Cost projections for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program declined $4.5 billion last year.File this under something you don’t see every day. The total projected price for the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program--the most expensive weapons development program in history--has dropped. Though its program history is riddled with cost and schedule overruns alongside unforeseen engineering and design issues, the total price tag for the JSF fell $4.5 billion in 2012, the first time in the program’s history that the projected cost has gone anywhere but up (and up and up).
The cost savings come from the Pentagon’s annual selected acquisitions report (SAR), which reviewed 78 DoD programs and found that to absolutely no one’s surprise the overall cost of Pentagon acquisition programs grew by nearly $40 billion (or 2.44 percent) on the whole last year. But it seems all the talk of federal belt-tightening might be having an impact on Pentagon culture. This was also the first time in a long time that no program in the SAR went 15 percent or more over its budget.
Pentagon officials credited the Better Buying Power initiative, an in-house effort to reform weapons procurement to better allocate resources and reduce redundant or wasteful spending, with helping to curb spending on several programs.
For a program with such a checkered past--it's been considered for the budgetary chopping block more than once--the drop in overall cost is huge for the JSF program and an indicator that it may finally be moving toward initial operating capability. Often a program finds a way to spend the money it already has in its projections, so the downward revision in total price may amount to something the JSF program really needed: a public relations boost at a point when pricey government programs are not popular with anyone.
So not only is the JSF the most expensive weapon ever developed, but it might now hold the title--at $4.5 billion--for the most expensive PR moment ever purchased.
"Okay, Glass. Who's that?"TechCrunch has a nice look at a new API from Lambda Labs, an "early-stage startup" (meaning, brand-new) from San Francisco, that's causing a bit of consternation. Lambda Labs makes a facial recognition API, which you can actually try out here in your browser. But now Lambda has released a version of that API specifically for Google Glass.
There are certain software restrictions that hold back what the hardware can do--in this case, you can't use the facial recognition API to get a real-time identification. Instead, you have to take a picture, send it to the app's developers for it to be analyzed, and then receive the ID. That doesn't take long, but it's not exactly a Robocop-level ID system.
But the Glass hardware is capable of that kind of real-time information flow, to a degree. Glass isn't an augmented reality system; it's more like a tiny notifications screen in the corner of your field of view. You won't see a face with a name under it, but you might see a face, then tilt your eyes up and to the left and see text with an ID on it.
The bigger and perhaps more interesting issue here is whether this will fly with Google and the US government. In a New York Times article, Steve Lee, director of project management for Google Glass, said: "We’ve consistently said that we won’t add new face recognition features to our services unless we have strong privacy protections in place." And then there's the inquiry from eight members of Congress about Google Glass's potential privacy implications.
I've written about how Google Glass isn't a surveillance device, but this is something a little bit different: the debate here is all fine lines and shades of gray. The API already exists, the technology is common, and the hardware is out there. Does it really matter if you're performing this action with a smartphone or Google Glass? Can you ethically stop someone from accessing previously-accessible data just because it's in a slightly different form? It's a nuanced and complex question, one we don't have an answer to--but one that Google and lawmakers will have to address.
Scientists now believe that the blue and green gaseous material at the center of the ring is a large football-shaped region sheathed by a ring of cooler gas (the yellow and orange ring) at its fattest point near the center. So the ends of the hotter football-shaped gas cloud protrude from either end of the ring, and we’re looking directly at the end of the football, so we see the enveloping cooler gas as a ring encircling the hotter blue/green gas.
What does all that mean? If you’re an astronomer it means you have a better understanding of the Ring Nebula. That in turn provides insight into the way our own sun’s nebula will form in another six billion years or so when it runs out of fuel, sheds its outer gasses, and collapses in on itself (it won’t look like this because our sun isn’t as big, but nonetheless there will be similarities). For the rest of us, it means look at that amazing image of the Ring Nebula!
Google's acquisition of a kite power generator manufacturer suggests a strong future for the technology.Google has acquired a Bay Area technology company that generates power through wind turbines attached to robotic kites. The news comes just a couple weeks after the company, Makani Power, completed the first fully autonomous flight of a kite power system.
How flying generators work: the kite flies in a circle, off nothing more than lift and wind, and uses that motion to push air over its propellers, which in turn generate electricity. The energy is then transmitted down a tether attached to a landing station, dubbed the "spar buoy." Makani claims that the system generates more energy than conventional turbines and costs less to build.
