The Future of Firearms: Legally Homemade Metal Guns

Metal-Gun-640x353Ever since 3-D printing became a commercially available service, Defense Distributed has sought to use the technology to create firearms. And in their latest act of circumventing the law, the online, open-source, libertarian group has created another means of building homemade firearms. But unlike the Liberator – their previous single shot incarnation – this one doesn’t involve making guns from 3-D printed plastic.

The group’s latest invention is known as the Ghost Gunner – a small, computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine that they used to create an aluminum lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle. This device, which costs about $1200, allows people with no gunsmith training to assemble a working assault rifle at home with no licensing or serial number. And for the moment, it’s completely legal.

metal-gun-inline22The Ghost Gunner itself is a small box that measures about one foot on each side and contains an Arduino controller and a custom-designed spindle that holds a steel carbide drill bit. It works like any other CNC machine – the drill spins up and moves in three dimensions to carve items out of blocks of metal. However, this machine is specifically intended to make an AR-15 lower receiver.

That’s the part of a gun that connects the stock, barrel, and magazine – and the part that’s regulated by the ATF and assigned a serial number. Selling it without a license is illegal, but making it yourself is perfectly fine. An untraceable gun built without a serial number is often called a “ghost gun” by gun control advocates. Hence why Defense Distributed chose to appropriate the term, to deliberately generate controversy.

Cody-Wilson-Defense-Distributed-Wiki-Weapon-3-d-printed-gunThis is just the latest example of Defense Distributed pushing the bounds of home manufacturing technology to make a point. Cody Wilson, the group’s founder, is an openly radical, libertarian who has repeatedly stated that mass shootings and gun-related violence are simply the price people pay for freedom. In addition, his group has openly stated that they would not allow tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting deter them.

Manufacturing homemade weapons has always been his way of showing that technology can evade regulations, thus making the state obsolete. The group’s previous weapons – the 3D-printed Liberator gun – was more of a political statement. The gun itself was neither effective or practical; but then again, it wasn’t meant to be. This proof-of-concept weapon was simply meant to show that a new era of manufacturing is upon us.

liberatorThe Liberator itself is prone to failure and usually only manages a few poorly aimed shots before breaking down. In designing a cheap CNC machine specifically to make gun parts, Defense Distributed is delivering a viable weapon at a fraction of the cost of other CNC machines (which cost many thousands of dollars). If you can make a lower receiver, all the other parts can be ordered online cheaply and legally.

 

The Ghost Gunner is capable of making anything that fits in the build envelope, which accounts for several gun parts that go into assembling a working assault weapon or handgun. The only requirement is the parts be created with Defense Distributed’s Physibles Development SDK (pDev) and distributed as a .dd file. In that respect, it’s not much different than any number of 3D printers.

3dmetalgun-640x353Once again, Defense Distributed has proven that, for better or worse, we live in an entirely new era of manufacturing. In the past, a person needed considerable training if they wanted to make their own firearm. Nowadays, one needs only the right kind of hardware, software, and access to the necessary files. And as always seems to be the case in the digital age, the law is miles behind the curve.

One can expect the law will be upon Defense Distributed once again and place a ban on their Ghost Gunner. However, it goes without saying that Wilson and his colleagues will simply try again some other way and the fight between regulators and home manufactures will continue. But regardless of the issue of firearms, this is an indication of the age we now live in, where distributed systems are making for some rather interesting and fearful possibilities.

 

Source: extremetech.com

Developing World Tech: BRCK Mobile Internet Device

BRCK1Far from Silicon Valley in California, there is a place that some are now calling “Silicon Savannah.” Located around Nairobi, and centered on the nonprofit collective Ushahidi, an explosion in African tech is taking shape. And this month, backers of the collective’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign are finally getting their hands on BRCK – a long-awaited device that is the antithesis of shiny, expensive internet hardware.

A mobile Internet router, BRCK is essentially a self-powered, mobile Wi-Fi device that promises to bring internet access to remote communities and underdeveloped neighborhoods all around the world. And as an added bonus, it reverses the usual order of globalization – having been invented in a developing country, built in the US, and intended for customers in any country anywhere.

BRCKIt can connect to the web in one of three ways: by plugging in a standard ethernet cable, by bridging with other Wi-Fi networks, or by accessing 3G or 4G data via a basic SIM card. Originally, Ushahidi invented it in order to overcome infrastructure challenges – specifically, inconsistent electricity and Internet connectivity – plaguing young upstarts in Nairobi. But it turns out, plenty of other people and places face the same challenges all over the world.

