers will acquire this technology, but Gershenfeld is optimistic that fab labs can help address the root causes for conflict, largely assuaging any threat.

I'm afraid that's a pretty materialistic analysis - assuming scarcity of goods is the root of all conflict - and it misses at least two other root causes that are not easily addressed by improved production.

The first is psychopathy. About 1% of the human race has a mental defect that amounts to having no conscience. Think "color blindness", but with moral behavior / internalizing others' pain, rather than color. (Another couple percent learn to act as if they have no conscience, but that's a social/upbringing issue.)

A large fraction of these people don't learn how to compensate, and a lot of those don't think ahead to long-term consequences to themselves from their actions. Such people will do whatever pleases them, which includes such things as creating a new virus (computer style or molecular, depending on available technology) just to see how much havoc it can cause.

Improving production won't address this root cause. Indeed, to address it directly may require brain surgery or its nanotechnological equivalent. This may be within the scope of the fabrication technology. But deploying technology to rewrite peoples' brains in order to suppress a class of destructive behavior starts down a very slippery slope.

A second is ideological: Adherence to a belief system (especially a political and/or religious belief system) allowing, or even prescribing, the initiation of deadly force in response in various situations.

If such a situation is perceived, the adherent with access to such technology may utilize it to create the deadly force. And in a classic case of asymmetric warfare, empowering individuals simply increases the ability of small numbers of people to create large amounts of damage. (Examples: Adherents to a confused splinter of such an ideology, mainstreamers who have perceived a threat where none existed, or mainstreamers who perceived an ACTUAL threat and overreacted).

"Addressing" this "root cause" would again involve attempting to modify peoples' mindsets. And most such ideologies include, at the top of the list of situations where deadly force is mandated, attempts to suppress the ideology. "Addressing the root cause" creates the very apocalypse you're trying to prevent.

This is not to say that the technology should be suppressed: On the contrary. It holds enormous promist for actually eliminating the root causes of many sorts of conflict. And it may be enabling for real solutions that would demotivate some of these hard cases. Cheaper resources are generally good for problem solving, making more solutions accessable.

But counting on it to "address", or even "help address", ALL the "root causes of conflict", IMHO, expects too much from it. Some of these will need solutions that don't come out of fabrication technology.

Re:Not unless they fab brainwashing nanomachines.. (1)

Saeger (456549) | more than 8 years ago | (#12809008)

The elimination of most material scarcity through molecular manufacturing [] will go a long way towards reducing conflict [] in the world, but you're right that there will still be the psycho element to contend with.

There can be no paradise on earth as long as the nastier bits of our evolutionary psychology are still holding us back. Egomaniacal, power-hungry, sociopaths (many of whom are now CEOs and politicians) may have been genetically successful in the past, but with increasing technological power, that mindset becomes a liability for net-positive happiness in the world. It's a good thing, then, that a biological solution [] , and a non-biological solution [] , will emerge parallel to the growing threat of exponentially more powerful tech in the hands of mostly static primate brains.

Product design is a major problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807569)

You can make many parts of things using a relatively inexpensive machine. The trouble is all the parts you can't make. No matter what kind of machine you have, there are parts it can't make. The trick is to re-design products so all the parts can be made on the same machine. The issue is mostly product design. This is a software problem as much as anything else. With a simple enough user interface, the possibilities are vast. But we aren't there yet.

Just as an exercise, try to imagine how a machine might make something as simple as a coffee maker given just raw materials. It's not at all a simple problem.

The end of Standardization = good? (1)

Antisquark (872405) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807580)

Ok, so perhaps not EVERYONE will redesign their car, bed, desk, house, etc. but the implications for repairs and regulation seem pretty clear.

It'd be great to see everyone driving/flying their own personal reinventions of the wheel, but I pity the repairman who has to try to fix them by the road, even if he can fabricate the necessary parts and tools on the spot. How the hell does he know if he's done it right? Nearly everything he works on is unique, subtly or flamboyantly.

I pity the regulator who has to tell a million proud inventors why their particular new craft is not just inefficient and unsuited to current traffic conventions, but intrinsically lethal to themselves and others. Hot-rodding isn't really a good example, because the non-superficial rebuilds take enough equipment and time to guarantee a fair amount of knowledge/seriousness. Plus, the parts are standard, even if their use may not be.

It's like hacking with real-world objects. Some will be talented and great at it; the majority will be uninspired, petty, and just plain irresponsible with it.

That being said, I can't wait to download BMW's latest and greatest from Limewire.

Re:The end of Standardization = good? (1)

MAdMaxOr (834679) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807724)

Do you think anyone would actually repair anything? I would hope that there's a universal garbage disposal that disassembles whatever you've fabbed into raw materials, and then you'd start over.

