REVOLUTION-Destop Fabricator: Build Your Own Device Prototype!

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From the Who Needs VC Department comes an amazing development from Cornell.  The Fab @ Home poject has developed a desktop fabricator that will sell for under $2500.  For those of you not familiar with these devices check out the video- they are a marvel to watch!

In the past, developing a model of a device was an elaborate process of molding and carving.  I remember meeting the VP of R&D of a major surgical company a few yers back for a factory tour of his plant.  He showed me the decade old system they used to make models (useful for testing ergonomics of surgical devices, button placements, handle designs, etc).  I asked him why they did not used a prototyping device and he had no good answer.  maybe that’s why they no longer exist in the marketplace!

Back to the device.  You may have seen the ads in the back of PC Mag for the Versalaser.  This device uses a desktop laser to control a device that looks like a printer- only it uses a laser to cut and engrave an object to make 3D objects.  I always thought that was an amazing step forward for home modelling.

The new device is a a step forward to the next level.  This device literally builds a 3-D model out of plastic like materials creating a 3D prototype.  This could be the equivalent of the Guttenberg printing press for device development (and it’s open source)! 

As New Scientist reports:

The standard version of their Freeform fabricator – or “fabber” – is about the size of a microwave oven and can be assembled for around $2400 (£1200). It can generate 3D objects from plastic and various other materials. Full documentation on how to build and operate the machine, along with all the software required, are available on the Fab@Home website, and all designs, documents and software have been released for free.

These machines typically cost from $20,000 to $1.5 million, says Hod Lipson from Carnegie Mellon University, US, who launched the Fab@Home project with PhD student Evan Malone in October 2006.

“We are trying to get this technology into as many hands as possible,” Malone told New Scientist. “The kit is designed to be as simple as possible.” Once the parts have been bought, a normal soldering iron and a few screwdrivers are enough to put it together. “It’s probably the cheapest machine of this kind out there,” he adds.

The machine connects to a desktop computer running software that controls its operation. It then creates objects layer-by-layer by squeezing material from a mechanically-controlled syringe. A video shows a completed machine constructing a silicone bulb (16MB, wmv format).

Unlike commercial equipment, the Fab@Home machine is also designed to be used with more than one material. So far it has been tested with silicone, plaster, play-doh and even chocolate and icing. Different materials can also be used to make a single object – the control software prompts the user when to load new material into the machine.

Malone and Lipson hope Fab@Home will grow into a community of enthusiasts who share designs for 3D objects and even modify the machines for themselves. This will prompt the emergence of widespread personal fabrication, Lipson hopes.

“We think it’s a similar story to computers,” he explains. “Mainframes had existed for years, but personal computing only took off in the late seventies.” A cheap self-assembly computer called the Altair 8800, launched in 1975, sparked the rapid development of personal computing, he notes: “We hope Fab@Home can do the same for rapid prototyping.”

Check out the video link !

No doubt many a geek will want one of these to make his own star wars action figures.

See you at the million dollar design factory desk in my basement…

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