Contrary to public opinion, it is not just developing or underdeveloped countries that experience infrastructure challenges. Recently in the UK, Virgin Media customers across London lost service; while in the US, in what appeared to be an unrelated event, millions of Time Warner customers across the U.S. – largely in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Tampa – were knocked offline.

Developed-and-developing-countriesBut even just focusing on the developing world, BRCK’s potential market is enormous. While only a quarter of people from the developing world are currently connected, they already account for a staggering two-thirds of all people online today. While the technology is not exactly cutting-edge by most standards, it offers numerous advantages that take the needs of its potential market into account.

Beyond its three connection methods, BRCK can keep up to 20 users up and running for as long as eight hours during an electrical outage. And should the internet be unavailable in a given locale, the device continues operating offline, syncing up when its connection is restored. In addition, the stock hard drive is 4 gigabytes big, and it has a storage capacity of up to 32 gigabytes.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a2/Nairobi_Kibera_04.JPGBRCK CEO Erik Hersman, who cut his teeth in the industry as a blogger, sees the company’s base in Nairobi as one of its greatest assets, particularly given its target market. Having been born in Sudan and having settled in Kenya with his young family,  ( is well-suited to addressing local needs with local solutions:

I describe it as a new remix of old technology. That’s the key to understanding Africa’s technology… If it works in Africa, it’ll work anywhere… We’re playing with dirty power and crappy Internet, so the device has to be resilient.

While designed in Kenya, BRCK is manufactured and assembled in Texas by a company called Silicon Hills, which is located outside of Austin. With its matte black, rubberized case, BRCK is elegant, but mostly unassuming, and has the relative dimensions of an actual brick. It’s too large to fit in a pocket, but small enough to carry in a backpack, place on a desk, or even on the hood of your Land Rover in the African countryside.

BRCK2By weight, BRCK is substantially heavier than a plastic router, but it’s also much more than one. In addition to its battery, BRCK has multiple ports, including a general-purpose input/output, enabling users to program and connect other hardware – such as sensors or a solar charger – to the device. But what is perhaps most compelling about BRCK, are its potential applications.

In truth, the greatest possibilities lies in the ability to break away from the model of centralized internet providers. This could lead to nothing short of a revolution in how people get online, and in way that would ensure a far greater measure of “equality of access”. As Hersman explained it:

We see enormous resonance with the work of other organizations. Take the proliferation of web-enabled laptops and tablets in schools; why is it that each of these devices connect to a mobile tower? Why not to a single, centralized point? …We’re at a place in history where the barriers to entry are no longer in the software space, but in the hardware space. Because we don’t yet have fully functioning maker spaces and rapid prototyping abilities here in Nairobi, the design process is still relatively slow and expensive, but the barriers are coming down.

Achuar community monitors learning to use GPSEducation, health, environmental, and even military and governmental organizations are already in conversation with BRCK and multiple entities are testing it out. For consumers in emerging markets, BRCK’s $200 price tag may be a stretch, but the company is looking at purchasing plans, which have worked well in developing nations for both the cell phone and energy sectors.

But BRCK’s business model is ultimately based more on companies than individual consumers. Digital Democracy, a nonprofit organization that has worked in two dozen countries around the world, is one such company. According to its founder and executive director, Emily Jacobi:

The reason that we backed BRCK and that I’m excited to see it come about is because it fills an important gap in hardware and tools. We’re going to remote areas and training groups – indigenous groups, refugees, and other at-risk populations – to map the land and communities using GPS devices and cameras. We’re particularly excited about BRCK’s ability to facilitate collaborative work, as well as function offline.

internetIf there was one thing that the Digital Revolution promised, it was to bring the world together. Naturally, there were those who thought this to be naive and idealistic, citing the fact that technology has a way of being unevenly distributed. And while today, people live in a world that is far more connected than in any previous age, access remains an illustrative example of the gap between rich and poor nations.

Hence why an invention like the BRCK holds so much promise. Not only does it neatly reverse the all-too-common direction of technological development – i.e. technology conceived by a wealthy country, built in a poor one, only sold in wealthy ones – it also helps to shorten the gap between rich and poor nations when it comes to accessing and enjoying the fruits of that development.