"Sorry sir; you're gonna need a complete rebuild." (1)

Antisquark (872405) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808357)

Terrible words to hear from a mechanic, these days.
For small items, no, clearly not.

For larger things; yes, I think it's possible. given the time, energy, and materials probably required to create an entire new vehicle vs. creating and installing a part, I think repair would often be preferable to complete reconstruction. That's assuming, of course, that the thing has been built with the possibility of repair in mind (which is, admittedly, a pretty big assumption).

I agree that this manufacturing model would make recycling even more of a necessity than it is now.

Actually easier to repair (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807851)

Things built in a home fab will be different from those built in a factory. Factory built stuff is built to be cheaply made in a factory. Home fabbed stuff will be built to be easily assembled. Anything easily assembled is easily disassembled, repaired and reassembled. ie. Things that are now throw-away will become repairable. This has to be good for the environment.

Save Some Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12807594)

Get FAB [] cheaper here. You save more than $3!

nice hobby (3, Insightful)

cahiha (873942) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807750)

It doesn't take an MIT scientists to do those things. Go and look at hobbyist magazines on woodworking and metalworking: they are full of these kinds of computer-controlled tools. It's kind of ironic that good old American hobbies are being sold by futurists and scientists as the next great thing.

However, all of those devices are still far from being "desktop fabs": they cannot create complex machinery, they require manual intervention, they require expertise to operate, they require expensive manufactured manufactured materials, and they certainly cannot replicate themselves. It will take a lot of engineering to address those problems, and that kind of engineering will not come from a bunch of publicity-hungry futurists.

At the Fab Lab (4, Insightful)

NickFusion (456530) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807801)

I've had the opportunity to use the Fab Lab in Boston, and it has been a wonderful experience, but it has some drawbacks too.

The biggest source of dissapointment is that, due to litigation concerns, the Boston Fab doesn't have access to the same breadth of equipment as some of the labs abroad. That being said, there is a lot of interesting stuff to be done there. So no TIG welder for me (or the plasma cutter. Damn!)

The biggest challenge is ditching preconceptions of what can and can't be accomplished with the current technology, and learning to work with the available materials. Bring on the plexiglass, cardboard, wood and PCBs. And machining wax, for making molds.

I have a few pictures up from my first session (he cringed): Fab Lab Pics [] .

I should have some more pictures of finished projects up soon, and those I'll post on the Fab Lab site, SETC [] .

My homebuilt router (3, Interesting)

chroma (33185) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807844)

This is a subject that has interested me for quite a while now. The biggest limitation at the moment seems to be the software that is needed in order to make complex objects.

I've designed and built a computer controled (CNC) 6-axis router using easily available parts. I estimate that the whole thing could be built for $500-$1500, depending upon how good you are at scrounging parts.

I have a gallery of photos at CNCZone, as well as a [] site for the control software [] at SourceForge.

Open Source RepRap Project (3, Informative)

thefon (718807) | more than 9 years ago | (#12807866)

Soon you can make your own fabricator! []

A universal constructor is a machine that can replicate itself and - in addition - make other industrial products. Such a machine would have a number of interesting characteristics, such as being subject to Darwinian evolution, increasing in number exponentially, and being extremely low-cost.

A rapid prototyper is a machine that can manufacture objects directly (usually, though not necessarily, in plastic) under the control of a computer.

The project described in these pages is working towards creating a universal constructor by using rapid prototyping, and then giving the results away free under the GNU General Public Licence to allow other investigators to work on the same idea. We are trying to prove the hypothesis: Rapid prototyping and direct writing technologies are sufficiently versatile to allow them to be used to make a von Neumann Universal Constructor.

CP / Diamond Age Weapons Fabs, Insurance (1)

Mittermeyer (195358) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808141)

There is a dark side to the fab, highlighted in that good ol' RPG Cyberpunk and of course with more flair in The Diamond Age, namely-

-people making weapon systems with these things.

Imagine if the Sunni/Baathist/aQ types could fab high quality gun tubes or missile parts- a lot more Strykers would be dead.

The chaos inherent in the release of unlimited fab powers was a major element in both these futures.

And of course there is the dark Ogre future in which the fabs are controlled by nuclear-armed AI tanks, kind of Colossus with treads and an attitude.

The logistics of war might more closely resemble a Command and Conquer game then the age-old 'make what you fight with, bring it with you', but with a dizzying design and counterdesign fight measured in hours rather then months or years.

On a more mundane level, I expect a lot more accidents due to poor QA of 'homemade' items. Ultimately a condition will be placed on most insurance policies that if it is not UL-rated any losses incurred by using home/garage fabbed appliances and gizmos will not be covered.

