The Household Fabricator
Im going to describe what I think are some of the possible outcomes of our work here after the next fifteen years. In order to put these suggestions into a context that makes sense, Id like to first take you back to 1978. Let me ask you to think for a minute what you would have done fifteen years ago if you wanted a small computer. You would have had two choices. You could have spent between $50,000 and $100,000 on a Wang, a Lanier, or another mini. Or, if you were just a hacker and the computer didnt have to serve any useful purpose, you could have got an Apple for $1000. What about other aspects of your life? When you wanted to see a movie without commercial interruptions, you went to a special building called a movie theater. If you needed some cash, you stood in line for a teller in a bank. When you were stuck in traffic, and you wanted to let your associates know that you were on your way, you pulled off into a gas station and used a machine called a pay phone.
Look at what has happened in the last fifteen years! Weve acquired powerful briefcase computers, home video players, automated cash machines, and pocket telephones, along with other astounding technologies, such as fax transception and genetic cloning.
So now, lets take a look at what may happen by fifteen years from now.
Lets imagine a new subdivision going up in the year 2008 in Johnson City, Texas, the newest suburb in the Austin metropolis. The homes in this subdivision have most of the usual utilities that families of the last half of the 1900s were accustomed to: electricity, water, sewage, natural gas. In addition, they have two other utilities that were unfamiliar to 20th-century families. One of these probably became common for residential installation around the turn of the millennium, and this is a fiber-optic connection to the network. This connection replaced two other utilities that were common in homes of the 1990s: telephone and cable television. The other new utility is just beginning to appear in the most modern homes in the closing years of the first decade of the 21st century. This is a pneumatic materials supply system. This network of underground pipes and canisters is similar to the device used by the tellers in a drive-thru bank to deliver your cash to you. But instead of raw money, the canisters in this system deliver raw materials such as photopolymers and other thermosetting resins, powders and pellets of thermoplastics, metals, and ceramics, and spools of cotton, graphite, boron, and other fibers.
Residential architecture often learns to accommodate the most important new technologies by introducing special utility rooms into modern homes. This is what happened in the early 20th century when the old-fashioned stable became transformed into a garage for the family automobile, and began to be built into the structure of the house instead of being set off from it. Later on, the laundry room became a popular place for the family washer and dryer. The new community being built in 2008 offers a new feature called the fabricator room. Like the laundry room with its water and sewage hookups, this facility is connected to the fiber-optic network for supply of stock design data and it is connected to the pneumatic supply system for materials. The family fabricator combines the talents of the autofab processes of the 1990s with both more ancient and more modern technologies. These include photocuring, some analog of laser sintering, braiding of fibers, weaving of fabrics, various methods of cutting, and several types of bonding and joining, including gluing, welding, stitching, and riveting.
A machine with these capabilities could satisfy many of the physical needs and desires of the ultramodern families of the year 2008. Items fabricated may range from a new toothbrush for eight-year-old Jenny, whose little hand has outgrown the one fabbed for her last year, to a diamond sierra brooch with just a tasteful splash of ruby.
What I have described is one possible version of the autofab world of the early 21st century. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Fourth Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium, you may look back from a world like that some fifteen years from now and realize that you were here this week pioneering it.