This month, orders began shipping to buyers in 45 countries around the world this month. To get your hands on one, check out Ushahidi’s website and learn more about their efforts to develop open-source, equal-access technology.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, digital-democracy.org, ushahidi.com

The Future is Here: Laser 3D Printing

pegasus-touch3D printing has really come into is own in recent years, with the range of applications constantly increasing. However, not all 3D printers or printing methods are the same, ranging from ones that use layered melted plastic to ones that print layers of metal dust, then fuse them with microwave radiation. This range in difference also means that some printers are faster, more accurate, and more expensive than others.

Take the Pegasus Touch as an example. Built by a Las Vegas-based company Full Spectrum Laser (FSL), this desktop 3D printer uses lasers to create objects faster and in finer detail than most other printers in its price range. Available for as little as US$2,000 via a Kickstarter campaign, its performance is claimed to be comparable to machines costing 50 times more.

 

pegasus-touch-8Instead of building up an object by melting plastic filaments and depositing the liquid like ink from a nozzle, the Pegasus touch uses what’s called laser-based stereolithography (SLA). This consists of using a series of 500 kHz ultraviolet lasers moving at 3,000 mm/sec to solidify curable photopolymer resin. As the object rises out of a vat of resin, the laser focuses on the surface, building up layer after layer with high precision.

To be fair, the technology has been around for many years. What is different with the Pegasus Touch is that FSL has shrunk the printer down and made it more economical. Normally, SLA machines are huge and cost in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Pegasus Touch, on other hand, measures just 28 x 36 x 57 cm (11 x 14 x 22.5 inches) and costs only a few thousand dollars.

pegasus-touch-4This affordability is due in part to the wide availability of Bluray players has made UC laser diodes much more affordable. In addition, FSL is already adept at making laser cutting and engraving machines, which has allowed the company to base the Pegasus Touch on modelling software and electronics already developed for these machines. This allows the device to operate at tolerances equivalent to a $100,000 machine.

The device also has an on-board 1GHz Linux computer with 512 MB memory that can do much of the 3D processing computation itself, making a connected PC all but unnecessary. There’s also an internet-connected 4.3-in color touchscreen, which allows the user to access open-source models that are printer-ready, plus the machine comes with multi-touch-capable desktop software.

pegasus-touch-3It also has a relatively large build area of approximately 18 x 18 x 23 cm (7 x 7 x 9 inch), which is one of the largest in the consumer 3D printer market. The company also says that the Pegasus Touch is 10 times faster than a filament deposition modelling (FDM) printer, has finer control, and up to six times faster than other SLA printers, and can produces a better and more detailed finish.

The Pegasus Touch’s Kickstarter campaign wrapped up earlier this month and raised a total of $819,535, putting them well above their original goal of $100,000. For those who pledged $2000 or more, the printer was made available for pre-order. When and if it goes on sale, the asking price will be $3,499. Given time, I imagine the technology will improve to use metal and other materials instead of resin.

And of course, there’s a promotional video, showcasing the device at work:


Sources: gizmag.com, kickstarter.com, fsl3d.com

The Future is… Worms: Life Extension and Computer-Simulations

genetic_circuitPost-mortality is considered by most to be an intrinsic part of the so-called Technological Singularity. For centuries, improvements in medicine, nutrition and health have led to improved life expectancy. And in an age where so much more is possible – thanks to cybernetics, bio, nano, and medical advances – it stands to reason that people will alter their physique in order slow the onset of age and extend their lives even more.

And as research continues, new and exciting finds are being made that would seem to indicate that this future may be just around the corner. And at the heart of it may be a series of experiments involving worms. At the Buck Institute for Research and Aging in California, researchers have been tweaking longevity-related genes in nematode worms in order to amplify their lifespans.

immortal_wormsAnd the latest results caught even the researchers by surprise. By triggering mutations in two pathways known for lifespan extension – mutations that inhibit key molecules involved in insulin signaling (IIS) and the nutrient signaling pathway Target of Rapamycin (TOR) – they created an unexpected feedback effect that amplified the lifespan of the worms by a factor of five.

Ordinarily, a tweak to the TOR pathway results in a 30% lifespan extension in C. Elegans worms, while mutations in IIS (Daf-2) results in a doubling of lifespan. By combining the mutations, the researchers were expecting something around a 130% extension to lifespan. Instead, the worms lived the equivalent of about 400 to 500 human years.

antiagingAs Doctor Pankaj Kapahi said in an official statement:

Instead, what we have here is a synergistic five-fold increase in lifespan. The two mutations set off a positive feedback loop in specific tissues that amplified lifespan. These results now show that combining mutants can lead to radical lifespan extension — at least in simple organisms like the nematode worm.

