When Star Trek debuted in the mid-60s, everybody geeked out about the food synthesizers. Even my mom, a reluctant but compulsory Trek viewer, recognized the utility of this amazing gadget, particularly with two ravenous boys around the house. My brother and I knew, of course, that the real magic food box was the refrigerator.
Years later, I wasn't the only one craving the replicators of Star Trek:The Next Generation for my home workshop. TNG's follow-on concept of a 'universal build-box' upped the ante way beyond a hot cup of Earl Grey. The list of things we would have made at home was endless: for the kids, replacement baseball bats, balls and window panes, game controllers and handheld electronic devices. I would have gone in for replacement car parts, repairs for broken appliances and furniture, and an endless supply of consumables like gasoline, toilet paper, kitty litter, and inevitably, a couple of cold—strictly non-syntheholic—beers for afterwards. I note in passing that Starfleet protocol prohibits civilians from replicating weapons.
With the recent rise of the Maker movement and the advent of cheaper, easier-to-use 3D-printing technology, the sci-fi concept of a household device that can manufacture functional objects seems to be gaining reality. But for those who witnessed the technology's birth and growth, it has been a surprisingly long and winding road—one that has recently reached a significant but mostly unnoticed milestone. For me, it all began with Star Trek and the Silver Surfer. (more…)