Some day, Lipson believes, every home will have a â€œfabber,â€? a machine that replicates objects from plans supplied by a computer. Such devices could change how we acquire common products, he suggests: Instead of buying an iPod, you would download the plans over the Internet and the fabber would make one for you.
Such machines could evolve from the 3-D printers currently used by industrial engineers for â€œrapid prototyping.â€? Price tags for these machines average around $100,000, but you can build your own Fab@Home for about $2,300 worth of off-the-shelf parts. The prototype, designed by Evan Malone, a Ph.D. candidate in Lipsonâ€™s Computational Synthesis Laboratory, is slower than the commercial models, and its resolution, or ability or produce fine detail, is lower, but people are finding practical â€” and often unexpected â€” uses for it.