You wouldn't download a car, would you?

25 January 2012

During the non-skippable antipiracy warnings on a lot of DVDs and BluRay disks these days, the MPAA often has an MTV-style juxtaposed and jump-cut commercial that includes the admonition "You wouldn't download a car, would you?" which has spawned a response in the form of an image macro that seems to have gotten a few of us thinking. Earlier this week the notorious BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay posted on their blog that they had created a new category of files that can be shared via their website, Physibles, or files that can be used to create actual, tangible objects if fed into a 3D printer, automill, or autolathe. Surprisingly, the category began to fill almost immediately, from some DIY bio stuff to a theoretically illegal portrait (note: safe for work).

I think it's only a matter of time before people start seeding torrents of things they upload to Thingiverse to give the .stl files for their objects and projects a leg up on distribution. As things stand now it's getting scarily easy to design and fabricate things for very little money. With a good eye and some patience it's possible to design a whole product using Blender or Google Sketchup (both free), export it to an .stl file (howtos for Blender, Sketchup), and e-mail the file to a company that specializes in small runs of objects and devices for a couple of dollars. Or, if you're feeling enterprising, you can copy the .stl files onto a USB key and take them down to your friendly neighborhood hackerspace and either print it on a RepRap or Makerbot, or if necessary have a CNC gantry router carve the pieces for you. Technologically speaking, we're not at the point where we can download the specs for a vehicle (just some parts of one) and run them off, not by a longshot. However, these relatively primitive personal fabrication devices represent solid first steps toward eventually having at our disposal real autofacs (automated factories).

By the way, if you want to take a look at an opensource CNC autorouter, here's the .dxf file for the Kikori by Judah Sher of Sindrian Arts (CC-BY-SA v3.0 Unported).