Totally offtopic but cool.
Rehmi Post is just wrapping up his PhD. Among other things, he teaches a three month class to new students, titled “how to fabricate (almost) anything”. Students start with using CAD packages, then he takes them through fabrication of parts using machine tools, how to design circuit boards, and — literally — just about anything, up to and including MEMS, microelectromechanical machines etched out of silicon wafers using the same lithography techniques as microprocessors. “One thing we’ve learned in the course of this study is that the fabrication tools currently available all suck,” he says.
Which is why he and some other researchers are working on the Fab Lab. The goal is to build a toolkit that can be sold for under $10,000 (£6500) and that contains everything you need in order to make almost anything. “We want to take arts and crafts to a level where people can do their own prototyping, build their own radios, oscilloscopes, or computers, and do it on the cheap with full support in tools and hardware.” He’s not kidding. The Fab Lab — personal fabrication — includes a CAD workstation, a modified vinyl cutter able to carve circuit boards, a computer-controlled milling machine, an FPGA programmer, and may eventually include a 3D printer and other machine tools. One important element they’re working on is a library of electronic components, royalty-free, than the system can be used to handle various tasks. Using FPGA (field programmable gate array) chips means the system can contain sophisticated electronics — FPGAs are designed to be reconfigured at the hardware level to emulate arbitrary circuits, all the way up to an ARM processor. The Fab Lab team are trying to develop a system comprehensive enough that any one Fab Lab can be used to build copies of itself, and they’re looking at a hardware design strategy akin to the GPL (GNU General Public License) — spin offs such as Project Pengachu give a feel for how they’re thinking these tools can be used.
” — article by Charlie Stross on MIT Media lab
according to http://fab.cba.mit.edu/info.html, a fab lab currently
costs about $30k; i’m assuming it’s not self-machinable yet.