Has the continued development of rapid prototyping and the open source movement placed us on the verge of a third industrial revolution? Let's take a look.
A new exhibition at the New Museum in New York called Adhocracy explores the issue. It’s a collection of 25 machines, printers, apps, and objects that illustrate how rapid prototyping and DIY culture is changing how we make and buy objects.
That can mean anything from a set of standardized joints that let the user build a bike out of nearly any material, to a solar-powered 3D printer that uses sand from the surrounding desert, to an open source guide to repairing household appliances. The objects vary, but the ethos stays the same: making is no longer the purview of companies which manufacture millions of the same object. It's the right of individuals, who are manufacturing one or two objects to fit their own unique needs, then passing along their code.
Here are seven highlights.
ProdUSER by Tristan Kopp:
ProdUSER isn't a bike — it's a series of connections that let people built their own bikes, out of whatever materials available. Those metal joints on the frames? Those are the components. The idea is to make it easier to assemble a bike in remote or developing areas.
Blablablab’s “Be Your Own Souvenir” project:
Visitors can have their portrait printed at this installation by Barcelona studio Blablablab, which uses three Kinects to generate a point cloud of whomever is standing on a platform in the gallery. Then, whoever is manning the booth exports the model to the nearby MakerBot 3D printer, et voila — your own souvenir. Of yourself.
Markus Kayser's Solar Sinter:
German designer Markus Kayser made news back in 2010 with a device he called SunCutter — a solar-powered laser cutter. Solar Sinter goes one step further: the solar-powered 3D printer generates objects using sand from wherever it's placed. It's a desert-optimized rapid prototyping wonder.
OpenStructures by Thomas Lommée and Jesse Howard
OpenStructures isn't an object so much as a network. It gives DIYers a modular grid around which to design and model their work, establishing a standard vocabulary that would make designs — like kids' swing or 3D-printed water filter above — easier to share. It's been described as "Esperanto for objects."
Thibault Brevet’s DRM Chair:
The DRM (or Digital Rights Management) Chair is a commentary on the practice of building planned self-destruction into a particular digital product. After it's been sat on eight times, the chair falls apart — just like a virtual DRM for digital files.
In the late 1950s, Heineken asked Dutch architect John Habraken to design a bottle that could double as a building material in developing countries. Only 60,000 of the bottles were ever produced, thanks to what some describe as the "internal bureaucracy" of the company. Today, some are pushing for their reintroduction in developing countries, where ready-made bricks could be hugely useful.
Drones+ app by Josh Begley
Drones+ isn't exactly an object, and it doesn't deal with manufacturing, but it is a great example of the ethos of the show. NYU grad student Josh Begley created the app to notify users of recent CIA drone strikes that resulted in mortalities — the app, for mysterious reasons, was later rejected by the Apple Store.
Unfold’s “Stratigraphic Manufactury:
Using clay dug up from sites around the city, the designers behind the Stratigraphic Manufactury print cups, bowls, and vases from ceramic powder. They published their 3D models online, and asked people from around the world to print the same objects using local clay. The result is a series of objects that are the same, but subtly different, thanks to the unique properties of local materials.