Why is Google interested? Google uses a tremendous amount of electricity, and has copped to being a little embarrased by how much fossil fuel it uses. Google actively seeks out renewable energy, and has invested in wind farms before. Efficient, futuristic renewable energy harvested by flying robots? Ideal.
These robotic bartenders can do everything from mix drinks to evaluate the quality of your wineClick here to enter the gallery
Wait, what? Robot bartenders! They're everywhere! Here, I've assembled 11 of the most intriguing autonomous machines involved in serving alcohol. Some are test models, others are hobbyist creations, and at least one is a successful crowdfunded project (yes, people are willing to pay for a bartender who doesn't sneer when you order a Malibu bay breeze--so I like fruity drinks, so the hell what?). Check out the gallery for a peek at tomorrow's most talented bartenders.
The same robots used by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan come to Brazil.Brazil has a big couple of years coming up: the FIFA World Cup and the pope are both coming to Brazil in 2014, and the summer 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio. To ensure the safety of those attending those events, Brazil has brought in the big guns: robots.
The Brazilian government has contracted iRobot, makers of both circular vacuum-bots like the Roomba and military/rescue tools, to provide iRobot 510 PackBots for the preparation of these events. The 510 PackBot will be used during the construction of the Olympic stadia, to make sure no explosives are being planted during this messy phase, and also to clear routes. It's not a dissimilar job from what the 510 PackBot does in the military--and over 5,000 of them have been deployed worldwide, for military purposes. They're even used by the US military in Afghanistan.
Brazil contracted iRobot to provide $7.2 million worth of 510 PackBots. The PackBot uses a remote controller, not unlike a videogame controller, and its base model is weatherproof and capable of withstanding a six-foot drop (and righting itself, if it lands upside-down). But it can also be equipped with all kinds of sensors and gadgetry, from high-def cameras to bomb-defusing devices to explosive detection sensors to a hazardous materials sensor that can collect and identify samples from the air.
It's not totally clear what Brazil intends to do with the PackBots, though it's safe to assume reconnaissance. They should arrive this year, to prepare for next year's events. Read more over at CNET.
A responsive radio could add localized, real-time weather updates, adjust background noise levels and more.BBC's Future Media North Lab has created a responsive radio that's capable of changing the broadcast you hear based on your location, your proximity to the device and other factors.
The WiFi-streaming radio features a computer-generated voice that pulls data from external sources and can vary its references to the location of the listener and tailor weather-related references like "it's sunny" or "it's raining" accordingly. Its microphone monitors background noise and can adjust audio levels for specific sounds, amplifying speech and reducing background sounds, for example, if you're sitting farther away.
BBC technologist Tony Churnside told BBC News it represents "the early stages of looking at what next-generation broadcasting is." He compared it to responsive web design, shaping the user's experience based on the different devices they might be on.
You can see a demonstration here of a short audio drama about a woman stuck in an elevator produced with Perceptive Media technology.
French police have abandoned in-progress searches for missing adults and will no longer accept new search requests. Instead, families should turn to social media, the government announced.An almost century-old program in France is coming to an end. "Searches in the interest of the family" became a function of French police after World War I to reunite families disrupted by the conflict. Now, in a letter to police chiefs nationwide, the French Ministry of the Interior is telling police departments to end in-progress searches and refuse new requests to search for missing adults, unless there are signs the person may be in danger. Instead, police should direct people towards social networks.
In a way, this is a logical result of technology performing a task better than government can. In the early 20th century, police had one of the better networks for information, especially when they were organized on the national level, like in France. Combined with a governmental proclivity to collect information on citizens, be it for taxes or land registry or through other legal documents, the best place to find information on someone was in government records. It made sense, then, that a bureaucracy already tasked with finding and recording information on persons of interest would be a natural fit for reuniting families.
These days, social media networks allow private citizens to easily dig up information on just about anyone. A single individual with a internet access today may be more equipped to find a missing person than an entire police department was a century ago.
French police aren't abandoning all missing person searches—those in danger, like crime victims, missing children, or suicidal people, fall under a different procedure, one still very much in line with police operations. Instead, police are handing off the less urgent requests, like finding a deadbeat behind on child support payments, to citizens themselves.
It's a brilliant labor-saving move by the French police, but it has an uncomfortable footnote. What does it mean when social media companies possess far more information about us than governments a century ago had about our great-grandparents?
Hold on a second, let me tweet that.
A tiny channel of canals directs water away from where it shouldn't be.
