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3D printers or the dream of machines that replicate themselves

Now that the open-source concept has migrated from software to hardware- see open-source car (OScar), phone (Openmoko), house (OS-house)- it’s the right time for a hackable robot that can make “nearly anything”, even copies of itself.

“We started Makerbot because we wanted a 3D printer and we couldn’t afford one,” explains MakerBot co-founder Bre Pettis. “And when we solved the problem of making a cheap 3D printer we made it available to everyone”.

The MakerBot Cupcake CNC is a computer numerical controlled machine that “prints” things in plastic (toys, jewelry, and even often nonexistent, replacement parts). Its creators are self-described open source nerds who have kept all their work open- design files, board files, schematics for the electronics- so that their work can be improved upon.

Not only can you make yourself a MakerBot Cupcake using all the open files, but once you’ve made it, you can then “print” out another to give away, so the machine self replicates.

What makes the CupCake printer so popular are all the Creative Commons design files that live on a MakerBot-backed website called Thingiverse.

“Up until now you’ve been able to download books, you’ve been able to download movies, you can download music, well, now you can download things,” says Pettis of his site which now has about 4000 objects to be shared. “You can design things and share them and release it under a creative commons or open source license and then other people can build on it and stand on your shoulders and then you can stand on their shoulders.”

In this video, Pettis takes us inside Brooklyn’s (NY) MakerBot Industries where he shows us MakerBot production and his favorite thing to do (a visit to Thingiverse). It’s a bit of a Batcave, but a fitting home for this generation’s Homebrew Computer Club.