The positive feedback loop, say the researchers, originates in the germline tissue of worms – a sequence of reproductive cells that may be passed onto successive generations. This may be where the interactions between the two mutations are integrated; and if correct, might apply to the pathways of more complex organisms. Towards that end, Kapahi and his team are looking to perform similar experiments in mice.

DNA_antiagingBut long-term, Kapahi says that a similar technique could be used to produce therapies for aging in humans. It’s unlikely that it would result in the dramatic increase to lifespan seen in worms, but it could be significant nonetheless. For example, the research could help explain why scientists are having a difficult time identifying single genes responsible for the long lives experienced by human centenarians:

In the early years, cancer researchers focused on mutations in single genes, but then it became apparent that different mutations in a class of genes were driving the disease process. The same thing is likely happening in aging. It’s quite probable that interactions between genes are critical in those fortunate enough to live very long, healthy lives.

A second worm-related story comes from the OpenWorm project, an international open source project dedicated to the creation of a bottom-up computer model of a millimeter-sized nemotode. As one of the simplest known multicellular life forms on Earth, it is considered a natural starting point for creating computer-simulated models of organic beings.

openworm-nematode-roundworm-simulation-artificial-lifeIn an important step forward, OpenWorm researchers have completed the simulation of the nematode’s 959 cells, 302 neurons, and 95 muscle cells and their worm is wriggling around in fine form. However, despite this basic simplicity, the nematode is not without without its share of complex behaviors, such as feeding, reproducing, and avoiding being eaten.

To model the complex behavior of this organism, the OpenWorm collaboration (which began in May 2013) is developing a bottom-up description. This involves making models of the individual worm cells and their interactions, based on their observed functionality in the real-world nematodes. Their hope is that realistic behavior will emerge if the individual cells act on each other as they do in the real organism.

openworm-nematode-roundworm-simulation-artificial-life-0Fortunately, we know a lot about these nematodes. The complete cellular structure is known, as well as rather comprehensive information concerning the behavior of the thing in reaction to its environment. Included in our knowledge is the complete connectome, a comprehensive map of neural connections (synapses) in the worm’s nervous system.

The big question is, assuming that the behavior of the simulated worms continues to agree with the real thing, at what stage might it be reasonable to call it a living organism? The usual definition of living organisms is behavioral, that they extract usable energy from their environment, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce, and adapt to their environment in successive generations.

openworm-nematode1If the simulation exhibits these behaviors, combined with realistic responses to its external environment, should we consider it to be alive? And just as importantly, what tests would be considered to test such a hypothesis? One possibility is an altered version of the Turing test – Alan Turing’s proposed idea for testing whether or not a computer could be called sentient.

In the Turing test, a computer is considered sentient and sapient if it can simulate the responses of a conscious sentient being so that an auditor can’t tell the difference. A modified Turing test might say that a simulated organism is alive if a skeptical biologist cannot, after thorough study of the simulation, identify a behavior that argues against the organism being alive.

openworm-nematode2And of course, this raises an even larger questions. For one, is humanity on the verge of creating “artificial life”? And what, if anything, does that really look like? Could it just as easily be in the form of computer simulations as anthropomorphic robots and biomachinery? And if the answer to any of these questions is yes, then what exactly does that say about our preconceived notions about what life is?

If humanity is indeed moving into an age of “artificial life”, and from several different directions, it is probably time that we figure out what differentiates the living from the nonliving. Structure? Behavior? DNA? Local reduction of entropy? The good news is that we don’t have to answer that question right away. Chances are, we wouldn’t be able to at any rate.

Brain-ScanAnd though it might not seem apparent, there is a connection between the former and latter story here. In addition to being able to prolong life through genetic engineering, the ability to simulate consciousness through computer-generated constructs might just prove a way to cheat death in the future. If complex life forms and connectomes (like that involved in the human brain) can be simulated, then people may be able to transfer their neural patterns before death and live on in simulated form indefinitely.

So… anti-aging, artificial life forms, and the potential for living indefinitely. And to think that it all begins with the simplest multicellular life form on Earth – the nemotode worm. But then again, all life – nay, all of existence – depends upon the most simple of interactions, which in turn give rise to more complex behaviors and organisms. Where else would we expect the next leap in biotechnological evolution to come from?