We've seem some neat ideas for water-repellant materials that suggest sweat stains will one day be as dead as dial-up. Here's one more: Researchers at the University of California, Davis, are developing a fabric that acts like human skin, channeling and releasing excess moisture.
Beads of sweat form and fall when there's excess water on the body, and the idea behind this project is similar: hydrophilic threads are stitched into a fabric made from a hydrophobic material. Put water in touch with the fabric, and the water will be pushed toward the hydrophilic material, then drawn through gaps and expelled on the other side. (Sweat itself actually doesn't smell; that smell's released by bacteria on skin breaking down proteins in the sweat. So hopefully a sweater made out of this stuff wouldn't be gross for everyone nearby.) All the other parts, meanwhile, stay "completely dry and breathable."
Going to the gym in the future is going to be the best.
It charges eight batteries and two USB devices at once.Battery chargers are finally getting a military upgrade. This is big! Not in a literal sense—that honor goes to the previous battery charger used by the U.S. Army, which was the size of a suitcase and either vehicle-mounted or left to rest on a table. It was hardly something a soldier could carry into the battlefield or on patrol.
Now, the military has downsized to a charger smaller than a shoebox. Dubbed, creatively, the Universal Battery Charger, the new charger weighs only six pounds. It can charge eight batteries and two USB devices at once, which is useful for the GPS systems, radios, and smartphones soldiers keep with them. The charger itself can draw power from available electrical sources. According to Marc Geitter, an engineer on the project, this includes generators, fuel cells, solar panels, wind turbines, and vehicle cigarette lighters.
Soldiers aren't always near available power sources, so the Universal Battery Charger will come with a foldable solar panel. Additionally, the new charger is designed specifically to work with another (very awesome) army development in portable energy, the Re-using Existing Natural Energy Wind and Solar System, or RENEWS. Transported in two 70 pound cases, RENEWS is a portable wind turbine with solar panels that can power two or three laptops continuously. Combining it with the Universal Battery Charger adds versatility to the system, and gives soldiers access to power even when far beyond the grid.
It's got a wind tunnel! Also: a zero-gravity spa!Last week, the U.S.-based consortium Mobilona unveiled plans for this crazy building: a futuristic "space" hotel filled with stuff you associate with ideas about the future from, like, the 1930s. The 984-foot, 1.5 billion euro ($1.9 billion) building would include a vertical wind tunnel, a 24-hour shopping mall, a marina for parking yachts, and a zero-gravity spa (not even totally clear how that works). It would all be stationed on an artificial island.
So who wouldn't want this? Oh, maybe a major city in a country devastated by the economic downturn.
When Mobilona submitted plans for the project to planning officials in Barcelona, they got some icy responses. "We are a city of culture, knowledge, of creativity, and of innovation, and our project (for the city) will follow a different path," the city's mayor said in a TV interview.
Bummer! With prices like 300 to 1,500 euros per room (about $390 to $1,900), it could make for an affordable place to take the kids on a zero gravity spa/wind tunnel trip. Or you could splurge and get the six-story mansion penthouse full-time for 70 million euros, or about $90 million.
Oh, well. Maybe they'll have better luck in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, where they're also planning similar behemoths.
Pavlof is in the Aleutian Island arc, some 625 miles southwest of Anchorage. It began erupting last week, spewing an ash plume 20,000 feet into the air. For orientation purposes: The plume is extending southeastward, back toward the mainland United States.
In a major counterterrorism address today, President Obama is expected to announce a significant shift in the drone policy that has been the cornerstone of his war on terror.At 2 p.m. ET today, President Obama will address a crowd at National Defense University in D.C. to spell out some of the biggest vagaries of his administration--policies that are central to America’s security and foreign policy that, nonetheless, have been shrouded in official secrecy, opaque statements of accountability, and open-ended legal jargon that leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
In today’s speech, Obama is expected to discuss the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay (which, despite 2008 campaign promises, remains open) and the future of America’s war on terror now that Osama bin Laden has been, how shall we say, rendered irrelevant. But policy wonks and national security nerds are mostly interested in Obama’s spelling out of the legal rationale that will govern lethal drone strikes going forward.
These three topics are deeply intertwined, of course. With the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and a reduced American presence in the regions regarded as power bases for the likes of al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and the Taliban, American security and intelligence forces have only two real options. Strike at suspected terrorists with drones, or somehow capture those suspects and detain them (at some place like Guantanamo).
