What do the words MakerBot, Cupcake CNC, Thing-O-Matic and Replicator have in common?
They all refer to some of the latest technology in 3D printing – a cutting edge technology to say the least. I’ve been a fierce Star Trek fan for a long time and I’ve always dreamed of the day when I could replicate my favorite meal (dessert included!) in a matter of seconds.
I realize we’re still light years away from that, but the reality of today is that many household items and devices are being duplicated with 3D printing technology that just a few years ago was an unattainable dream.
In some of the latest 3D printers on the market, a 3D scanner component can turn almost any object into a digital design and then produce a usable 3D copy of that item. The digitizer I’m referring to allows for someone to place an item on a turntable in which lasers scan the object, turn it into a digital entity and then immediately print a usable 3D copy.
There’s also now an option to edit the scan in however fashion the user imagines before the printing begins and thereby creating new, different, unique items. That fact alone makes my writer’s imagination “hum” with all sorts of deviant plot possibilities.
Additionally, scanned items can be put into the “Thingiverse”—a marketable collection of scanned items that can then be downloaded (like shared clip art) onto your desktop 3D printer for creation of anything from art objects to everyday items such as eyeglass cases, wrenches, scissors or even ties.
We may still be a long way from creating a tasty, nutritional food item like the characters in the Star Trek series were able to do, but today’s technology can produce everyday items that are usable, sustainable and inexpensive—and even produce them from a digital memory rather than using an actual object as the model.
How inexpensive you ask? Although an average portable 3D replicator can cost around $2,200 and complicated models can run over $10,000, some desktop kits can be had for under $1,000.
About now, my “murder mystery imagination” is running wild with the possibilities of such technology in the hands of an adversarial character. I can imagine all sorts of weapons being duplicated with materials that are not only effective in a kill but totally undetectable by current screening technology, especially since these items are duplicated with high quality thermoplastic polymers such as high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA).
These polymers have amazing strength to density ratios and excellent adhesive qualities, allowing for duplication of a wide variety of items. Life-saving medical devices, such as 3D materials that resemble and function as human tissue, have been duplicated and used successfully. On the other hand, the production of precision weapons, including workable guns, has made this technology a source of controversy.
Such a variety of 3D printing applications can initiate arguments both for and against the legalities of this technology since it has the ability to both save, as well as take away, lives.
As a murder mystery writer, I welcome this technology into my world of make believe, but the sobering fact is that I’m a bit nervous about the widespread use of such duplicating equipment—particularly since it could be used maliciously, lethally and as a further means of property piracy.
Thought? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
Thought provoking. Unfortunately, while an individual can choose to not embrace change, people will. It may take some time, although I think 3-D printing is moving faster than any of us can imagine. Labs are already printing food and medicines. Intellectual property will be a big issue; think back to IP concerns about the first Xerox copier in 1950, then the Internet. Change is not necessarily progress, but it is inevitable.
As to your specific concern about weapons, 3-D printers can’t make anything that can’t be made by traditional methods. It’s all about the ability to make one something here and now without any setup or tooling issues. A murderer could, for example, make a different gun and bullets including caliber for each job in a hotel room, making it perhaps more difficult for the police to realize it was one killer.
It gives one pause, I’d say.
Thanks to both Walt and James for your comments. Interesting point Walt makes about duplicating a different weapon for each crime – interesting premise for a new plot!