And in the meantime, be sure to enjoy this video of the OpenWorm’s simulated nemotode in action


Sources:
IO9, cell.com, gizmag, openworm

3-D Printed Guns: Congress Ready to Extend the Ban

3D_printed_weaponsEarlier this month, mere days before the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, Congress began proposing to extend a ban placed plastic firearms capable of evading metal detectors and X-ray machines. Narrowly beating a midnight deadline on Monday, Dec. 9th, the ban was extended for a period of ten years, though efforts to strengthen the restrictions were narrowly blocked by Congressional Republicans.

This was a bittersweet moment for advocates of gun control, but the implications of this decision go beyond the desire to not see another school shooting take place. With the growth of 3-D printing technology and fears that guns could be created using open-source software and store bought printers, preemptive measures were seen as necessary. Simply shutting down Distributed Defense’s website seemed insufficient given the interest and ease of access.

Cody-Wilson-Defense-Distributed-Wiki-Weapon-3-d-printed-gunBans on plastic and undetectable firearms were first passed during the administration of Ronald Reagan, and have been renewed twice – first in 1998 and again in 2003. But such weapons have become a growing threat and due to 3-D printing, which are becoming better and more affordable. And though public access is still limited to weapons made from ABS plastic, it may be only a matter of time before something more sophisticated becomes available.

However, advocates of gun control emphasize that this extension contains two key defeats. For starters, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer’s desire to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts was blocked. In addition, the fact that the ban was extended for a ten-year period as is means it cannot be revisited and strengthened again in the near future.

3dmetalgun-640x353In this respect, the ban highlights a year of failure of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats to toughen gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. Despite this tragedy and other mass shootings – such as the one that took place at the Washington Naval Yard – and the fact that some 90% support tougher gun laws, it seems that pro-gun lobbyists and the NRA are destined to have their way for the time being.

In the meantime, we can only hope that industrial 3-D printing, which allows for objects to be created out of metal parts, does not become readily available to average citizens. The one saving grace of the 3-D printed gun is the fact that it is entirely composed of plastic, making it an ineffective (if undetectable) weapon. And here’s hoping 2014 sees a lot less violence and a lot more humanity!

Source: cbc.ca, huffingtonpost.com

The Future of the Classroom

virtual_learning2As an educator, technological innovation is a subject that comes up quite often. Not only are teachers expected to keep up with trends so they can adapt them into their teaching strategies, classrooms,and prepare children in how to use them, they are also forced to contend with how these trends are changing the very nature of education itself. If there was one thing we were told repeatedly in Teacher’s College, it was that times are changing, and we must change along with them.

And as history has repeatedly taught us, technological integration not only changes the way we do things, but the way we perceive things. As we come to be more and more dependent on digital devices, electronics and wireless communications to give us instant access to a staggering amount of technology, we have to be concerned with how this will effect and even erode traditional means of information transmission. After all, how can reading and lecture series’ be expected to keep kid’s attention when they are accustomed to lighting fast videos, flash media, and games?

envisioning-the-future-of-education

And let’s not forget this seminal infographic, “Envisioning the future of educational technology” by Envisioning Technology. As one of many think tanks dedicated to predicting tech-trends, they are just one of many voices that is predicting that in time, education will no longer require the classroom and perhaps even teachers, because modern communications have made the locale and the leader virtually obsolete.

Pointing to such trends as Massive Open Online Courses, several forecasters foresee a grand transformation in the not too distant future where all learning happens online and in virtual environments. These would be based around “microlearning”, moments where people access the desired information through any number of means (i.e. a google search) and educate themselves without the need for instruction or direction.

virtual_learning3The technical term for this future trend is Socialstructured Learning = an aggregation of microlearning experiences drawn from a rich ecology of content and driven not by grades but by social and intrinsic rewards. This trend may very well be the future, but the foundations of this kind of education lie far in the past. Leading philosophers of education–from Socrates to Plutarch, Rousseau to Dewey–talked about many of these ideals centuries ago. The only difference is that today, we have a host of tools to make their vision reality.

