[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ-aWFYT_SU&w=560&h=315]

Have you heard about this?  Zcorp, out of Burlington VT, has released a consumer version of their 3d printer.  This printer uses a powder with a binding agent to print actual objects – like machine parts, tools, and much more.  The finished objects seem to be plastic-like and they’re limited in size to the size of the printer, so you couldn’t actually print out a couch or a car (though you might be able to print out some of the pieces).  You also have to have the skill and technology to either scan (in 3d) the object you want to duplicate or architect it from scratch in CAD, but the applications are still sort of mind-boggling.

I’ve been reading “The Highest Frontier” by Joan Slonczewski.  It’s set about 100 years in our future and is about a young college student attending an off-world university.  Instead of packing up and carting all her precious belongings 22,000 miles to her new dormitory, she just orders everything up and has it printed at her destination.  As someone who has experienced moving a student into a dorm, in August, in Oklahoma, on a very full campus where we had to park at least a mile away, I can definitely appreciate the idea of this!

It’s just that, when I look at all the fancy things that come out of this revolutionary printer, they don’t seem quite real.  There’s an awkwardness about the pieces – almost like they’re toy replicas of the real thing.  I’m sure in the manufacturing world that’s perfectly fine, but do I want to surround myself with these sorts of things in my home?

There is a beauty in the limited application – I’m always finding myself needing some special little piece to make something work.  But then there’s also a beauty in those situations forcing me to reinvent what’s available, which usually ends up in a better, more creative alternative.

I worry too about the ways the world might change if we had the ability to replicate whatever we want in a few clicks of the mouse.  Would we walk away from making things by hand altogether?  Or would the hand-crafted maybe become more valuable? What do you think?