3D printing and bigger bangs

This morning’s Observer column.

Although there are already some very sophisticated applications of 3D printing in industry (in aircraft manufacture, for example), most of the stuff produced by 3D printing in the public domain looks pretty naff to the layperson’s eye. The Texas gun, for example, looks naive and unsophisticated when compared to, say, a Walther PPK. One can just imagine James Bond’s incredulous sneer if Q were to offer it to him.

But for those who have followed the work of Harvard scholar Clayton Christensen over the years, the sheer crudity of the printed object is what rings bells because it evokes the possibility of disruptive change…

LATER: It turns out that the Feds are onto it:

On Thursday, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson received a letter from the State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance demanding that he take down the online blueprints for the 3D-printable “Liberator” handgun that his group released Monday, along with nine other 3D-printable firearms components hosted on the group’s website Defcad.org. The government says it wants to review the files for compliance with arms export control laws known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. By uploading the weapons files to the Internet and allowing them to be downloaded abroad, the letter implies Wilson’s high-tech gun group may have violated those export controls.

“Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled,” reads the letter, referring to a list of ten CAD files hosted on Defcad that include the 3D-printable gun, silencers, sights and other pieces. “This means that all data should be removed from public acces immediately. Defense Distributed should review the remainder of the data made public on its website to determine whether any other data may be similarly controlled and proceed according to ITAR requirements.”