One such tool comes in the form of augmented reality displays, which are becoming more and more common thanks to devices like Google Glass, the EyeTap or the Yelp Monocle. Simply point at a location, and you are able to obtain information you want about various “points of interest”. Imagine then if you could do the same thing, but instead receive historic, artistic, demographic, environmental, architectural, and other kinds of information embedded in the real world?

virtual_learningThis is the reasoning behind projects like HyperCities, a project from USC and UCLA that layers historical information on actual city terrain. As you walk around with your cell phone, you can point to a site and see what it looked like a century ago, who lived there, what the environment was like. The Smithsonian also has a free app called Leafsnap, which allows people to identify specific strains of trees and botany by simply snapping photos of its leaves.

In many respects, it reminds me of the impact these sorts of developments are having on politics and industry as well. Consider how quickly blogging and open source information has been supplanting traditional media – like print news, tv and news radio. Not only are these traditional sources unable to supply up-to-the-minute information compared to Twitter, Facebook, and live video streams, they are subject to censorship and regulations the others are not.

Attractive blonde navigating futuristic interfaceIn terms of industry, programs like Kickstarter and Indiegogo – crowdsources, crowdfunding, and internet-based marketing – are making it possible to sponsor and fund research and development initiatives that would not have been possible a few years ago. Because of this, the traditional gatekeepers, aka. corporate sponsors, are no longer required to dictate the pace and advancement of commercial development.

In short, we are entering into a world that is becoming far more open, democratic, and chaotic. Many people fear that into this environment, someone new will step in to act as “Big Brother”, or the pace of change and the nature of the developments will somehow give certain monolithic entities complete control over our lives. Personally, I think this is an outmoded fear, and that the real threat comes from the chaos that such open control and sourcing could lead to.

Is humanity ready for democratic anarchy – aka. Demarchy (a subject I am semi-obsessed with)? Do we even have the means to behave ourselves in such a free social arrangement? Opinion varies, and history is not the best indication. Not only is it loaded with examples of bad behavior, previous generations didn’t exactly have the same means we currently do. So basically, we’re flying blind… Spooky!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, envisioningtech.com

Update: 3D-Printed Gun Faces Crackdown

defense-distributed-liberator,Z-M-383602-13Just a few days ago, Defense Distributed announced the creation of the world’s first gun that is made entirely out of 3D-printed parts. And as anticipated, it didn’t take long for a crackdown to ensue. The group’s leader Cody Wilson, after conducting the first successful firing test of “The Liberator”, claimed that the blueprints would be uploaded to the open-source website Defcad so they would be available to anyone.

Yesterday, less than a week after the announcement was made, Mr. Wilson claimed that Defcad is “going dark” at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense Trade Controls. Defense Distributed runs the website, which has been a provider of weapons-related 3D printer blueprints since the group was founded.

Defense Distributed new magazines

As of yesterday, the site contained only a brief message explaining why it the Liberator blueprints were no longer available:

Defcad files are being removed from public access at the request of the U.S. Department of Defence Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.

The group’s twitter feed also contained the following message:

#DEFCAD has gone dark at the request of the Department of Defense Trade Controls. Take it up with the Secretary of State.

The weapon itself was the result of eight months of research and testing on behalf of Wilson and his group. In that time, the group has become a source of controversy due to their dedication to making blueprints for printable gun parts available online. These include components for AR-15 assault weapon and extended magazines for an AK-47 assault rifle.

defense_distmagHowever, the Liberator, named in honor of the single-shot pistols that were dropped on France during the Second World War, was the first set of blueprints that was made entirely out of ABS plastic, making it the first open-source “Wiki-weapon” that would be available to anyone with the means to print it.

As a result of their commitment to open-source weaponry, Defense Distributed has become the subject of penalties and restrictions. In fact, Defcad was created after Makerbot Industries chose to purge all of the group’s gun blueprints from the website. Shortly after they test-fired an AR-15 that included printed parts, Wilson and his associates also had their 3D printer, which they had been leasing, seized.

defense_dist1This latest decision targets their activities at their source. However, the decision to take the plans off of Defcad did not present an estimated 10,000 downloads. However, it is not clear if those who obtained the plans will be able to print them off at their local printing shop. Only those who already possess a 3D printing unit, which is likely to run them between $1000 and $3000 dollars will be able to produce their own version of the Liberator.

In short, this issue is not yet resolved. Knowing Wilson and his admirers, open-source, printable weapons are likely to remain a contentious issue for some time to come…

Source: cbc.ca

The Future is Here: The 3D-printed Robotic Hand

robotic_handThe field of robotic has been advancing by leaps and bounds in recent years, especially where robotic limbs and prosthetics are concerned. But until recently, cost has remained an issue. With top of the line bionic limbs – like the BeBionic which costs up to $35,000 = most amputees simply can’t afford them. Little surprise then why there are many efforts to create robotic limbs that are both cheaper and more accessible.

