Ever since I learned about Fabbers some ten or so years ago I have always wanted one. How better to fulfill my childhood dream of building my own army of self-replicating EVIL ROBOTS? Fabbers have been around in one form or another for about two decades, but they’ve always been the pricey playthings of high-tech labs—and could only use a single material. Not so anymore thanks to a guy named Hod Lipson. And, he even made the plans open-source so you can build your very own.
To understand Fabbing, imagine a 3D ink jet printer that deposits droplets of plastic, layer by layer, gradually building up an object of any shape. To be really reductive, think of the Star Trek transporter when the crew gets "beamed-up." Pretty sweet huh?
So, here's the story. Hod Lipson wanted to design a really cool robot, one that could “evolve” by reprogramming itself and would also produce its own hardware. With a software driven brain it would have the ability to build itself a body. In order to do this, Lipson needed a rapid-prototyping fabrication, or what we know as a “Fabber.”
Check out this amazing video of Lipson and his student collaborators Dan Periard and Evan Malone, courtesy of Popular Mechanics:
“To really let this robotic evolutionary process reach its full potential,” Lipson, a Cornell University computer and engineering faculty member told Popular Mechanics, “we need a machine that can fabricate anything, not just complex geometry, but also wires and motors and sensors and actuators.” Lipson decided to put the problem to his team. The result? As you can see from the above video, they developed a low-cost, open-source fabbing system—Fab at Home. They also encouraged experimentation by starting an online wiki for hobbyists. People report printing with everything from food (Easy Cheese, chocolate), to epoxy, to metal-powder-impregnated silicone to make conductive wires.
A Fab at Home kit costs around $2400. Lipson compares it to early kit computers such as the MITS Altair 8800, which democratized computer technology in the 1970s. At-home fabrication, Lipson says, “is a revolution waiting to happen.”
As for that really cool robot Lispon was after to begin with? Wait a year, he says, and it really will walk out of the machine.