For a long time, there was only one:
A wondrous machine, capable of making micron level detail… from Brazil, which made it doubly cool.
Only problem was, the inventor decided to go the secret-squirrel route, killing his tree-of-innovation with patents and “IP” and proprietaryness etc… with the result that
a) everyone who saw this printer’s blog, was strung along by the scarcity of it, eager to buy, baited breath… and…
b)… it took forever and…
c) … the geekosphere fell upon it like eviscerating crows, pointing out dubiousity, and preferred open-source alternatives
So up it goes on Indiegogo, pulling in $100k (so far) but really wanting $300,000…
… and then another one turns up on Kickstarter.
There is more money in Kickstarter… and this one actually does have better specs than the other one… but the most important thing about it is that it’s open-source. This means that instead of all the innovation happening behind closed doors, executed by a small team (of one), it becomes a platform for innovation by anyone, anywhere, who’s interested.
The open variant has pulled down $140k so far (they only wanted $50k)… and still has 25 days to go. If memory serves, it achieved $100k in only two days.
I promise you, there is more money in open-platforms than closed products.
Meantime, the two main crowdfunding power-houses, kickstarter and indiegogo appear to have a new 3D printer variant turning up every week. If you search for “3d printer” you get these:
The overarching trend is a) shineyness of design and b) downwardness of price.
I’ll be really surprised if we don’t see a sub $100 kit within one year.
So how does this fit into the reprap ecosystem?… I’m not sure that this is what Adrian Bower had in mind when he talked about an ever-evolving ecosystem of machines… because hardly any of these machines are repraps… they’re repstraps – ie: they’re not made out of parts made by 3D printers – they’re made by laser-cutters and mills and so on.
I think environmental pressures (and culling) are still there… but the replication isn’t really replication at the device-level. It’s replication at the memetic level, and the machine is just a physical expression of the meme rather than being a replicator in its own right. This is still producing machines that are better and better adapted to the conditions in which they need to exist (ie: the intersection of price, speed, resolution, and material variety)… but the driver isn’t classical natural selection at the device level. It’s something else.
And I think this might mirror something that is beginning to happen in the “natural” world – in genetics. We’re seeing the beginnings of a change in how natural selection works… ie: the mutations are no longer blind, but directed… the variations are no longer the result of the mixing of the genes of two parents, but the result of external interference – “intelligent design”. It’s early days yet, but I’m guessing this will become more and more prevalent.
Lanzatech, The New Zealand waste-eating-microbes company, created the microbes by way of an evolutionary fast-breeder. (as far as I can gather) they accelerated the process of natural selection until microbes with the desired characteristics evolved. This is pretty cool… but I’m guessing that the future will be more to do with tweaking DNA directly… and you can tweak the DNA of far larger creatures. It’s already happening, courtesy of that bastion of corporate evil, Monsanto. It’s only a matter of time before we start tweaking ourselves… and who wouldn’t? The alternative is pain and death… and besides, I want to live in an Iain Banks novel.
Maybe this is “Unnatural Selection”… or maybe it’s evolution growing wings… and it is what machines have done all along anyway. I think the idea of natural-selection at a device level is a fallacy of perspective. It’s not the devices that are evolving, it’s the culture, and the culture steals whatever memetic DNA it wants, from anywhere. Everywhere… and it’s only a matter of time before human DNA becomes assimilated by The Culture.