It would seem that if the war on terror is going to continue (and it is--for another 10 or 20 years according to one recently-quoted Pentagon official) then it seems that either detention or the use of lethal strikes must increase. But that’s not really the case, and in today’s speech Obama is expected to outline why the administration thinks so.
In his first major counterterrorism address of his second term, the President is expected to announce new restrictions on the unmanned aerial strikes that have been the cornerstone of his national security agenda for the last five years. For all the talk about drone strikes--and they did peak under Obama--such actions have been declining since 2010. And it seems the administration finally wants to come clean (somewhat) about what it has been doing with its drone program, acknowledging for the first time that it has killed four American citizens in its shadow drone wars outside the conflict zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, something the public has known for a while now but the government has refused to publicly admit.
The Obama administration will also voluntarily rein in its drone strike program in several ways. A new classified policy signed by Obama will more sharply define how drones can be used, the New York Times reports, essentially extending to foreign nationals the same standards currently applied to American citizens abroad. That is, lethal force will only be used against targets posing a “continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and who cannot be feasibly captured or thwarted in any other way. This indicates that the administration’s controversial use of “signature strikes”--the killing of unknown individuals or groups based on patterns of behavior rather than hard intelligence--will no longer be part of the game plan. That’s a positive signal, considering that signature strikes are thought to have resulted in more than a few civilian casualties.
Reportedly there’s another important change in drone policy in the offing that President Obama may or may not mention in today’s speech: the shifting of the drone wars in Pakistan and elsewhere (likely Yemen and Somalia as well) from the CIA to the military over the course of six months. This is good for all parties involved. The CIA’s new director, John Brennan, has publicly said he would like to transition the country’s premier intelligence gathering agency back to actual intelligence gathering and away from paramilitary operations--a role that it has played since 2001 but that isn’t exactly in its charter.
Putting the drone strike program in the Pentagon also places it in a different category of public scrutiny. The DoD can still do things under the veil of secrecy of course, but not quite like the CIA can (the military is subject to more oversight and transparency than the clandestine services in several respects, and putting drones in the hands of the military also changes the governing rules of engagement).
So what does this all mean for the war on terror? If Obama plans to create a roadmap for closing Guantanamo Bay and draw down its drone strike program, it suggests that the administration thinks we are winning--as much as one can win this kind of asymmetric war. It appears the war on terror is shifting toward one in which better intelligence will lead to more arrests and espionage operations to thwart terrorists rather hellfire missile strikes from unseen robots in the sky.
The drones aren’t going anywhere--they’ll be a key technology piece deployed in those intelligence gathering operations. But much to the relief of drone-strike opponents, it appears America’s policy of using lethal drone strikes to regularly eliminate her enemies--and whoever happens to be standing in proximity--will be put on a much tighter leash. Counterterrorism will go back to being more of a law enforcement exercise than a military “seek and destroy” mission. Lethal drone strikes will still occur, but their more judicious application is a welcome shift in policy for many Americans--and certainly for people in the parts of the world where they have been most prevalent.
How’d they do it?Click here to enter the gallery
This morning, Lego opened up a gigantic box in Times Square. Inside: a full-scale replica of an X-wing fighter made entirely of Lego bricks. It’s the single-largest Lego sculpture in history, claiming more than 5.3 million bricks and weighing nearly 46,000 pounds. Last week, far away from the mayhem of midtown Manhattan, we had the chance to preview the sculpture, learn about the engineering that goes into a project of its scale, and (most importantly) sit in the cockpit and high-five Lego Luke Skywalker.
We met with Erik Varszegi, a Lego Master Builder based at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Connecticut, in a hanger at Ronkonkoma airport on Long Island. Varszegi is one of 32 builders who spent a combined 17,336 hours constructing the model (that’s about four months, if you do the math). Here’s how they do it:
Every Lego model starts as a computer model. Designers use a proprietary software called Lego Brick Builder. The software first draws a grid over any 3-D object (a tank, a plane, the Death Star), and then it reinterprets that grid as Lego bricks. Corners are corners, while contours and curves become slowly sloping staircases of bricks.
The X-wing fighter, which stands 11 feet tall with a wingspan of 43 feet, is a precise 42-times scale model of the same kit you can buy at Toys ‘R’ Us. That means for every one-by-one Lego peg on the kit, there’s a 42-by-42 square on the sculpture. (And yes, there is a raised “LEGO” logo on each of those gigantic pegs.)
