31 May 2006

Open Nanotech

Normally I wouldn't pay much attention to this story about producing mechanical components with industrial printers:

the company builds components by piling thin, patterned layers of ceramics, metals and other materials on top of each other and curing the individual layers as the structure takes shape.

These printed components, which consist of hundreds of layers, can also contain fully integrated moving parts, hinges or sealed air chambers.

What leant this otherwise routine piece of nanotech fluff some interest was a comment made last night by Alan Cox, for a long time de facto number 2 of the Linux kernel, and still very much a big cheese in the open source world (and a nice bloke too).

He was speaking at a question and answer session arranged by the British Computer Society's Open Source Specialist Group. Also present was Mark Taylor, founder and President of the Open Source Consortium, very plugged-in and switched-on, and a coder-turned-lawyer called Andrew Katz, whom I'd not met before.

Alan mentioned the idea of printing arbitrary objects one day, in exactly the manner described by the C|net piece above. I asked him whether he'd been talking with Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, who espouses similar ideas rather more fervently - indeed, he says that Project Gutenberg's open content is only the start of the the next industrial revolution, when everything - as in every kind of analogue object - will be downloadable and printable.

When two such different individuals have a blue-sky vision so similar, it makes you stop and think.

It's worth noting that open nanotech will have a huge advantage over proprietary versions, since the whole benefit from the technology will be putting together microscopic elements to build something useful. If each sub-part is proprietary and/or patented, it will be a legal minefield. If the elements are open and patent-free, the only limit is your imagination.

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