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GNU is Not Unix Patents Hardware

3D Self-Replicating Printer to be Released Under GNU License 313

Rob O'Neill writes "A Kiwi open source developer is working on a self-replicating 3D printer, RepRap, to be made available under the GNU license. 'The 3D printer works by building components up in layers of plastic, mainly polylactic acid (PLA), which is a bio-degradable polymer made from lactic acid. The technology already exists, but commercial machines are very expensive. They also can't copy themselves, and they can't be manipulated by users, says Vik Olliver. RepRap has a different idea. The team, which is spread over New Zealand, the UK and the US, develops and gives away the designs for its much cheaper machine, which also has self-copying capabilities. It wants to make the machine available to anybody — including small communities in the developing world, as well as people in the developed world, says Olliver. Accordingly, the RepRap machine is distributed, at no cost, under the GNU (General Public License).'"
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3D Self-Replicating Printer to be Released Under GNU License

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  • GNU license? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sharkb8 ( 723587 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @06:35PM (#22994336)
    It's too bad that the GNU license doesn't cover a machine. It's for copyright. Copyright would cover the RepRap diagrams and schematics, however, the functional elements of the RepRap aren't covered by copyright. I suppose they could have patented aspects of RepRap, and licensed the patents under the GNU license, but I haven't seen anything like that. Anyone seen any patents or patent applications on this? (Zach over at NYC Resistor has a working model, it something to see in person)
  • Re:Real headline (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Farakin ( 1101889 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @06:36PM (#22994356)
    Actually the whole "it's free thing" is pretty cool. Where do I get one, and where do I buy this "paper"?
  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vrmlguy ( 120854 ) <(samwyse) (at) (> on Monday April 07, 2008 @06:46PM (#22994460) Homepage Journal

    New features include, for example, heads that can be changed for different kinds of plastic. A head that deposits low melting-point metal is in development, he says. The metal melts at a lower temperature than that at which plastic melts, which means the metal can be put inside plastic, says Olliver. "That means, in theory, we could build structures like motors."
    Of course, the main part of a motor usually consists of really long wires wrapped into coils. I'm not sure how well a non-wrapped version would work, but yes, in theory it's possible. More feasible would be building a jig to help me wind my own motor coils.

    Also, it sounds like it would be trivial to build a PC "board". It wouldn't have to be flat, and you wouldn't need to etch it. You could have places on your device to surface attach ICs.

  • by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @06:51PM (#22994518) Homepage
    Since this is (presumably) doing analogue-based copying, I imagine it's inevitable it would suffer from degradation between copies, similar to copies of old-school video/audio tape.

    And would interesting mutations get in, like in DNA replication, I wonder?
  • Re:GNU license? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sharkb8 ( 723587 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @06:53PM (#22994542)
    Any machines you make from the schematics are not covered under the GPL, only the schematics. As long as you use the schematics according go the GPL, you don't have to release any changes to the machine itself back into the public domain. Thus, as long as you're not modifying the schematics themselves, releasing them under the GPL is almost useless. And there's a lot of questions regarding the copyright protection afforded schematics as most of what schematics describe is functional ,and not artistically creative.
  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @07:06PM (#22994666) Homepage Journal
    Small orders of custom injected molded plastic never cost only $10.

    And $650 $45000.
  • Missing the forest (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @07:23PM (#22994812)
    I've been following the RepRap project for quite a while now. They have some really interesting ideas and a wonderful vision of the future.

    However, in my opinion (such a rare thing on the internet) they are so enthralled with their grand ideas that it prevents them from actually getting anywhere. From their point of view, any design that can not replicate itself (except the metal) is an inherent failure. The other properties of the machine only start to matter once that is achieved.

    While there is nothing wrong with the goal, it means that there is almost no drive at all to produce a machine that is practical for anything BUT duplicating its own plastic parts. Their design calls for basic, lumpy plastic bits and so there is no emphasis on better precision. They are only willing to use materials that can be made yourself, and so there is no chance of it working with better quality plastics. They have designed a machine that needs no small parts or detail work and so there is no emphasis on getting a print head design or motors that supports a better resolution, not that the current plastic could support a better resolution.

    Five years from now they are going to announce they they have been able to successfully create a machine that can cheaply and easily replicate itself and that now they will work on making it better. And not even /. will cover the announcement because there will be consumer machines on the shelves that don't cost that much more, are more dependable and can do useful work. And it's a real shame.
  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shrikel ( 535309 ) <hlagfarj&gmail,com> on Monday April 07, 2008 @07:23PM (#22994814)
    A lot of the wording on the site refers to an idealized version of the RepRap; i.e. what they hope to have someday. As of right now, they're still working on getting it to fabricate the plastic parts.

    Currently it only builds things out of extruded thermoplastic. But it would certainly be possible (and this is a future plan) to use other materials. From the plastic extrusion they're doing now, it's a relatively small step to add a solder-extruder as well, allowing for circuit boards to be assembled.

    Actually manufacturing semi-conductors is, granted, a little further off.

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tangent128 ( 1112197 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @07:34PM (#22994916)
    You can still make wrapped coils, methinks. Just build them up in cross-sections. The printing resolution would likely limit how tight you could get it, though.
  • Mod Parent up (Score:2, Interesting)

    by amirulbahr ( 1216502 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @07:50PM (#22995040)
    Some people seem to have difficulty grasping patents, copyright and trademarks. I guess that is what the people who exploit this group of concepts really want anyway.
  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Monday April 07, 2008 @09:59PM (#22995916) Homepage
    This kind of thing is coming, and it WILL revolutionize the world.

    Rapid prototyping and even direct-to-manufacture with the selective sintering machines is becoming much more accessible and widespread.

    Think of it as mimeograph and dot matrix from 20 years ago vs the mundane throwaway photo-quality walmart variety printers now.

    "Hang on, mama, I need to print out a new carburetor before we can go to the tractor pull!"
  • Re:The singularity (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @04:21AM (#22997814)
    Wrong. PLA is not composed of lactose but lactic acid ("milk acid") molecules esterified to form long chains. However, both lactose and lactic acid are found in various dairy products, hence the prefix lact-. Lactic acid is typically produced by fermentation from different carbohydrates, including lactose, which makes it more expensive than chemicals derived from petroleum. As an organic chemist I'm also quite confident that oil companies could come up with processes to make lactic acid from petroleum feedstocks if needed, if they already haven't.