21 July 2006

Open Source Planes

First cars, then trains, now planes. New Scientist is reporting that it is now possible to create almost an entire plane by "printing" the components:

In rapid prototyping, a three-dimensional design for a part - a wing strut, say - is fed from a computer-aided design (CAD) system to a microwave-oven-sized chamber dubbed a 3D printer. Inside the chamber, a computer steers two finely focussed, powerful laser beams at a polymer or metal powder, sintering it and fusing it layer by layer to form complex, solid 3D shapes.

Two things are interesting here. First, this is precisely what Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, has been predicting for years. Indeed, he sees Project Gutenberg, which essentially lets you print your own books, as just the first, quite small step in the next industrial revolution, where physical objects will be printed routinely.

Secondly, note that the parts are printed under the control of a software program. So if the program and the data are open, this means that effectively the physical object will also be open. As usual, openness brings with it all the usual advantages of speed and lack of redundancy - you can re-use parts or parts of parts in other designs to create quickly entirely new objects.

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