Imagine if the space taken up by the printer on your desk were replaced by a machine that could print solid three-dimensional objects. Chess pieces, a model car, anything you could imagine. Sound like science fiction? It's not.
It's called a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic, and you can see one in action Saturday at the Lexington Art League's Loudoun House.
The MakerBot, which is built from a kit and can be modified by the builder, has been featured in The New York Times and in Rolling Stone and Wired magazines, and it just might change the way people think about small-scale manufacturing.
Collexion, a local group of creative technophiles who collaborate on projects that blur the boundaries of art and science, will talk about their work and demonstrate how their MakerBot works. In addition to the MakerBot, which prints plastic 3-D objects, the group will unveil their version of a computerized wood-cutting machine called a CNC Router.
Between the two gadgets, it would be possible for someone to manufacture products without the need of molds or industrial machines. Together, they represent a do-it-yourself factory.
Need a coffee table to display your Thing-o-Matic knick-knacks on? Just make one with the CNC Router.
"The CNC takes a block of material like wood or foam or metal and cuts away at it to make a 3-D object," Collexion community coordinator Nikolai Warner says. "Folks create furniture, art and all kinds of giant things with the tool that's the size of a giant table."
Collexion is a "hackerspace," which isn't what it sounds like.
"The term hacker has earned a negative connotation in the past decade," says Charlie Campbell, who curates LAL's current exhibit, Scripts + Systems, which explores humans' relationship with technology. "But what is meant by hacking at Collexion is on the far other end of the spectrum from nefarious."
Warner says, "Collexion is an all-volunteer, non-profit community focused on providing tools, workspace and programs for all ages to build and learn about technology, science and creativity."
Campbell adds, "They are our benevolent, technology wizards."
The hackerspace movement began in Europe during the '90s and has expanded to cities around the world, including Louisville and Cincinnati, which host hackerspaces called LVL1 and Hive 13.
Collexion meets twice a week in a community lab setting to work on projects and to share tools and resources.
It might sound like an exclusive group of super-nerds, but it's not.
"Anyone of any age or skill level can be involved," Warner says, "and if you're involved, you're a hacker, as in someone who wants to see how the world works so they take it apart, mix it up and create something new."
He says Collexion's membership spans all ages and interests.
"College students, high schoolers, computer programmers, artists, mathematicians, videographers, clock makers, surfers," Warner says, listing the diversity of Collexion's hackers.
"Dozens of people helped to make these projects possible," Warner says of the group's collaboration process.
"Some people helped fund it with donations, others volunteered to solder parts and construct the devices, and others helped to capture the process with photos and video," he says.
He says the group tries to pick projects that will affect the community.
For Warner and the rest of Collexion, the benefit of the MakerBot Thing-o-Matic and the CNC Router is that "everyone gets to actually use the tools that we made to make their own projects and art."