A Course on Fabbing and Nanotechnologies at ISIA Design Florence

Art is Open Source will be holding this year’s course in Multi Platform Digital Design (Progettazione Digitale Multi-Piattaforma, in Italian) at ISIA Design in Florence.
This year’s course will be focused on the themes of Digital Fabrication, Nanotechnologies and on the shifts in paradigms for production, about which we will imagine, design and enact different scenarios for the near future.
ISIA course 2013

ISIA course 2013

Sites such as http://www.thingiverse.com/ and http://www.shapeways.com/ have become rather common. This fact suggests a radical shift in the ways the paradigms of productions are (and can be) perceived, and brings up a whole series of fundamental issues which will become the commonplace for the (near) future of design.
What is certain is that precursors of these processes, such as the guys from http://www.fluid-forms.com/, have changed the ways in which, now, we are able to perceive objects and the ways in which we design and produce them.
Fluid Forms is a good example for this. When starting out, back in 2005, the concept of a widely accessible role of the Creative Coder operating in a virtual Design Space to design objects which could be physically produced/sold was not something many people had a chance to deal with.
For example, Fluid Forms’ Design Spaces allowed coders/designers to create software-generated objects using a number of information sources, APIs and data.
For example you, given a latitude/longitude pair of geographical coordinates, you could Google Maps to find the streets and landscape in that location and use this geometrical information to produce the design of a jewel, or a clock, or of something else. The object was, then, put on sale and users could specify their own set of coordinates (e.g.: of a place that was particularly meaningful for them) and produce their own, generative object.
This has been a steady trend ever since, and, progressively, we are starting to find it rather easy to identify objects with software.
Objects can be produced directly starting from the 3D files that describe them, and this changes the whole scenarios and the supply chains that were traditionally found in design and production:
  • 3D files (and programs to generate them) are exchanged and used to produce the objects (through 3D printing, for example)
  • files can be freely modified, reproduced, copied, redistributed etc

This obviously determines a radical change in the ways in which we traditionally perceive intellectual property when we deal with physical objects.

Imagine a scenario:

  • Ikea enters the 3D Printing market
  • You go to the Ikea store, you buy your 3D Printer, your supply of base materials (usually resins of some sort) and you go back home
  • you connect to the Ikea website, browse the 3D printable products, choose one and download it
  • it is a 3D file
  • you feed it to the 3D Printer and there you have it: your fresh-printed brand new Ikea Ashtray
  • then you send the file to one of your friends, as she has a 3D Printer, as well
  • your friend takes the 3D file, opens it in an editor, makes some changes to it (“here, with this added curve it looks just wonderful!”) and prints it out
  • then she puts the file up on Thingiverse, where everyone may download it, print it, etc

Whose copyright (if any) is it? Ikea’s? The original purchaser’s? His friend’s? The downloaders’? And so on…

Nothing we’re used (yet) to thinking about when we speak about physical objects.

Tendentially: the factory comes home!  Meaning that production will progressively disperse, become disseminated across a number of different scenarios in which digital files will be distributed in peer-to-peer ways across a number of small production facilities (even single households) in which they will be use to produce objects, and where they will also be modified and redistributed.

And companies such as http://www.makerbot.com/http://objet.com/ , http://cubify.com/cube/ , and http://futurecnc.code.arc.cmu.edu/ (and a lot more, lately) are making wide efforts to making sure that this will happen.

The outcomes of this tendency are practically infinite. Here are some examples:
A 3D vending machine:
A 3D printed skull prosthesis:
A smart phone application that works as a 3D scanner:
A doodler, a 3D Pen:
A 3D printed home:
Obviously, these practices raise quite a few interesting issues for discussion, as well:
  • at ecological and environmental level:
    • where do the raw materials come from?
    • are they sustainable?
    • how do you dispose of them?
    • could the possibility to 3D print anything bring on phenomenons of over-production?
    • etc…
  • at social level:
    • will be become new forms of stay-home consuming (producing) machines?
    • will we ever get out of our house? :)
    • will we be the target of the strategies of global strategies that will see us really busy with bringing up printing/modifying/commenting businesses for operators, and progressively loose contact with traditional markets and the world outside?
  • at ethical level:
    • what if i 3D print a rifle? or a bomb?

Obviously, some of these issues are exaggerated, for the sake of clarity, and some of them have already (partial) answers. But we’ll learn about them along the way, during the course.

The advent of nano-technologies allows these processes to radicalize even more.
For example, the nanotech factory-in-a-box scenarios allow for the disappearance of the limitations found in current 3D printers about the materials which can be used to produce the objects (mostly resins of some sort) and their achievable quality: the possibility to assemble more complex molecules starting from simpler ones theoretically allows to produce objects in any material, and the nano-scale of the production would allow for unmatched precision and quality.
Or as with the possibility to produce objects that are “alive”, or that relate with the human body at some level (e.g.: organs, eyes, prosthesis…): as with anything that could be in such tight relationship with our bodies and identities, these scenarios provide both great hopes and fears for the future. (e.g.: imagine if i nano-printed a replacement for my diseased liver using a service which is able to remotely stop it from working if I’m not able to pay their monthly fee…).
Or at the level of being able to produce objects which can chemically, mechanically and organically activate themselves, even in “intelligent” ways, to take actions of some sort. (from t-shirts which spontaneously change color, up to hordes of nano-robots which are able to use the materials around them to build skyscrapers)
Or HIV-curing nano-robots, nano-energy mechanisms which produce energy using waste etcetera.

What will happen during the course:

We will learn about the scenarios of fabbing and nanotechnologies, and will prepare and use tools which will enable us to observe their processes, evolutions, events: we will establish a sort of observatory unto the state-of-the-arts and to catch the signals which will use to infer the future scenarios.
Then we will discuss and design scenarios for the near/far future. Be them far of near, scary or hopeful, positive or negative, we will make works of design fiction that will explore these scenarios.
And then we will create transmedia narratives for these projects.
Have we designed a service which people use for replacement organs for a monthly fee? A peer-to-peer market of 3D printed molecular cuisine? A peer-to-peer production system to produce nano-energy from waste? A 3D printing service to replicate our pets?
We will make them as true as possible by producing websites, apps, prototypes, fakes, installations, performances, street advertisements, guerrilla marketing campaigns and more.

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