As biologists are busy working on cloning living organisms, engineers are working on a mechanical counterpart - creating non-living things that can replicate themselves.
Recently, more than 100 researchers from around the world have been working on a project called RepRap (Replicating Rapid-prototyper), which started in 2004. At the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK, the team displayed their creation: the world's first 3D printer than can print pieces which can be assembled by hand to make an exact copy of the original printer.
The replica is no mule, either - it can also print another copy of itself.
So far, RepRap can only reproduce its plastic parts, and not its metal or electronics. It takes a human a few hours to assemble the copied pieces into another printer.
Nevertheless, RepRap is the first 3D printer that can reproduce its own components. And, with its pieces costing around $600, the printer is much less expensive than other 3D printers (which cost around $50,000). Besides replicating itself, it can also print plastic 3D objects including coat hooks, water-filter insects, children's sandals, and much more.
The RepRap collaborators hope that the printer can be useful for reproducing plastic objects of just about any shape, especially for hobbyists and communities in the developing world.
People already "run their own CD burners, printing presses and photographic laboratories", said Adrian Bowyer, the University of Bath mechanical engineer who launched the RepRap project. "There's no reason they shouldn't run their own factories as well."
At RepRap.org , you can find more information, including instructions for building your own replicating RepRap printer.
via: New Scientist