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Free as in Dirt: In Pursuit of Truly Open Source Physical Objects

More than a decade ago, the democratization of 3D printers and CNC 2D cutters using lasers and routers brought with it a lot of breathless theorizing that mass customization and bespoke local production of objects would make global supply chains a thing of the past. Though these machines have changed maker culture dramatically and radically shortened the timeline of corporate product development, globalized supply chains are, if anything, even stronger. One key reason for this is that though these machines print with digital instructions which can be easily copied and sent, the matter they use is specialized, and therefore usually centrally produced. Another is that many of these materials are mined, or harvested in a mining-like way, so centralized production is most cost-effective.

This talk will present an alternative technological development path; one where materials are sourced entirely from constituents of living ecologies - plants, animals, microbes, and the materials they produce. Starting with historical examples of ecology-derived material production, Dominic will then present a catalogue of possible materials for experimentation. Then, using examples drawn from the maker community and from his own work, he will show how this method of production has the potential to make objects with functional properties across the entire spectrum of complexity - even including simple electronics. Along the way, the talk will highlight the societal, resilience, and ecological advantages of a manufacturing system like this one.