Self-replicating self-replicators

Back in August, I posted something about a nifty 3-D printing product called the Desktop Factory. Commenter Doug Moore made the following wisecrack:

I have a better way to save money on a 3-D printer. Just print a 3-D printer and then return the original to the store.

Yes yes, ha-ha and all that, but yesterday I came across another 3-D printing tool that has the explicit goal of doing exactly what Doug’s talking about. The RepRap device (RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper) is being built by the ambitious Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath. He wants his RepRap to self-replicate (within certain limitations) so that everyone will have one, thereby eliminating the need for money for all mankind.

So he’s obviously crazy, and his Rube Goldberg replicator (RubeRep) is nowhere close to replicating anything very useful, let alone itself. But he’s very clever, and rhetorically he knows how to sell his story. Let us say that the human spirit is willing but the mechanical flesh, as yet, is weak.


I know all this because I listened to his talk at PopTech. It’s a darn good talk and I recommend it. Bowyer makes some compelling comparisons to biology, and I believe that something like this will eventually succeed. When it comes to replication, I always think of the garden. That lovely tomato in your hand was assembled on-site using solar power and locally available materials (dirt! air!). It’s an existence proof: we can do at least that well. Someday. You don’t need metals from Peru or petrochemicals from Brunei. You don’t need kilns, chillers, or pressure cookers. You do need cleverness, patience, and a healthy diet fortified with eight essential vitamins and minerals. We might manage it yet.