In October 2004, I began tracking the rise of crude personal fabricators hacked from Inkjet printers. We are now on the verge of self-replicating fabricators and self assembling, replicating, and repairing robots. Here's the whole story...
My research began with the use of Inkjet printers to produce physical objects. The full story is in the above link. It involves hacked Inkjet printers spitting polymer instead of ink to create extremely detailed 3d physical objects. Initially, this was a cheaper and faster way to produce a prototype from a 3d computer model.
But since inkjet technology allows the very exact mixing of 3 basic colored inks into photographic quality results, it was also used to mix precisely charged polymers. A growing array of computer parts, complete working gadgets and solar cells followed from the widening jaw of the humble inkjet.
Polymer soon gave way to new mediums as researchers discovered they could use practically any pulverized material mixed with a suitable glue. Hard objects made from powdered ceramics and tungsten demonstrated that actual working parts (instead of just prototypes) were possible.
Then the pace quickened. Researchers Hod Lipson and Jordan B. Pollack at Brandeis University coupled inkjet technology and software to autonomously design and fabricate robots without human intervention. Other labs were using Inkjets to produce actual human skin complete with blood vessels.
The Rise of Personal Fabricators
In March 2005, engineers at the University of Bath worked on a machine to rapid prototype and replicate itself.
In early May, Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, announced his determination to produce affordable, replicating personal fabricators.
Later in May, Hod Lipson (who previously announced the process to design and fabricate robots without human intervention) pointed out the arrival of simple self replicating robots. I'll stay on top of this developing story.