RepRap a company founded in 2005 released its first 3D printer named Darwin in 2007 followed by the second Mendel in 2009 and Prusa Mendel and Huxley in 2010.
As you may have noticed they all are named after famous evolutionary biologists, this is due to the printers philosophy for creation: “the point of RepRap is replication and evolution”.
This means as reprap was released totally open source, anyone, anywhere can change it creating different kinds printers based on the original design resulting in “evolutions” of the same printer.
Furthermore the printer is to be able to copy itself by printing its own parts anytime and anywhere in the world from antarctica to africa, a machine that can create itself.
Check out the close up video of a reprap in action.
Taking this a step further scientists from the university of Denmark and Trento have customized a reprap to print liquids, then giving it computer vision and a artificial intelligence program it is the first machine of its kind that can be used to create, control and nurture chemical life without any human interaction.
In order to print liquids the printers plastic printing device known as a extruder is replaced with a cartridge with 6 computer controlled syringes and pipettes, these can move up and down interacting with a platform bed that sits below them typically holding a petri dish with a experiment on it.
Under the bed sits a camera that can watch the behaviors (velocity, ) of chemicals printed on the bed, using the data gathered from the camera a self organising map a method to sort big amounts of data organises it into different categories.
The learning program can make decisions like whether to add more droplets or to divide, remove or inject more chemicals based on the information.
By using an approach that uses machines instead of humans, research time and cost are significantly decreased which means faster and better data to other fields that rely on this information like genetics and cancer research.
“In theory, any kind of system from the very big, to the very small can be created and used with these kind of methods”
With further improvements researchers state it would be interesting to see what would happen if the created chemical life and the 3D printer “co-evolved” adapting as a result of a change in the other..
In the future the team hopes that the printer can create lifelike systems like the formation of cancer fighting proteins much more quickly and efficiently than current methods, opening many new pathways for products that rely the chemical reactions that can be produced.