Adrian Bowyer is a senior lecturer at the University of Bath, where he is a member of the Biomimetics Research Group and is developing an invention with paradigm-shifting potential—the self-replicating rapid prototyper, or RepRap. Imagine a printer that, instead of printing ink on paper, created solid objects in three dimensions. RepRap would not only produce a variety of useful objects, it also would have the ability to replicate itself and recycle everything it produced. Now consider: this fantastical concept may not be so far off. And though the idea has been around since the 1950s, Bowyer's is the first that's planning to make the RepRap designs available online, for free.
The global consequences of real, functioning RepRaps are substantial. As Bowyer puts it, “At the moment, an industrial company consists of hundreds of people building and making things. If these machines take off, it will give individual people the chance to do this themselves—and we are talking about making a lot of our consumer goods. The effect this has on industry and society could be dramatic.”