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What is VoxelFab?

I coined the word VoxelFab in response to work by Hod Lipson & Jon Hiller on an idea by Neil Gerhshenfeld.

The basic concept is to have a rapid assembly machine. This machine would scoop up and  millions of individual “Voxels” and then deposit them in an organized fashion in a layer. The machine would add layer upon layer of voxels and in so doing build up an object.

A voxel is currently used as a term for a 3 dimensional pixel. The term is used in 3D modeling and gaming for a virtual pixel with volume. I use it here for a actual 3D dimensional object.  I’m going to try and capitalize Voxel when it refers to the physical Voxel. The dream would be for a voxel on a screen to be an accurate and direct representation of a Voxel in real life. This would seamlessly intertwine design and manufacturing.  Voxels would be universal LEGO blocks for constructing any object.

Since they would be rather small (100 micron) you would need billions of them to build anything. They could then be mass produced on a hereto unprecedented scale. If the basic specifications could be agreed upon many companies could develop ever cheaper ways of manufacturing Voxels making them inexpensive.

The great advantage VoxelFab technology would have over any other manufacturing technology would lie both in the widespread availability of these Voxels and the fact that you could develop different Voxels with different characteristics. You could have a magnetic Voxel for example, a conductive one, a soft one, a hard one etc. The ability for the VoxelFab machine to select and pick up different distributions of these different Voxels and organise them would give you hereto impossible material properties. Hod gave the example of a rubber band that would widen if pulled.You could imagine objects that were magnetic only in some areas or had varying degrees of magnetism, smoothness, hardness, flexibility etc.

A working VoxelFab is still years away, but the exciting possibilities of true digital materials will revolutionize design and manufacturing.

I’m currently involved with 3D printing, a precursor technology for VoxelFab. I think both technologies will bring about a world where anyone can make anything and where anyone can design anything. This is why I follow developments in the field of 3D printing, manufacturing technology, iterative design, generative design, “make”, networked manufacturing and personal production. This blog and the the coining of the term VoxelFab is my attempt at tracking developments leading up to a world where anyone making anything becomes a reality.

Join me on this journey.

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