Last month, DARPA announced the creation of a robotic hand that could perform complex tasks, and which was made using cheap electronic components. And then there’s Robohand, the online group that creates 3D-printed robotic hands for children with a free, open-source 3D-printing pattern available on Thingiverse for people who wish to make their own.

robotic_hand2

And now, Christopher Chappell of the U.K. wants to do take things a step further with his “Anthromod”. Using Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, he has started a campaign for a 3D-printed robotic hand that is a little bit more sophisticated than the Robohand, but would cost around $450. In short, the proposed design offers the ambulatory ability of a bionic limb, but at a cost that is far more affordable.

To break it down, the arm uses a tendon system of elastic bands with the movement being provided by five Hobby Servos, which are in turn built out of off-the-shelf electronics. Wearers will be able to move all four of the units fingers, thumb and wrist, once the sensors have been calibrated, and the software to control the hand and EEG sensors is available online for free. This all adds up to a unit that is not only more affordable, but easy to assemble, repair and maintain.

robotic_hand3On their Kickstarter page, Chappell describes his campaign and their long-term goals:

Our Kickstarter campaign is to develop a humanoid robotic hand and arm that is of far lower cost than any other available. We believe that this will open up robotics to a far wider market of makers and researchers than has ever been possible. This should then trigger an explosion of creativity in the areas of robotics, telepresence and ultimately prosthetics.

Much like the InMoov, a 3D printed android with limited function, the Anthromod represents an age of robotics that are accessible to the public. And with time, its not hard to imagine an entire line of enhancements and robotics, such as household servants and cybernetic components, that could be manufactured in-house, provided you’re willing to shell out the money for a industrial-sized 3D printer!

To check out the Anthromod website, click here. And be sure to check out the video below of their hand in action.

Note: As of this article’s writing, Chappell and his colleagues passed their goal of £10,000 and reached a whopping total of £12,086 (18,808 dollars US). Congratulations folks!


Sources:
news.cnet.com, kickstarter.com

 

The Future is Here: Using 3D Printing and DNA to Recreate Faces

strangervisions-1In what is either one of the most novel or frightening stories involving 3D printing and genetic research, it seems that an artist named Heather Dewey-Hagborg has been using the technology to recreate the faces of litterbugs. This may sound like something out of a dystopian novel – using a high-tech scenario to identify perpetrators of tiny crimes – but in fact, it is the basis of her latest art project.

It’s known as Stranger Visions, a series of 3D printed portraits based on DNA samples taken from objects found on the streets of Brooklyn. Using samples of discarded gum and litter collected from the streets, a her work with a DIY biology lab in Brooklyn called Genspace – where she met a number of biologists who taught her everything she now knows about molecular biology and DNA – she was able to reconstruct what the strangers looked like and then printed the phenotypes out as a series of 3D portraits.

According to Dewey-Hagborg, the inspiration for this project came to her while waiting for a therapy session, when she noticed a framed print on the wall that contained a small hair inside the cracked glass. After wondering who the hair belonged to, and what the person looked like, she became keenly aware of the genetic trail left by every person in their daily life, and began to question what physical characteristics could be identified through the DNA left behind on a piece of gum or cigarette butt.

strangervisions-3In a recent interview, Dewey-Hagborg explained the rather interesting and technical process behind her art:

So I extract the DNA in the lab and then I amplify certain regions of it using a technique called PCR – Polymerase Chain Reaction. This allows me to study certain regions of the genome that tend to vary person to person, what are called SNPs or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms.

I send the results of my PCR reactions off to a lab for sequencing and what I get back are basically text files filled with sequences of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs, the nucleotides that compose DNA. I align these using a bioinformatics program and determine what allele is present for a particular SNP on each sample.

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Then I feed this information into a custom computer program I wrote which takes all these values which code for physical genetic traits and parameterizes a 3d model of a face to represent them. For example gender, ancestry, eye color, hair color, freckles, lighter or darker skin, and certain facial features like nose width and distance between eyes are some of the features I am in the process of studying.

I add some finishing touches to the model in 3d software and then export it for printing on a 3d printer. I use a Zcorp printer which prints in full color using a powder type material, kind of like sand and glue.

