Research for “Maker Space”

This past weekend, Brown and I went to New York.  The main reason for going was a rather spectacular 20th anniversary party, but we had ulterior motives: the Makerbot Store.  Thus far, all of the research I’ve been doing for Maker Space has been online, which is nice and all but there’s something lost there, something slightly intangible about hearing about ideas rather than holding the end result.   (Plus, Brown is actually trying to cultivate a literal maker space for his university’s library, so for him this was like visiting the Lamborghini dealership with the hope that his employers might let him drive the company car.)  We wandered around the store for a while, watching the printers spit out bangle bracelets and crude plastic squirrels.  There was a steady stream of store traffic, and most everybody seemed at least slightly knowledgeable about 3D-printer technologies; nobody wandered in off of the street to goggle at the fancy plastic doohickey squeak-machines.

Oh, and let’s throw the bit about the gun out here, just so we’re all on the same page: people have been trying to build 3D-printed guns since this technology was developed, but just this past week, a maker actually got one to work.  Guys, this is a big deal with scary implications.

Brown bought me a 3D printed plastic lizard stomping through a plastic city. Because of the pose, I have named him "Les Lizerables," or "Les Liz" for short.
Brown bought me a 3D printed plastic lizard stomping through a plastic city. Because of the pose, I have named him “Les Lizerables,” or “Les Liz” for short.

So while Brown’s speaking with various tech-clerks and discussing things like “grants” and “barrier-free printer access for community members, especially low-income minorities”, I’ve cornered a poor young fellow named Tristan and told him I was doing research for a novel where maker technologies were put to ill use.  I ended with: “And I heard about the gun.”

“We do not talk about the gun,” Tristan said.

Tristan was very helpful and pointed me towards several maker community websites.  Most of these I had poked to some extent, but some were new.  Almost all of them featured a link to an article about the gun, which I pointed out to Tristan.

“We do not click on links to the gun,” he said.

This is something I’ve come across throughout the maker community, which is that its members are critically aware of the potential for misuse of their technologies, but they aren’t going to hide away or stop experimenting because of this potential.  (It’ll have to be a minor theme in the novel, I think.)

But the main thing I came away with this weekend is that I’m going to have a hard time presenting maker technologies –any maker technologies, not just 3D printing- as realistic.  The speed of ingenuity and development is fantastic; guys, they have made an ear.  And while most of the lower-level 3D printed products look a lot like pixelated arcade graphics, the higher-end extruder products can potentially exceed the quality of engineered parts.  It’s a mad, mad race towards perfection, and if I write about what is happening, it will sound futuristic.  If I write about what will probably happen, it will sound insane.

Published by KBSpangler

A freelance editor who writes novels, comics, and repairs a disaster of a house in her spare time:

12 thoughts on “Research for “Maker Space”

  1. As you’re writing about 3D printing, you have to either read Charles Stross’ “Rule 34” now, or forswear until you’re completely finished. Because, well, he’s very very good at the near-future thing, and decided 3D printing was a technology of interest for that book…

  2. Read “Venus Equilateral” The story’s premise was the conversion of energy back to matter, but aside from that , the “disrupting technology ” aspect is fairly familiar , a magic box that can produce anything and the implications that arise from that.
    “Disruptive Tech ” ( forgive me if I preach ) are things that enable changes in societies , like gunpowder, or light bulbs , or etc.
    The only problems I forsee in the changes is the disruption in gov’t and Combine controls ( think drugs ). After all , Drm was so successful, eh?

  3. I concur with Mark V’s recommendation of Bunnie Haung,He’s the Maker’s movement Maker #1.
    Also K.B.Spangler, you can take notes on his blog simply for his forensics techniques , I certainly learned something

  4. The higher end of 3D printing – Laser Sintering and related technologies , are being very actively developed by aerospace companies such as Airbus. Laser sintering is being seriously discussed as almost ready for prime time in the hot-section of jet engines (where operating temperatures can exceed the melting point of the components, leaving them reliant on built in cooling channels – ideal for 3D printing). The gun is actually fairly small bananas in comparison.

    1. The high-end printing is almost magical. So are layering processes. We’ve got a friend who manages a tech fab and what they do by adding and subtracting layers of atoms is astonishing.

  5. I’m more interested in the variations of 3d printing – bio printing , drug manufacturing (medical ),on site printing of buildings , preliminary manufacturing ( basic print to be refined by hand work ), I’ve even seen a G+ report of a printer in a scalpel, then there’s the cutter that follows a sculptor rule ( remove anything that doesn’t look part of the object ) , a hand holdable carver that will allow one to “trace a virtual image, I don’t see the lack of reputed precision in the devices the end all of being.

    1. Bio-printing will change everything about medical science as we know it, imo. There is no end to what can be done with stem cells and a 3D render of a body (or body part).

  6. If you want another sign that we’re living in the future, take a look at this article.

    Basically, an artist decided to link together DNA sequencing and 3d printing… By going out and finding DNA samples in public spaces (such as chewed gum and cigarette butts) and then sequencing the DNA, and using that to figure out what the person who chewed that gum or smoked that cigarette looked like. She then uses a 3d printer to create photorealistic sculptures of these people. I’m not sure whether to be amazed or terrified. Probably both.

  7. The concerns people have been expressing re: guns, manufacturing, and or costs are a bit of a straw dog , I think. precision will always cost , regardless if the tool is a high end printer , or a shop full of milling equipment. and with that kind of money guns don’t have to be built.

    I think the printers greatest value is in niche making , and the versatility of the devices, as they can make more that one type of thing relatively easy , by the download of a file * assuming the work has been done before *. Starting from scratch calls for a level of education and dedication comparable to a college level education , which is not impossible , but not at a dabblers level.

    The nice thing is that I can see the possibly of the greening of the planet, rather than having tidal pools of plastics flotsam kill birds or fish , people may want to recycle formerly unwanted material into usable 3d printable feedstock.
    I know , not all materials are recyclable, but I also think there is the qualifer “yet” , because , as to date pure, pristine raw feedstock is expensive.
    Sorry if I babble here , this is as it comes to me
    ( btw , hurry up and write a new book :P)

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