Photo by westerndave/Feature Photo by purdman1

Star Trek calls them replicators, and all you have to do is stand in front of a sleek glowing machine, mumble the magic words “Coffee, hot,” and next thing you know, you have your coffee materialize hot in your hand

Wouldn’t you like to do the same with, well, everything else? Food. Clothing. Games. Cameras. Parts for your car. Imagine the time you would save not running from store to store. You could even design your own objects!

Let’s say you want to design and construct your own electric guitar out of lucite and anodized steel, or replace a gear for that 90-year-old grandfather clock that sits broken in your hallway. E-Machine Shop allows you to create customized replacement parts — or just about anything else you can think of — and model in 3-D using computer controlled lasers, torches and a wide variety of other machine shop tools. They supply you with a downloadable 3-D modeling program you can use to design your product. Then, you choose from a list of materials and finishes, and they provide you with a price estimate and shipping options.

Welcome to the World of the Personal Assember, a.k.a Fabber.

What if you were able to design and produce all your needs at home, cutting out the middle man entirely? It’s been possible for quite a while, actually, but until now these types of machines needed to produce your product — called prototypers — were extremely expensive and out of reach of the average consumer.

Photo by sekimura

Soon, anyone will be able to DIY at home using the following two open source project printers.

Fab@Home is part of a collaborative project with Cornell University. They’re working to develop a printer that attaches via USB or firewire to your PC and allows you to print three dimensional objects. You can print things one layer at a time using such diverse materials as silicon, chocolate frosting, plastics or glue. Thus, you can personally manufacture just about anything you can model using off-the-shelf CAD software on your PC.

The printers — called Model I or Model II assemblers — are compact enough to fit on your desktop and the plans to build these machines are available for free on their website. An entire setup — including construction, parts and set up time — comes in at around $1600.

Cornell is currently researching how to employ similar devices to build human organs and facilitate tissue reconstruction.

A similar concept is the CNC Cupcake by Makerbot. It’s cheaper than Fab@Home but doesn’t give you as many materials options. CNC Cupcake works by heating an ABS plastic wire — a type of thermoplastic — until malleable, then builds the object of your desire one layer at a time. It is also open source and you can either buy parts to create your own variation of the CNC Cupcake or simply order an off the shelf version for $950.

Photo by ralphbijker

Once you have your personal assembler technology, head to thingiverse.com where you can connect with other fabbers and download, swap and trade your favorite 3-D plans.

This Technology Is Limited, For Now.

Remember what a computer looked like way back when? They were as large as a house, cost millions of dollars, were expensive to maintain, required years of training to use and had very limited functionality. Jump to today where there are hundreds of millions of computers in the world that we depend on for just about everything in our daily lives. This is the future of personal fabricators.

Don’t just take my word for it. Ray Kurzweil, preeminent futurist and artificial intelligence expert, also believes fabbers will soon become a ubiquitous part of our daily experience.

Once it’s possible to make everything you need at home, the price of most objects will drop to nothing more than material costs, thus obliterating our reliance on stores, manufacturers and distributors. Our consumer oriented society will never be the same again.

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For more gadget love, take a look at Technology Bytes: Freaky Futuristic Gadgets, 10 Gadgets to Unleash Your Inner James Bond and Affordable Gifts for Gadget Lovers.