The resulting portraits are bizarre approximations of anonymous people who unknowingly left their genetic material on a random city street. Naturally, there are plenty of people who wonder how accurate her approximations are. Well, according to Dewey-Hagborg, the portraits bear a “family resemblance” to the subject, and at this time, no person has never recognized themselves in any of her exhibitions. Yet…

strangervisions-4And of course, there are limitations with this sort of phenotype-DNA identification. For starters, it is virtually impossible to determine the age of a person from their DNA alone. In addition, facial features like scars and hair growth cannot be gauged, so Dewey-Hagborg casts each portrait as if the person were around 25 years of age.

And yet, I cannot help but feel that there is some awesome and terrible potential in what Dewey-Hagborg has created here. While her artistic vision had to do with the subject of identity and anonymity in our society, there is potential here for something truly advanced and invasive. Already it has been considered that DNA identification could be the way of the future, where everyone’s identity is kept in a massive database that can either be used to track them or eliminate as suspects in criminal cases.

But in cases where the person’s DNA is not yet on file, police would no longer need to rely on sketch artists to identify potential perps. Instead, they could just reconstruct their appearances based on a single strand of DNA, and use existing software to correct for age, hair color, facial hair, scars, etc, and then share the resulting images with the public via a public database or press releases.

strangervisions-2And as Dewey-Hagborg’s own project shows, the potential for public exposure and identification is huge. With a sophisticated enough process and a quick turnover rate, cities could identity entire armies of litterbugs, polluters, petty criminals and even more dangerous offenders, like pedophiles and stalkers, and publicly shame them by posting their faces for all to see.

But of course, I am forced to acknowledge that Dewey-Hagborg conducted this entire project using a DIY genetics lab and through her own ardent collection process. Whereas some would see here an opportunity for Big Brother to mess with our lives, others would see further potential for a democratic, open process where local communities are able to take genetics and identification into their own hands.

Like I said, the implications and potential being shown here are both awesome and scary!

Source: thisiscolossal.com

DIY Prosthetics on Demand

DIY_prostheticThe field of prosthetics has seen some rather stark and amazing developments in recent years. And considering the rise in DIY cybernetics, biohacking and 3D printing, it was just a matter of time before a bunch of hobbyists found a way to create their own. And that’s precisely what Ivan Owen and Richard Van, a special effects artist and a woodworker, have managed to do.

Despite living hundreds of kilometers from each other, these two men managed to collaborate on the creation of an artificial limb. And in an especially heartwarming twist, they did it on demand for a South African boy named Liam who war born without fingers on his right hand. For some time, they had been working together to create prosthetics relying only on their general know-how and technology that is available to the general public, all the while keeping tabs on their progress and sharing it with the general public through their blog comingupshorthanded.com.

DIY_prosth_LiamAfter stumbling onto this website, Liam’s mother contacted Ivan and Richard and asked if they could create an artificial hand for her son. They obliged and, using a 3D printer, bits of cable, bungee cord returns and rubber thimbles, the two men collaborated over the internet to make it happen. And not only have they changed the life of young Liam, who is capable of doing things he never thought possible, they now hope to do the same for others looking for low-cost prosthetic alternatives.

For years, these two had been working on a “Robohand” together, in part due to the fact that Van As lost his right hand fingers in a woodworking accident. But until now, they had not considered the wider implications of their work. And after talking to Liam’s mom and seeing the difference it made in Liam’s life, they have set up a fundraising page are take requests for people looking for devices or who are interesting in offering help. Thanks to the open-source nature of the project, a number of improvements have already been made to their designs, with more sure to follow.

bionic_handsIn addition to showcasing the trend of DIY device-making and open-source development, this is also good news for anyone in the market for an artificial hand or limb and who does not have $10,000 kicking around. That’s the standard price for a prosthetic these days, which despite incredible leaps in terms of sophistication have not gotten any cheaper! But with the right know-how, and some technical assistance, a person can find their way to a cheap, printed alternative and see similar results.

Overal, prosthetics offer people the opportunity to restore mobility and retain their independence. And now, thanks to the internet and 3D printing capabilities, they can manufacture these devices independently. The power to restore your own mobility is in your own hands… Interesting, and one might even say cosmically convergent!

Rock on Liam! You’ve got a great mom and some talented friends. As for the rest of you, be sure to check out this video of the 5 year old boy in action with his new prosthetic hand.

Source: IO9.com, comingupshort.com, fundly.com