Friday, June 07, 2013

3D Printed Gun: Mashable Mini-Documentary

Recently we’ve been featuring occasional prints of the Liberator (and will also have other 3D printed guns soon-ish). One of the Liberators we showed you was printed on the 3D Systems Cube in blue plastic. We didn’t name the guy who did it, but he’s Travis Lerol. The website Mashable did a nice mini-documentary in which they interview the media-happy Cody Wilson, and accompany Lerol to the first attempted live fire of his Liberator. Travis, an Air Force vet, comes across as an engaging geek (along with the Liberator and several AR-15 lower iterations, he’s printed a scale-model TARDIS, from the übergeek TV series Doctor Who).

“There’s definitely a learning curve with it,” Travis says, as a crew captures the poor welcome he gets from the range crew, and the troubles he has with his printed gun (no further spoilers; watch the well-done video).

The producer and interviewers from Mashable seem to have taken themselves out of the picture to a greater extent than other sites do when they give Defense Distributed and its earthly works the ZOMG GUNZ!!11!!!1!!! treatment. (We’re lookin’ at you, Wired). To some extent that’s an illusion: of course the director made his mark on what we see, we only see what he shows up. But this definitely gives Cody and Travis a chance to tell their own tales in their own words.

Another printer experimenter built a 3/4 scale Liberator on a Solidoodle SD2, but due to scaling (and other) issues and problems, it’s non-fireable. The SD2 is a low-cost, entry-level printer that has a reputation as a bit fiddly.

Designers in “real” gun companies have had 3D printing for 10+ years, but they’ve used it for rapid prototyping. Neither most professional engineers nor the makers of the technology could (or can) really see where it’s going. Today’s 3D printer is about where 1986′s LaserWriter and 300-baud modem were. None of the visionaries then, Jobs and Gates and Sculley and those guys, nor the pundits, most of whom are forgotten now, could have seen where that first ozone-stinking 300 dpi black-and-white gadget and the little box that made funny noises on the phone line would take us. Entire business models have been born and died in the intervening decades, and other business models that have endured for centuries (think newspapers) are flailing.

While the incumbents in various positions of power try to stamp out Defense Distributed, and prop up various big firms with business models that have been erased by the disintermediating effect of the internet, the internet teems with ever more releases of novel gun components. From the point of view of the State Department’s “Department of Defense Trade Controls,” this is villainy that must be crushed. But they’ve just bought themselves a game of perpetual transnational whack-a-mole, and this will go as well as attempts to stamp out software piracy, music bootlegging, drugs and poverty have gone. Or as well as the classic example of all time: the Volstead Act.

As we say, the market always equilibrates. Or as a fictional character once said, “You can’t stop the signal.”

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