Not more than 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been almost unthinkable to have the kind of photo-printing technology that we have in homes today, and 100 years ago no one could have imagined being able to scan and print documents at home. But printing technology is just bounding ahead, and today we have 3D replicators in universities and offices – no doubt they’ll soon be in our homes. Machines like the ZPrinter 350 and the self-replicating RepRap can actually take a programmed shape and turn it into a solid three dimensional object that you can hold in your hand. This technology has been rumored, dreamed about and fictionalized in TV and movies for years, but it’s finally arrived – and it’s almost as magnificent as we thought it would be.
Of course, it’s got its problems: it’s still expensive ($25,900 for the ZPrinter, 500 Euro if you want to build the RepRap at home), there are major size constraints, and obviously you can’t just replicate anything you see. But that’s being a little picky. Because, come on, replicating any object in three dimensions is pretty amazing. If you can’t afford the ZPrinter or don’t have the technical know-how to build the RepRap (or if you’re scared of the RepRap eventually gaining sentience, which you should be), you can always have Shapeways print your object of choice and send it to you. Programming a computer to make a custom three-dimensional shape for you? We are living in the future.