I mean seriously, do you trust the average person to make a toaster that won't explode?

On the other hand, we could really see a rebirth of American cottage industrialism. Just consider all those car customization shops out there, then apply that to all manner of consumer products. Could be good.

Re:CP / Diamond Age Weapons Fabs, Insurance (1)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 8 years ago | (#12809169)

I've got an interessting tid-bit on that: Rumor has it that Lego dropped their Mindstorms Line not because it wasn't profitable, but it was to easy for people to built hellmachines (bombs, traps, etc.) with them and thus various officials forced them to drop it.
A rumor of course, but an interessting one nonetheless.

Rapid prototyping, etc (3, Interesting)

John Carmack (101025) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808204)

I have a good sized CNC mill in my garage that I use practically every week to make various rocket parts. It is certainly cool, but the realities of tool reach, work holding, and chip removal make it more of a "super power tool", rather than a free-form-fab.

The various technologies that essentially rasterize arbitrary parts are what excite the imagination, but I don't expect any radical changes in society any time soon from them. Stereolithography is pretty mature, and getting arbitrary parts rasterized in plastic is fairly common today. However, in 99% of the cases, these are still used as models / proof of concept / R&D, not actual manufacturing, because they are drastically more expensive than, say, injection molding, and more mechanically limited. There are a lot of technologies touted for rasterizing 3D metal parts, but I spent some time recently trying to find a place to fab modest sized rocket engines, and none of the companies I spoke with were able to handle it for various reasons.

I do expect this to become very exciting, but it is several years away. The excitement won't be about fabricating things that you currently buy (conventional mass production will retain significant cost benefits), but allowing low cost R&D. When you can send an arbitrary 3D CAD model over the net to a company with a metal rapid prototyping machine (they will remain expensive for quite some time) and get your part overnighted to you in a couple days with no setup fees, you will be able to iterate design cycles twice a week at quite low expense. You can do this today with plastic, and in some limited cases of small metal parts, but when you can start doing it in significant engineering materials that can be used in functional prototype machines, lots of new opportunities will arise.

John Carmack

Re:Rapid prototyping, etc (2, Interesting)

Oooius (882757) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808420)

I'm familiar with CNC, Stereo Lith, and variations that use metals, ceramics, etc. The problem is, you can't make most of the things people find interesting - how about a pen? A book? Anything electronic? Anything with parts that are made of more than one material? How about an electric motor, necessary for half the gadgets in your house? The only things these kinds of technology will allow you to make are relatively simple mechanical things, which if you think about it, aren't very interesting. Almost all the mechanical things I'd want in every day life (apart from car parts) are availble from Target for next to nothing already. Once again, a so-called futurist proves to be purely for entertainment value :)

Re:Rapid prototyping, etc (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808662)

You can do this today with plastic, and in some limited cases of small metal parts, but when you can start doing it in significant engineering materials that can be used in functional prototype machines, lots of new opportunities will arise.

There is, after all, no super-material. To design complex machines, the differing properties of materials are often exploited. And in electronics, we still need some pretty rare earth elements.

These problems may be lessened by nanotechnology, where it is possible to create materials that 'behave differently' but made of the same source substance. Rare and difficult-to-work-with materials are still going to be a problem.

Re:Rapid prototyping, etc (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12808693)

You mean like this place [] ? I haven't dealt with them but I've been tempted given the shoddy quality of PC parts (I build my own PCs). The only problem is you really want to be able prototype variations to fine tune a design before you commit to a production run.

I think part of the problem is they no longer make generic parts that you can custom build from any more. It's all custom made and not reusable for any other purpose. It will only get worse until the ability to customize becomes cheap and ubiquitous.

misleading subject yet again (1)

Pollardito (781263) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808223)

i just assumed this was going to be about The Beetles. one of these days i'm going to click into a topic with no surprises

Communities (2, Interesting)

Renraku (518261) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808275)

What if people in communities banded together to buy a super-expensive laser-design-type machine for cutting metal/plastic?

Just so you could make widgets for fairly cheap. Invention rates +1000%.

Open Source Fabricators (2, Interesting)

vik (17857) | more than 9 years ago | (#12808507)

It's a field in which the Open Source community are already active, and as with the software industry it's hard to get something in print before it gets out of date. As reported earlier on Slashdot, the RepRap Team (and I'm one of 'em) are going for the materials deposition route as per []

We believe that this is the easiest to implement of the designs listed by Professor Gershenfeld, in a way that will be capable of producing the majority of its own parts. Open Source, shareable hardware. The sooner we get MkI out, the quicker others will be able to develop it - and the harder it is for anti-social types to patent what we're going to be doing.

