Robots that can self-improve and machines that “print” products at home are technologies soon to become increasingly available, said Cornell’s Hod Lipson
Nextbigfuture covered Hod Lipson’s talk in 2010 at the foresight conference.
Factory @ Home: The Emerging Economy of Personal Fabrication (103 pages)
Robots can observe and reconstruct their own behaviors and use this information to adapt to new circumstances.
Such advances are important because self-reflection plays a key role in accelerating adaptation by reducing costs of physical experimentation, he said. Similarly, the ability of a machine to reconstruct the morphology and behavior of other machines is important to cooperation and competition. Lipson demonstrated a number of experiments on self-reflecting robotic systems, arguing that reflective processes are essential in achieving meta-cognitive capacities, including consciousness and, ultimately, a form of self-awareness.
In a second talk (Feb. 21), Lipson discussed the emergence of solid free-form fabrication technology, which allows 3-D printing of various structures, layer by layer, from electronic blueprints. While this technology has been in existence for more than two decades, this process has recently been explored for tissue engineering. In particular, new developments in multimaterial printing may allow these compact “fabbers” to move from printing custom implants and scaffolds to “printing” live tissue.
His talk also touched on his experience with the open-source Fab@Home project and its use in printing a variety of biological and non-biological integrated systems. He concluded with some of the opportunities that this technology offers for moving from traditional biomaterials to digital tissue constructs.
Conclusion of Factory @ Home: The Emerging Economy of Personal Fabrication (103 pages)
Personal-scale manufacturing machines use the same fabrication methods as their
larger, industrial ancestors, but are smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. Home-scale machines, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with the right electronic design blueprint, enable people to manufacture functioning products at home, on demand, at the press of a button. These
technologies make manufacturing accessible to everyone; for the first time, designing and making custom objects is cheap, easy, and fun. Recent rapid technological advances in design software and personal manufacturing machines, combined with shrinking costs of machines and materials, increasingly active and helpful online user communities, plus most peoples’ tendency to conduct more and more daily activities online, will tip personal fabrication from the realm of hobbyists and pioneers to the mainstream.
Personal manufacturing technologies will profoundly impact how we design, make,
transport, and consume physical products. As manufacturing technologies follow the
path from factory to home use, like personal computers, “personalized”
manufacturing tools will enable consumers, schools and businesses to work and play
in new ways. Emerging manufacturing technologies will usher in an industrial
“evolution” that combines the best of mass and artisan production models, and has
the potential to partially reverse the trend to outsourcing. Personal manufacturing
technologies will unleash “long tail” global markets for custom goods, whose sales
volumes of will be profitable enough to enable specialists, niche manufacturing, and
design companies to make a good living. Underserved communities will be able to
design and manufacture their own medical devices, toys, machine parts and other
tools locally, using local materials. At school, personal-scale manufacturing tools will empower a new generation of innovators, and spark student interest in science,
technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
Like computing, transportation and communication, shrinking manufacturing tools
represent a strategic infrastructure technology that has the potential to catalyze
innovation in many other fields and industries. These technologies remove the
barriers of investment in heavy machinery and specialized operator skill, so
consumers, for the first time since the era of artisan craft production, will lead the design and manufacturing process. We have the opportunity to create a new retail
ecosystem and manufacturing economy in the U.S. so we can continue to lead the rest
of the world in product innovation and manufacturing. New business models will
become possible, such as small-scale, regional manufacturing hubs, mom and pop shops that create niche products for a global market, custom and on-demand
manufacturing, and toolkit-based industrial product design and development.
Despite their great promise, successful adoption of personal manufacturing
technologies is not assured. A number of barriers stand in the way that discourage
widespread home, school and business use such as safety concerns, part
standardization and version control challenges, intellectual property issues and
creating appropriate regulatory controls. Thoughtful and visionary government
investment is needed to ensure we establish the U.S. as the world leader in personal
fabrication technologies. Appropriate government policies will nourish the potential
of these technologies to promote STEM education, create new industries and
innovation-based domestic jobs, provide a new design space to foster invention, and
spark the formation of new businesses.
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Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.