This model has an added complication: after its time in NYC, the X-wing will travel cross-country to Legoland in California, a state with a set of stringent seismic standards. The computer models help designers plan an intricate steel infrastructure that will ensure the X-wing won’t shatter in a quake. It’s also strong enough for you to sit in the cockpit or perch atop one of the engines.
After the steel substructure is complete, builders go about constructing the model one layer at a time. A temp-to-perm solvent binds the bricks together—after they’ve been clicked together. Builders put a dollop of glue inside each of the holes on the underside of a brick; the glue cures overnight, reacting with the plastic to fuse the two together permanently. Mistakes do happen, Varszegi admits, so if they catch a mistake the next morning, they can pry apart bricks with a little elbow grease and perhaps a flathead screwdriver.
The team also added some (literal) bells and whistles to the final sculpture. The engines have lights and speakers, and so they light up and cycle through a pre-programmed series of launch and battle sounds. Not to be outdone, R2D2 also chimes in.
For projects of this scale, Lego maintains a facility in Kladno, Czech Republic. Once it’s completed, the fighter breaks down into 14 separate pieces that are packed in custom shipping containers and delivered by boat. For the move to Times Square, it was separated into four segments and was loaded onto trucks.
The X-wing unseats the Herobot 9000 robot at the Mall of America as the largest Lego sculpture in the world. Though ‘bot stands about 34 feet tall, it has slightly less than 3 million bricks and is grossly outweighed by the X-wing’s tonnage. “It’s almost too big,” said Varszegi “from far enough away, you can’t really tell it’s Lego.” Sorry Erik, to us that’s the best part.
Infrared eyes and remote pilots have a lot to offer forest firefighters.Remote-controlled drones are much better at flying through smoke than human pilots: their infrared eyes can track the edge of a fire even through the thickest air. When the Forest Service asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to use unmanned aerial systems to monitor wildfires, the FAA said no, but offered an exemption: the Forest Service could fly the drone, so long as an operator on board another aircraft could see it at all times.
That undermines the whole reason for using a drone, of course, but such is the curious state of drone regulation today. In 2015 the FAA will pass new rules opening airspace to far more unmanned vehicles, and should have guidelines in place for how firefighters and law enforcement officials use drones.
Until then, organizations have to get authorization from the FAA to fly drones domestically. There's a growing list (and accompanying map) of groups that have FAA permission to fly drones. Groups not on that list have to request permission from the FAA to operate drones on a case by case basis, a process that can take days and has limited applicability in emergency situations. And even if an organization like the Forest Service gets timely permission, that permission often comes with the stipulation that drones be followed with a manned chase plane. Flying through smoke is a great task for a drone, but requiring another plane to follow along behind it defeats the whole point of using an unmanned plane in the first place.
Flying tracking the edges of forest fires should be one of the least controversial uses of drones ever. Congress has to approve of the FAA rules before they can take effect in 2015. It remains to be seen whether Congress will respect the difference between drones that save lives and drones that violate privacy.
The long-range maritime drone will give the U.S. unprecedented surveillance of the world's oceans.For the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman, it's shaping up to be a banner year in unmanned flight. While the carrier-based autonomous X-47B continues to hit milestones aboard the USS George H.W. Bush somewhere off the East Coast, out west in Palmdale, Calif., today the Navy flew its MQ-4C Triton maritime drone for the first time, marking the beginning of a sea change (pardon the pun) in the way the U.S. military patrols the oceans. The drone flew for 80 minutes and reached an altitude of 20,000 feet.
The Triton isn’t a completely new platform. If it looks familiar, that’s because everyone from the U.S. Air Force to NASA has been using its cousin--Northrop Grumman’s reliable Global Hawk--for years now, for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, environmental monitoring, and meteorological data gathering, among other things. Triton is essentially an upgrade of the Global Hawk, optimized for maritime environments, with a strengthened airframe and de-icing features that allow it to rapidly ascend to and descend from high altitudes.
Those upgrades allow Triton to fly at altitudes nearly ten miles above sea level (its ceiling is listed as 60,000 feet, though it will likely stick to the 53,000-55,000 for most missions) for 24 hours at a time. That high vantage point allows its advanced sensors to take in a 2,000-nautical-mile view of the ocean in every direction. Carrying the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) sensor package (Popular Science awarded BAMS a Best of What’s New award last year) along with a classified advanced radar system, Triton will be able to both detect and identify ships on the water.
