Sunday, August 25, 2013

3D Printers: Are they just the first step toward a Star Trek Replicator?

First it was the cell phone.  Now it's the replicator.  What was in Gene Roddenberry's water that made him such a visionary?  For all I know, the guy never invented any real object, but he did invent a world of ideas that have a knack for turning into real objects that make other people money (funny read, here!)

Case in point, the 3D printer (or, replicator wanna-be).  I was amazed at ISTE 2013 when I watched the 3D printer do its thing.  If it hadn't been time for lunch and I hadn't been hungry and tired, I would have watched the printing process for an hour.  Instead, I walked away amazed and vowed to write a post about the experience should I ever have my very own blog.  Being true to myself, here is that article.

While the 3D printer is an amazing, plastic object creating device, it was at ISTE and the premise is that the printer will become a part of the education process.  Can we make ball-and-stick models of molecules with it?  Wouldn't it be cool to show off the geometry of a molecule, but what a rather expensive rout to accomplish something that a molecular modeling kit does equally as well (and is reused for years and years).  Doe the printer make real perfect geometric solids for geometry class and are these required to be made anew each class?  I don't know, but right now I am not seeing the need for these in schools.

But, hold the presses.  It's just about the time I make a statement like the last sentence of the paragraph above that an inventive teacher uses the contraption to better the classroom.  I hope it does happen and that we find some great ways to use this technology.  But, without that killer pedagogically sound reason for having a 3D printer per school or per classroom, I wouldn't spend the money.

I'll end with a clear statement that I do not believe we are moving toward the world of a replicator.  In Star Trek, they invented a "device" known as the 'Heisenberg Compensator' to allow their replicator to overcome the uncertainty principle.  Well, that's not going to happen any time soon (probably never) so don't hold your breath or buy stock in any replicator companies.

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