3D Printed Encased, Home-Brewed Mini-Computer

December 23, 2012 (LocalOrg) - Personal computers began as home-made projects put together in garages - Apple and Microsoft both sprung out of the home-brewed computer movement. Since then, computers became faster, smaller, and the manufacturing process to build the components became more capital intensive, centralized, and out of the reach of hobbyists. But as these methods, and the manufacturing technology used to carry them out, spread out across the world, they became cheaper, smaller, and easier to use. Now the pendulum has begun to swing back toward the hobbyist's realm once again.

Image: The trained eye can see the tell-tale signs of 3D printing involved in making the case for this custom-built home-made mini-computer. It may not stack up with an iPad, but the implications it represents tower over the antiquated, monopoly-style business model of Apple. 

Perhaps as a stop-gap between buying a computer at the store and building one entirely from scratch at home, are new mini-computers constructed out of single boards - platforms like the Raspberry Pi. The Rasberry Pi single board computer was conceived as a means of teaching computer science across a wide audience - but it has quickly been adopted by makers for all kinds for projects - from home automation to customized handheld computers.

The Parts People blog features one of these handheld computers - the Pi-to-Go (includes building instructions & parts list). What's interesting about this project is that it's more than just a hacked computer board. Built up around the Raspberry Pi board are components sourced from across the computer industry, along with a 3D printed case to contain them all. It's not built from scratch, but it is not something you can buy off the shelf. And while it does not appear as slick as an Apple slave-made iPad, nor run as fast with as many capabilities - it does have some impressive features and represents something that while not tangible, may be the most valuable aspect of this project. It represents the resurgence of home-brewed computers.

Image: Specs of the Pi-to-Go. The mini-computer represents an emerging trend, a resurgence of home-brewed computers that, when coupled with improving personal manufacturing technology, will open the door to highly customizable, localized computer manufacturers that will outpace, and out-respond larger, centralized monopolies. 

Coupled with 3D printing, one can imagine eventually the hardware inside, the casing outside, and the overall performance of these home-brewed computers eventually reaching something that could compete with Apple and its antiquated, proprietary, centralized, and highly exploitative business model. 

Previously - Thailand-based race car producer, 999 Motorsports was described as having a similar business model - creating locally produced race cars by skimming off of huge centralized auto manufacturer supply chains. In the same way, it appears that computers may begin cropping up out of a highly mature parts and manufacturing market created to feed larger hardware monopolies.

Image: (credit-Adafruit) Made in Italy. The open source Arduino microcontroller is made in Italy, where the creators and developers are based. Despite making their hardware and software all open source - the people at Arduino have still manged to make quite a business for themselves, a sign of things to come as people begin understanding the philosophy and benefits of open source, DIY coupled with advanced technology. 

Eventually, personal manufacturing will begin making it possible to create a lot of the components that now require highly specialized, expensive equipment. Makers are already attempting to develop inexpensive pick-and-place machines and CNC PCB mills for the manufacturing of electronics. Open source platforms like the Arduino microcontroller already give us a glimpse into the localizing of high-tech manufacturing. Arduinos are not made in China, they are made in Italy, where the creators and developers of the board are based. 

The more people who organize locally, either at existing hackerspaces, or through the creation of their own space - who actively pursue and contribute to not only the localization of computer manufacturing, but the localization of any of a number of monopolized technological processes, the quicker the paradigm will shift, and the sooner real redistribution of wealth and power - through entrepreneurship and local innovation - will be achieved. Then we will see the transforming of society in the way we, the people, best see fit.