We've devised a way to deposit a low melting point but durable plastic called Polymorph - it's recyclable - and have also deposited a low-temperature solder as an electrical conductor.

While the project may appear a simple affair, it really does need to be. It's about more than just re-inventing the glue gun; the RepRap will be capable of fabricating itself, and so the simpler the design the less work we have to do. Sometimes, simple is hard.

Vik :v)

Start Trek (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12808554)

Yawn...Wake me up when I can say "Earl Grey, hot."

say good bye to gun control (1, Interesting)

tjic (530860) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808613)

In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson proposed HEAP [] (Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod - an open source recipe for homebrew firearms.

In Hardwired [] , Walter Jon Williams talked about CNC machines spitting out custom firearms.

It is already the case that one can, with some skill and difficulty, make a reasonable firearm using desktop machine tools [] .

Sherline, maker of the preeminent hobbyist desktop lathe and mill, is already shipping turn-key desktop CNC [] machines, based around linux boxes.

Technical Video Rental [] rents out DVDs on how to build firearms from scratch.

All these trends are accelerating, and about to converge.

In 20 years, no matter what the politicians say, gun control is going to be DEAD.

A linux box + a $1k three axis desktop mill + some scraps of steel + = downloadable firearms.

$`goat (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12808776)

and shower. For downward spiral. In FrreBSD project, big deal. Death filed countersuit, I know it sux0rs, BSD fanatics? I've Yes, I work for baby...don't fear

Real estate expense instead of product expense (1)

heroine (1220) | more than 8 years ago | (#12808819)

So basically instead of spending huge amounts of money on products, the machine tools of the future will make us spend huge amounts of money on space to use them. Maybe it isn't the machines but the availability of useful floor space which gives India/China such an advantage.

It costs $4 for 1 sq ft of useful floorspace in U.S. every month, with power, allowable noise levels, acceptable environmental impact, and proximity to a day job to pay for these machines.

You'd need at least $4000 of floor space every month to run the machine tools to produce anything useful. There's no way anyone can afford that unless they're a CEO.

Meanwhile kids in India are buying mansions by the age of 25 from their lucrative software testing jobs.

When having personal machine shops becomes necessary, it's going to make success a matter of who can afford the floor space. It definitely isn't going to be u.s..

Invisalign (2, Interesting)

samkass (174571) | more than 8 years ago | (#12809113)

My previous employer was Align Technology, Inc. [] ("those invisible plastic braces"). This guy sounds like he looked at what they were doing years ago and wrote a book about it. They can scan hundreds of molds a day, and probably output over 20,000 aligners a day, each a unique rigid 3D plastic shell that's accurate to less than 0.1mm in all three dimensions, then cut exactly along the gumline according to a precise algorithm, sanitized, and packaged.

Anyone interested in this stuff would probably get a kick out of the Quicktime manufacturing video [] they did a couple years ago. It briefly goes over being able to scan a 3D mold extremely accurately and quickly, model the dentition on 3D workstations and build a case, make the aligners, cut them out of the mold, and package them.

I believe I heard while I was there that, at the time, they had more 3D Stereolithography machines on-site than any other facility in the world. One of my jobs there was to help write the distributed computing system that processes the 3D data on a rack of servers to prepare them for manufacture. It's incredible how much data you can churn in a day.

Although the materials are as expensive as the machines these days, I agree with him that it's all becoming very accessible. There's no fundamental barriers, so far, anywhere near this technology... it's all down to getting people to come up with applications that will drive early adopters (like Align,) and getting people to write the software that will drive these machines to do EXACTLY what you want, which is tricky stuff.

Taking over the planet (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 8 years ago | (#12809343)

There are many who feel self-reproducing machines could basically take over the planet.

There are others who would say this has already happened.

Will cause violent death of patents (1)

argoff (142580) | more than 8 years ago | (#12809514)

I can almost guarantee you that some people will see the whole purpose and meaning of the FAB age to extract patent and usage royalities for unlimited growth and profit. They will attempt to extend patents forever (like copyrights today) and they will attempt to enforce royality collection using violent and coercive means (because copyrights are information, physical coercion of individuals will not work well, but since most patents are physical by nature physical coercion will be the most obvious strategy). With the ability to create weapons at your disposal, it will make the civil war and the death of the plantation system look like a peace walk. People will make the usual bullshit arguments like "it's my property"

Watch for it to happen in 30 years or so (it could be longer, but at the rate of progression I don't think it will) , watch countries like China to be a real problem here as their society will likely eventually adopt patent controlls, but will not have the culturial and physical restraints like western founded societies.
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