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Print your own walking machine

How cool is this?!

This little walking/running machine, known as Animarus Geneticus Parvus, is a design by the extraordinary Dutch artist and kinetic sculptor, Theo Jansen.


And now, thanks to Shapeways, you can now win one, as well as other cool prizes, by playing the new mini-game competition.  


Theo has, since 1990, been occupied with creating new forms of life. He is father to the "Animari" beach creatures, or "Strandbeests", made of PVC tubing, huge structures that walk the beach powered by the wind.


What's remarkable about this particular little beast, though, is not its mechanical brilliance, but that it was PRINTED.  Whole.  It was not constructed or assembled from parts. It was printed and came out fully functioning, in its entirety, ready to start walking straight from the 3D printer that was fed the design.  Not only that, you can order a print for yourself.


I was amazed, a few weeks ago, to come across incredible 3D printed objects like a fractal table and an entire working pendulum clock that had been designed and printed as showcases for a 3D print exhibition in Barcelona.  I wrote up the various findings, but whilst researching them I was even more amazed to discover that, whilst 3D printers for the home are not yet commercially available, there are already 3D printing services such as a Shapeways that will print off designs that you upload to them, or any of the designs in their library which include copies of some of Theo Jansen's.


The invention the printing press was a revolutionary invention - as important in history as the invention of 'zero' and the steam engine.  Printers allowed information to be copied and spread in ways that had never before been possible.  The printer was arguably the most important technological revolution in history before the advent of the internet precisely because of the freedom it gave to information: it made other revolutions, such as the steam engine, possible.


3D printing could well be a revolution on the same scale. Why? Because where 2D printing and the Internet allow information to spread, 3D printing allows that information to materialise, by-passing the problematic, time-consuming and human-dependent assembly phase.  It will be possible to send the design of a machine - almost at the speed of light - to anywhere with a 3D printer, and print off that machine there and then.  Given sufficient printing resolution, this means that essentially, physical objects will have the same freedom as information has today.


New parts to improve existing machines could be printed at will, allowing designs essentially to 'evolve' rather than everyone having the same design.  And this is a step towards machines being able to improve themselves on the fly.


Imagine if, instead of going to the store to trade in your phone for the next model up, you simply instructed your phone to download the new design and modify itself whilst still in your pocket? It may sound highly futuristic, but so does printing off a fully-functioning walking machine - and as it happens, you can already do that today.



© Sencillo Press and Gruff Davies 2010

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