RepRap, The GPL'd Replicating Rapid-Prototyper.
The RepRap Project (http://reprap.org) is designing a practical Von Neuman replicator using commonly available and low cost raw materials, while keeping the whole thing - software, tools, utilities, documentation and designs - Open Sourced. We expect RepRap to evolve on contact with the real world, as people improve the design and range of materials it can handle. The project was conceived by Dr. Adrian Bowyer in early 2005, and formal funding from the Nuffield Foundation started it off the following June.
Dr Bowyer has made many presentations on the project and has made his material available to me. Some of our papers are at (http://reprap.org/docs.html)
Bootstrapping the design is accomplished with existing FDM rapid prototyping techniques (http://www.stratasys.com) coupled with Open Source design software such as Blender and ArtOfIllusion (http://artofillusion.org). Old-fashioned Meccano and Veroboard are also employed, producing curious hybrids. Dr. Bowyer and myself share designs and equipment, teleworking across the globe.
Simple designs obviously require less complex manufacture; and simple is sometimes incredibly hard. Existing prototypes use low melting point solder or conductive silver paint to form circuits, and EVA, ABS plastic or a nylon-like material called Polymorph for more structural parts - and cake icing for removable supports. Current status can be seen at (http://reprap.blogspot.com)
We've allowed some pre-manufactured parts such as chips, power supplies, nichrome, bolts and motors but it all has to be readily available in places from Afghanistan to Zaire. We are even investigating building materials which can be fermented from corn or dairy waste, and extruded like polyethylene.
The problems faced by RepRap are similar to that of the drive for nanotechnology, and some of the solutions are likely to be similar. Though RepRaps are not nanoscale, they may be capable of producing the tools and reagents.
There are several implications for this technology besides creating an evolving machine that will change to suit local resources and requirements. Manufacturing capacity can be increased by making more RepRaps exponentially. It is envisaged that designs for RepRap components and artifacts will be openly distributed. The current equipment can be taken to Dunedin for live demos etc. Vik has made several presentations for the New Zealand Computer Society, as a guest lecturer at Massey and for the New Zealand Linux Users' Group some of which have included RepRap-like technology. All presentation materials used will be under GPL/GFDL-compatible licences, and for once this includes the hardware!
Vik is a longhair programmer/developer/artist with workshops in the Waitakere rainforest. He fights fires, programs PIC and PCs, raises kids and cats, welds, cuts, cooks and grows hydroponics for space research. Specialisation is for insects.
Adrian Bowyer's PhD was in tribology at Imperial College in 1979.
He was the first person to create a computer model of friction that calculated what would happen when two digital maps obtained from real rough surfaces were slid over each other. Since then his primary areas of research have been geometric modelling, geometric computing, and their applications in the design and improvement of CAD systems. His secondary, and more recent, area of research has been biomimetics.
Bowyer is one of the two authors of the standard Bowyer-Watson algorithm for computing Voronoi diagrams, which is used all over the world in areas as diverse as geography and finite-element analysis. He was responsible for the development of the world's first (and so far still the only) CSG geometric modelling kernel that can work in euclidean spaces of any number of dimensions, and for its use in the computation and deployment of full configuration-space maps to allow the path planning of movements of multiple objects between multiple obstacles.
He is the co-author of a standard book on geometric computation (A Programmer's Geometry, with John Woodwark).
He is now primarily engaged in a project to create a von Neumann Universal Constructor using rapid prototyping. Details can be found at <http://reprap.org> on the web.Coauthor: Ed Sells not in Database