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Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing by Hod Lipson, Melba Kurman

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Chapter 14

The next episode of 3D printing

Humans distinguished themselves from their evolutionary ancestors by making tools. Additive manufacturing technology may be the ultimate tool that will perhaps change human culture forever. With the unpredictable yet irresistible force of tsunamis, each new wave of improved tools of design and production have tipped off tidal waves of social change. This book barely scratches the surface of the emerging world of printed physical objects.

When I was a postdoc at Brandeis University in Boston, Massachusetts, my faculty advisor Jordan Pollack and I printed a complete working robot. It was a simple robot, but one whose entire body was designed and printed automatically. It was late 1999 when the first robot stepped out of the printer, and it took another 10 months until on a summer day in late August 2000 the story made it to the front page of The New York Times.

It was a bittersweet moment. First, the newspapers’ editors made it clear to us that the only reason the story appeared on the front page was because the editors were desperate for news. That day—a sultry summer day in 2000—was one of the slowest news days on record. There was nothing—absolutely nothing—else to put on the front page. So “Robots Making Robots” it was.

But a more lingering emotion had nothing to do with sharing news of the breakthrough. The more lingering emotion was dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction that the robot wasn’t entirely 3D printed. Its body and joints were ...

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