So far, I have spent most of this morning pacing. This is because I have a very exciting package arriving today – a 3D printer.
A few years ago, while working for the Virginia Air and Space Center in Virginia, I was fortunate enough to learn a lot about 3D printing and how to operate some of the earlier generations of Makerbot.
At the time, just a few years ago, we were looking at four-digit costs for these pieces of equipment, which was almost worth it for the look of wonder on everyone who saw it in action for just what could be done.
Just a few short years later, the cost has dropped enough on even high-end versions of these machines that we will now have a personal one, in our own home.
And this is kind of blowing my mind.
The History of 3D Printing
To my amazement when I first started studying printing in 3D, I found out it actually dates back to the 1980’s.
Now, I was born in the 80’s and remember growing up through the latter years of the decade, and into the 90’s. I remember old dot matrix printers and the wonder when the Pentium TWO came out. I remember DOS and Windows 3.1 (my parents made sure I had access to the latest tech from a young age. Thank you folks!)
Seems impossible that 3D printing can have come from the same era as massive shoulder pads and dial-up internet that sounded like you were killing the modem.
But, nevertheless, that’s what happened. The timeline for figuring out the major ways to print in 3D went as follows:
1980: First patent filed by Japanese Dr. Kodama for the Rapid prototyping method
1984: Stereolithography experimented with by the French then abandoned
1986: Stereolithography research is taken up by American Charles Hull
1987: First SLA-1 machine produced
1988: First SLS machine produced
I won’t bore you all with what each time does or how it works, just know that it is all to do with how you bond your materials together to form layers to build upon.
In the 1990’s, Computer Assisted Design and 3D modeling really took off, so it was only a matter of time until we got to where we are now – able to print anything you like inside your own home.
The book I’m currently working on is set in the modern day, unlike my Hevna work. It is also based on a series of events and collaborative story efforts from over 12 years of time.
Now, when these ideas were first being bandied about, we were safely out of dial-up internet access, but still quite some way away from everyone and their dog having smartphones.
I want the story to be contemporary, however, so I find myself tweaking and adjusting it for what we have today, and just boggling at how fast we as a species are developing.
In some ways, this is helping my writing, as my lead ‘monster’ in the book feels about the same as I do about ‘progress’ – it’s a great thing, but man is it hard to keep up!
“So, are all the old stories true? Do you all really have telepathy or whatever?”
“Telepathy? Why would we? You men solved that one for us.” Rani tossed an item onto her desk. As it skittered to a halt, Evelyn recognized it as a smartphone, gently rocking inside its decorative case. “Everything you could possibly want to know at the touch of a finger, my boys on the other end of the line day or night, and thousands of cat videos to boot. Technology leaves magic in the dust, my dear, and there’s an upgrade every year. Very convenient.”
I don’t consider myself ‘old’ at a mere thirty-five years of age, but I am surprised at just how ‘dated’ I sometimes feel when I compare and contrast my formative years to those of today’s teenagers.
Writing my current work is making me do just that a lot, and it’s surprising how quietly and efficiently things have changed, and how that changes what I took for granted in my storytelling twelve years ago.
The above is a good example of just one facet, but I have run across many more. Where once I might have pushed for my characters to have special abilities, or things made of some ‘unobtanium miraculoy’ to allow for, say, super strength or a human-like robotic arm replacement, we now have these things, for real. True, they might not be quite where we want them yet, but I dare any of you to see the work being done by the wonderful Open Bionics in the UK and not think ‘wow, those arms are super cool, and functional. Kind of want one’.
I also find myself considering my plots and what needs changing now home security is a much more viable thing for many, as are safe rooms (tornadoes being a thing), instant communication, computer monitoring and high-end safety systems on important places like banks and government buildings. It’s almost like they don’t want to be easily robbed by the villans-du-jour.
Moreover, I marvel at sci-fi writers all the more for their foresight and ability to extrapolate what we as a species are likely to do next.
The scientist part of me is all too aware of the difficulties of space, how hard it would be to ever invent faster-than-light travel or warp drive, while sci-fi writers are just sitting over there coming up with a thousand ideas a week about how to overcome that sort of thing… and trusting that eventually, people will do these things.
One only has to look at current gadgets we now have that were inspired by writers guessing what we might achieve. These include:
The mobile phone.
Self-driving cars (still in the works, but almost there!)
The taser (even its name comes from writing)
A thousand, thousand more things, and of course, the 3D printer is also one. When I was growing up, Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise called it a ‘replicator’.
Mum and I always said we wanted one. Mine arrives today!
In short, technology is incredible, as are we as a species when we put out minds to pushing to find out what’s possible.
When it comes to writing, it’s a serious joy to look at just what we can do and put it into words, and think about what might come next, while marveling at what those who came before us managed also.
When creative minds meet practical people, it seems there is no end to what we can envision and create, and that gives me genuine hope for our species going into the future.
Now if they can just work out this Virtual Reality thing without it making people sick all the time… (I want my holodeck).