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Look at your computer setup and imagine that you hooked up a 3D printer. Instead of printing on bits of paper this 3D printer makes real, robust, mechanical parts. To give you an idea of how robust, think Lego bricks and you're in the right area. You could make lots of useful stuff, but interestingly you could also make most of the parts to make another 3D printer. That would be a machine that could copy itself.
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RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper. It is the practical self-copying 3D printer introduced in the video on the left - a self-replicating machine. This 3D printer builds the parts up in layers of plastic. This technology already exists, but the cheapest commercial machine would cost you about €30,000. And it isn't even designed so that it can make itself. So what the RepRap team are doing is to develop and to give away the designs for a much cheaper machine with the novel capability of being able to self-copy (material costs are about €350). That way it's accessible to small communities in the developing world as well as individuals in the developed world. Following the principles of the Free Software Movement we are distributing the RepRap machine at no cost to everyone under an open source license (the GNU General Public Licence). So, if you have a RepRap machine, you can use it to make another and give that one to a friend...
The RepRap project became widely known after a large press coverage in March 2005, though the idea goes back to a paper on the web written by Adrian Bowyer on 2 February 2004.
Not counting nuts and bolts RepRap can make 50% of its parts; the other parts are designed to be cheaply available everywhere. The primary goal of the RepRap project is to create and to give away a makes-useful-stuff machine that, among other things, allows its owner cheaply and easily to make another such machine for someone else.
To increase that 50%, the next version of RepRap will be able to make its own electric circuitry - a technology we have already proved experimentally - though not its electronic chips. After that we'll look to doing transistors with it, and so on...
Academics and others seeking refereed journal articles on RepRap may care to start with this paper in Robotica. The citation is:
Jones, R., Haufe, P., Sells, E., Iravani, P., Olliver, V., Palmer, C., and Bowyer, A.,: RepRap – the replicating rapid prototyper, Robotica (2011) volume 29, pp. 177–191. Cambridge University Press.
- RepRap - n. any free rapid prototyping machine that can manufacture a significant fraction of its own parts; v.t. (in lower case: to reprap) to make something in a RepRap machine.
- RepStrap - n. any free rapid prototyping machine that doesn't make its own parts, but is intended to make parts for a RepRap.
- reprapper - n. a person engaged in making or using RepRaps or RepStraps.
- reprapable - adj. capable of being made in a RepRap machine.