Can the Makerbot be programmed to self-replicate?

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Vikram asked me today:

Can the Makerbot be programmed to self-replicate?

To some extent, yes.

The underlying project is RepRap, whose objective is a machine capable of self-replication. In practice, building RepRap designs has been extremely time-consuming (typically it would take a year or so to make one), so Makerbot‘s objective was to build machines that could be packaged as kits which could be constructed in a weekend, even at the expense of reducing the extent to which it can self-replicate (e.g. the use of laser-cut timber for most of the chassis, rather than printed plastic).

RepRap has both substantially simplified its designs and increased the fraction of the design that is itself printed, but there’s still a long way to go. To get a sense of how large the gap is, have a look at the parts list for a RepRap Prusa Mendel.

Progress has been made on having a Makerbot Cupcake replicate itself but this is more of a stunt than a practical design because (a) it needs an absurd amount of plastic, (b) it’s less rigid (and therefore less accurate) than the original device and (c) it’s implementing a design that was optimised for timber.

So:

* RepRap’s objective remains making progress towards self-replicating machines
* Makerbot’s objective remains putting 3D printing into as many hands as possible

They do continue to share a great deal (essentially all of the software, the basic idea for printing with ABS, most of the electronics, …) and, of course, a Makerbot device can be used to print the printable parts of a RepRap; sets of printed parts even appear on eBay from time to time.

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