The Future is Here: The Factory in a Box

factory_box3-D Printing has proven itself quite useful when it comes to creating components, toys, and models. But when it comes to assembling complicated parts, or full-on products, other machines are often necessary. That’s where the Microfactory comes in, a veritable “multi-tool” machine that merges the best of 3-D printing and machining.

Being touted as “a machine shop in a box”, the creators of the device (the Mebotics company) were inspired to create this multi-tool kit after collaborating at the Boston-area Artisans Asylum. Artisans Asylum is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting hobbyists, artisans, fabricators and entrepreneurs through a series of open maker space presentations.

factory_box2In addition, the team was also inspired by the fact that most manufacturing systems suffer from two major downfalls: noise and mess. By “closing the system”, as they put it, they eliminated both hassles while still ensuring that their device is capable of both producing tailor-made objects and altering them to order.

The Microfactory dramatically expands the range of products a person with no other equipment could make. It is basically able to 3-D print in four colors, out of multiple materials, and also etch, and mill the final products. This process, which combines machining and printing, is what the makers refer to as “hybrid manufacturing.”

3D-printing-in-spaceAs Co-founder of Mebotics, Jeremy Fryer-Biggs, explains:

I wanted to have a machine that was capable of making parts for all the crazy stuff people people would ask me [to make]. I wanted a tool that would allow me to do a whole wide range of things.

As Fryer-Biggs and the team envision it, the Microfactory could also offer users the ability to create devices and components where they are needed, regardless of the location. With a fully-functional computer incorporated to provide the blueprints, they foresee some extreme scenarios where objects could be created and finished where no stores are available:

You’re at base camp in the Himalayas, you’re in the middle of Afghanistan and you wanna make a part. So you connect this thing to a Wi-Fi hotspot–if you have a Wi-Fi card in the machine that you put in. You can then download from the server whatever the replacement part is you need, and in the middle of nowhere, get your replacement.

3d_ISSThis vision is in keeping with what many scientific organizations – such as NASA, the ESA, and other space agencies – are foreseeing. Already, such devices are being considered for use on the International Space Station and on future space missions, where astronauts will always be in need of specialized tools and may not have the ability to have them shipped out to them.

The team currently has several working prototypes but is planning to bring the project to market by raising $1 million through Kickstarter. MicroFactory units are being pre-sold for between $4,000 and $10,000 in several models. Though the team admits that the price is high, the science fiction appeal alone is well worth it! As Marie Staver, a project manager on the team, put it: “The science fiction future is officially here.”

Couldn’t agree more. And in the meantime, check out this video of the Microfactory in action:

Sources: fastcoexist.com, mebotics.com, artisansasylum.com

The Town of Sidney, a City-Wide Hotspot

A news in my local paper announced something quite interesting, something which made me think my writing actually be slightly relevant. It was one of those “I told you so” moments, you might say. Well, according to the Peninsula News Review, the town of Sidney (about fifteen minutes drive up the road from where I live) has become one gigantic hotspot. Yes, that basically means that wherever you go in town, you will have wireless access to the internet. And, here’s the cool part, it’s all free and has been for almost a year now.

How does this relate to my own writing, you might ask? Well, it just so happens that I’ve been experimenting with the idea of an entire mega cities that function on this same principle in the not-too-distant future. In fact, it’s kind of intrinsic to the whole Singularitarian, Demarchist concept, where human beings are augmented with cybernetic implants (usually silicate, in literature) that allow them to access the networks wirelessly and hands-free at any given time. That way, they can participate in government, conduct business, and access information all day long, from any locale remotely.

And it just so happens that this idea is the cornerstone of Crashland, my serial novel over at Story Time. Basically, the premise is that by networking the entire world – by bringing all business, industry, information, communications, government and foreign relations under one wireless roof – the world became extremely vulnerable should a rather enterprising hacker could get past it’s built-in firewalls. And of course, that’s what exactly what happened, hence the name of the story!

Funny thing though. In spite of the rather cool nature of this development, the town of Sidney still feels that the word just hasn’t gotten out there enough. Well, I’m doing my part to spread the word with my meager little blog here, when not plugging my own work that is! And hopefully all the signs they are planning on placing on the highway and by the ferry terminal will help too. How’s are these for promo ideas:

“Entering a City-Wide Hotspot”, “Entering Sidney’s Wi-Fi Zone”, “Free internet for the next 10 km”. What do you think?