technology of layered-printing -->
Not long ago the idea of 3D printing was as outlandish as a flying car. This autumn it becomes a tangible if bizarre reality for everyone. On
Curators at the museum believe the notorious gun, which was developed in America by Texan law student
"We have been talking to
In May the invention of the printed gun, or "wiki weapon", sparked intense debate, but Long believes the potential effects of the 3D printer are not yet understood. The museum has acquired two prototypes of the Liberator gun, one disassembled weapon and a number of archive items to add to its collection of 3D-printed objects.
"So far people have focused on the ability to print out things at home, such as toys, but this seems to be only part of it. In my view, the gun blew all that away. It showed the fuller implications of the dissemination of the means of production. Everybody is now potentially a manufacturer."
The difficulty the museum had securing this exhibit gives some indication of what Long means. On Friday Wilson was still waiting to secure an American export licence in order to send one of his original guns to
"We have a sophisticated team of art handlers who are experienced at bringing in highly unusual objects, so the problem is on his side," said Long. "He cannot get an export licence and until we hear about that we will display a
While Wilson's company, Defense Distributed, has a licence to make guns in
"When we asked him to come over he said he couldn't because he might be arrested. There isn't a law that covers this clearly," said Long. "There is no legal framework yet for this kind of activity."
The museum asked for help from a central
The incident, Long says, is another interesting indication of the new questions 3D printing raises.
"It shows we are right at the cutting edge of this technology now and people are having to use their own moral compasses until the law catches up," he said.
The museum has acquired guns as part of London Design Festival, which begins this weekend. It already has a licence to store guns, as it holds the national store of weapons and armoury. In any case the 3D printed gun requires one extra metal component - a firing pin - so would not fire.
Meanwhile, Selfridges is to offer customers 3D models of themselves from pounds 99 in a pop-up printing store opening next month and run by iMakr. The image is captured with 40 digital cameras and the bust produced is more like ceramic than plastic.
The market for this kind of reproduction is unpredictable, but iMakr founder Sylvain Preumont tells the Observer's new Tech Monthly that the limits on 3D printing are imposed by our imagination, not by technology.
Long is reserving judgment for now on the future of the printers. The expense will be prohibitive for a while, he suspects, although a cheaper model now costs only pounds 669 and the price is continuing to fall.
"It is going to be some time before many of us can own them," said Long. "The other factor is that governments will gear up to regulating the industry.
"The NSA story run by the Guardian has shown that new technology companies do acquiesce and install the required software if they are asked to. And scanners on everyday printers are already fitted with coding that makes it impossible for them to copy banknotes to prevent counterfeiting."
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