Makerbot, RepRap and Wikinomics

About a week ago, the brooklyn-based company Makerbot Industries, led by its ubiquitous CEO, Bre Pettis, released a 3D printer called the Replicator 2 (image below) at around $2,200 per unit.

While the Rep2 was being developped, I bought the parts of my RepRap Prusa Mendel (image below) for £500 from a company called RepRapPro which was created by the inventor of the RepRap 3D printers, Adrian Bowyer. RepRap is an open-source project, meaning that all the components of the machine are disclosed online. This project is also based on the idea of a “self-replicating” machine. In fact, I could print some of the parts of another machine (the white parts below are printed).

Makerbot was founded by some of RepRap core developers, Zach Smith, Bre Pettis and Adam Mayer with some investment from Adrian Bowyer. In August, Makerbot received around $10M in funding from Angel Investors such as Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.

All the previous printers and CNC machines that Makerbot developped were open-source but the Rep2 will not be. Have a look at the post from Bre Pettis regarding this topic, and more specificaly, read the comments after it as well as the post by Josef Prusa, core developper of RepRap. The following reply of Adrian Bowyer to Bre Pettis’ post sums up what he thinks about the replicator: “Ask yourself: which will be the more numerous 3D printer (or laser cutter): one that can self-replicate, or one that has to be made in a conventional factory?”

This debate is not only fascinating but illustrates a possible conflict between the notion of Open-Source technology and sustainable business.

This summer, I read the book Wikinomics,  by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (cover below). They praise the concept of Open-Source as a positive revolution for companies, giving the example of IBM which spends $100M a year on the development of LINUX, an open-source operating system. They say opening up patents and copyright law will allow for collaboration on an unprecented scale which will benefit everyone. They call the new consumers, the “prosumers” as they will no longer buy passively but will know the inner-workings of their products and will be able to improve/hack them.

This is already happening with Arduino, Processing, FabLab, Hackspace…etc…communities in which people hack the Microsoft Kinect (video below) or Samsung/Android phones or any other devices with an open API (application programming interface) to create a new collaborative technology or pieces of art.

 

This whole debate resonnates within the architectural world in which Architects are often replaced by enthusiastic self-builders. With information being increasingly available online, knowledge will not necessarily be in our mind anymore but mostly on the web. What will remain in our minds is intelligence and decision on how and where to apply it.

Many questions arrise from it: How do we help self-builders or prosummers and do we want to help them? How do we offer our talent, our own experience to people that can technically do what we are suppose to do just by googling it? Can a business still be sustainable if it discloses all its innovations?

 

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