Star Trek Replicator Technology Becomes Reality
Living in Fantasy
On board Federation starships and in every single Federation domicile is installed what is known as a replicator. It's main purpose is to provide food, but in fantastical reality, it can make anything. The basic premise of replication technology is the ability to reconstitute raw matter into any substance and shape desired. All of the television Star Trek incarnations never strayed into the more dubious or even series-killing problems with replication technology - the ability to fabricate anything at all. We can of course assume that in the Star Trek universe, replicating complex mechanisms and substances would take too much energy for any non-manufacturing plant to produce on an economically viable scale. At least that's what we Trekkies like to tell ourselves to keep us immersed in the fantasy we love to live in.
Computing Power and Atomization
But if we were to look at this unique technology objectively, then we could easily conclude that it would be feasible and affordable to manufacture any product this way. It is comprehensible in fact, that a solid object with a defined shape, could be remanufactured or copied to exact specifications if one had enough computing power. This is also the basis of Star Trek's transporter technology, although in Star Trek, a person is briefly transformed into energy particles as they are atomized and reassembled at their destination. There are too many questions to answer before that becomes a real technology, such as, will the disassembled and reassembled person be the same at the other end since they are effectively killed and revived after all the parts of their body are torn to pieces? I think that may be possible since many people have died and been dead for a few minutes and brought back to life. In essence, the transporting process is the same.
Replication Technology is Impossible
But what if we had the technology to assemble raw material into solid forms? Then the first incarnation of this machine would be very primitive. It would only be able to layer slices of material on top of the previous slice much like a copy machine. Interestingly enough, Jay Leno has such a machine.
Some of you may know of Leno's passion for owning classic and unusual vehicles such as the MTT Y2K Turbine Superbike, also known as the jet bike, or the Eco Jet Car, another jet powered vehicle. Among many classics is the 1907 White Steamer, a product of Stanley Steamer built for the President to ride in. An integral engine part, the feedwater heater, had become so corroded that steam and oil leaked out during operation. Leno used a scanner and a 3 dimensional printer to reproduce the part. The NextEngine 3D scanner takes a complete picture of an entire object, including surface texture, (it can even do crescent wrenches according to Jay), then the Dimension 3D printer takes over and basically replicates the virtual model in plastic or metal, layering slices of the copied object precisely. At this point, if it is made in plastic, it can be sent off to the factory to make a mold which is then used to make the necessary part.
Jay Leno's Garage
- Jay Leno\'s Garage
Jay Leno's passion for everything automotive manifests itself online at Jay Leno's Garage. More than just a showcase for the comedian's collection of early roadsters, classic cars, motorcycles, muscle cars, race cars, and everything in between, Jay's
Technology Will Advance
Although the scanner is a what I will call for a lack of a better term, a "surface scanner," it doesn't take much to imagine that we will soon have the ability to scan an object in its entirety, including material density, and in the slightly farther future even discern what kind of elements make up the different sections of the object. Taking another leap, it shouldn't be long till computers will be able to assimilate this information and send it to a 3D density and element copy machine to completely reproduce an object in its finished form. Computing technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, and that is easy to see as the computer you bought today, will be antiquated compared to next year's model when you consider RAM, hard drive capacity and CPU performance. In fact, it is possible even today to not only allow 2 CPU's to work together, but thirty two CPU's as well! This technology has not been made available to the public, and one can easily surmise that the greedy computing technology overlords are slowly leaking these advances out to the public to make the most of their technology profits from consumers - this way they have to work less hard creating new technologies while slowly milking our pocket books. But I digress. Quantum computing is on its way in and despite naysayers, I believe it will come about just as surely as powered flight and space travel. And so will replication technology.
Tell Me More
What that means is that if one is able to carry the equipment and raw building matter with them, wherever they go they will be able to fix their machinery whether it's a flashlight, a broken part for their ground vehicle or ocean going vessel. That also includes clothing and mundane survival gear. How about medicine? And weapons as well. Or radios or other communication devices like cell phones. In fact, someday, everyone will have one of these in their homes, and instead of purchasing a product online and having it shipped to your home, you will order the blueprints and using the raw material that you need which is purchased at the grocery or hardware store, you will send the blueprints to the replicator and walla, you now have a new solar or hamster powered toaster.
You're confused by the solar and hamster power aspect? Naturally, just like folks who love to write program code for fun, inventive people will modify design specs to work better than intended, (or worse), and you the consumer, now have the freedom to get an ordinary toaster that still plugs in to a regular outlet, or get a crazy intelligent toaster that not only tells time, but has legs and walks all over your apartment like a pet. Oh, and it meows at you too. And, you can put your son’s hamster’s penchant for running all night to good use by replicating a new hamster wheel that generates electricity.
The Posibilities and the Negative Human Element
This all sounds incredibly far fetched, as far fetched as the Jetson's flying car. But do you think anyone would have envisioned computers that could talk to and understand us over the phone? What about X-ray machines, or lasers that can make the blind see again? Let's not forget solar powered flight, or the fact that we can run vehicles on vegetables or even weeds and grass now. The world is full of innovations that would seem completely magical to our predecessors, and even to us in this present day. Star Trek replication technology will eventually come to pass, even if it is a hundred years from now. But what we do with it will be the real question. Can we feed the world's hungry? Can we create an infrastructure that will allow workers on third world countries to help build and maintain these replicators? Of course we can, but at this point, it doesn't seem that we will create the utopia such marvelous technology could sustain.
The Upside and Radical Change
But what will happen with replicators is that we can have boundless freedom, to create whatever strikes the inventor or artist in us, or travel to desolate regions on a low budget, (not just Earth, but long term space travel as well), and make medical technology cheap. Someday we will throw our dirty clothes in the replicator and print out a completely clean and new set of clothes. In fact, the advent of this habit will give rise to clothing styles that change daily. Teenagers everywhere will be downloading the latest style right before bed or even in the morning before they go to school. Parents everywhere will be scolding them for the energy usage and the price of raw materials that gets piped into their homes. But recycling will also be a factor, and in fact the cloth from the previous day's clothes will be reused to make the new clothes, and hopefully the technology used to identify and form atoms into patterns will also be able to remove dirt and bacteria. The biggest problem will be when you take the kids to see Grandma for a week. "Aw mom, every time we go there we have to bring like 5 sets of clothes and stuff, it takes forever to pack! Her old washing machine is like from 2010 and I always smell funny after washing my rags there." You will just roll your eyes and try to enlighten them about how lucky they are as you program the local community replicator to build you a car to take you out of the city. Overhead, a starship leaving the local spaceport arcs into the sky and rockets away on a gravity pulse beam, it's heading out on a 5-year mission, packed with raw material cubes, enough to build spare parts and feed a crew of twenty. It's a good life.