The ultimate D-I-Y PC

You've heard of open source software, but what about open source hardware?

It's closer than you think, says Econz software engineer Vik Olliver.

Speaking at a New Zealand Computer Society event last week on the future of computing, Olliver pointed out that stereolithography already allows three-dimensional printing of tangible objects. It works by making models of CAD drawings, compiled from multiple layers of plastic in patterns set by lasers. Ceramic objects can also be created.

That brings to mind the concept of open source hardware, Olliver says. "One day, I may be able to print my own PC."

Olliver also spoke about "bleeding edge" technologies being developed by companies like IBM and HP such as "high-rise" memory, fast-bootup magnetic RAM and microscopic storage technologies.

Computing is already being done at molecular level, with IBM creating the world's smallest live circuit in October, he says.

"It needs to be reset by microscope, but it proves you can get logic down to that level."

DNA will be used in computing in the future but not the genetic variety, says Olliver. "It will be a purely structural item."

The end result will be machines that can make perfect copies of themselves, because at the atom and molecule level "there are no imperfections".

Olliver, an embedded systems developer, believes that will be possible by 2010 to 2015 and will "make every manufacturing technology we know today obsolete".

Some of Olliver's audience were sceptical that such techniques, while viable, will be widespread by that time, questioning how such flawless self-replication will sit with intellectual property law.

Olliver says "patents apply to commercial designs but not to what you build yourself".

The question of standards relating to the technology and how uniform they are was also raised. OIliver says there is already a uniform standard for constructing, designing and modelling nano-level devices.

"Researchers in the field are pushing ahead in a single, coherent manner."

In the nanotechnological future, he says "not everyone will choose a very high-tech lifestyle, but it will enable a lot more personal choice".