That is, rather than registering as a simple blip on the radar screen, BAMS will be able to generate a picture of the shape of the ship and use that to identify it by profile. In that way, it will be able to tell a container ship from a Chinese frigate from a surfacing Russian submarine--from up to 2,000 nautical miles away (we felt that point was worth stressing here). Triton's strengthened airframe, augmented with de-icing technology, will then allow it to rapidly descend and ascend, so it can swoop in for a closer look at vessels of particular interest.
That’s if everything works as advertised, and both Triton and BAMS are still in the early stages of development. The first flight by Triton is a big step forward. Though it’s built on the back of the tested Global Hawk platform, the tweaks that have been made to the design are significant. In fact, a Global Hawk lent to the Navy by the Air Force for testing crashed at Naval Air Station Pax River last year--an event that was seen at the time as a potential setback for Triton and BAMS. So today’s first flight is significant, as it marks the first airborne tests of a Triton and the beginning of the shift toward a brand new maritime capability.
That new capability is also quite significant. The Navy wants 68 Tritons based at five locations around the globe. Flying in rotations, they will be able to keep unprecedented tabs on the world’s critical sea lanes and important littorals, working alongside and supporting the manned P-8A Poseidon mission (the Poseidon is replacing the P-3 Orion anti-sub warfare aircraft; basically the Triton, which is unarmed, will conduct the ISR and the Poseidon will handle any kinetic strikes or electronic warfare, should it be necessary). And because the Triton is unmanned and autonomous, it will require less intensive human labor to fly as well as less risk to human pilots.
"When operational, the MQ-4C will complement our manned P-8 because it can fly for long periods, transmit its information in real-time to units in the air and on ground, as well as use less resources than previous surveillance aircraft," said Rear Adm. Sean Buck, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group commander, in a statement. "Triton will bring an unprecedented ISR capability to the warfighter."
That’s still a few years away, but today marks a critical step for the maritime capability, and a second huge leap forward for autonomous flight in just more than a week.
A Wisconsin engineer has produced a cheaper, more durable version of Defense Distributed's 3-D printed pistol on an inexpensive, consumer-grade printer.Defense Distributed’s plastic, 3-D printed “Liberator” single-shot handgun was here for a moment and then it was gone in more than one sense. For one, the news cycle turned over. Moreover, the State Department came down on Defense Distributed asking it to pull the CAD file for the Liberator off its servers until the lawyers could figure out if putting a free, downloadable CAD file up on the Web violated any arms export regulations. But the Liberator is back and--presumably to Defense Distributed co-founder Cody Wilson’s glee--it is evolving.
By the time the State Department asked Defense Distributed to pull down the CAD file for the Liberator, it was already replicating across the Web. And one of the people who appears to have gotten his hands on it is a Wisconsin engineer who identified himself to Forbes only as “Joe.” Joe has printed what he adorably calls the “Lulz Liberator” on a $1,725 Lulzbot A0-101 consumer-grade 3-D printer--a printer that is far less expensive than the industrial-grade one used by Wilson and company to create the original Liberator, which essentially was a disposable pistol--one shot and the barrel breaks, requiring the user to print another.
Joe’s Lulz Liberator--cost: $25--successfully fires eight rounds through a single barrel (and a ninth round through a replacement barrel) in the video below, proving that plastic guns have already leapt beyond the one-shot-per-print limitation. The Lulz Liberator is still a single-shot weapon--that is, it only holds a single round at a time--but it can be reloaded and fired multiple times using a single barrel.
Joe made his Lulz Liberator from PA-747 ABS plastic, a standard kind of ABS that is the working material for most consumer-grade 3-D printers. Yet he claims that it’s stronger than the more expensive stuff Wilson prints with in his larger, more costly Stratasys printer. Joe also augmented his version with a few components not found on the original Liberator, which is all plastic except for the firing pin made from a standard nail. The Lulz Liberator uses a metal nail for a firing pin, but also employs metal screws--available for pennies at your local hardware store--to hold the body of the firearm together rather than relying on plastic pins as Wilson's does. And like Wilson’s, it contains a non-functioning piece of steel designed to bring it into alignment with the Undetectable Firearms Act.
The Lulz Liberator reportedly misfired several times during tests, and some of the screws and firing pins had to be replaced throughout the testing. Reloading is also no simple matter; each spent .380 cartridge expanded enough that they had to be pounded free of the chamber with a hammer. So it’s not like the Lulz Liberator is a rapid-fire, or even a semi-rapid fire plastic firearm.
What it is: A confirmation that Wilson’s Liberator design indeed functions the way he says it does, as well as proof that now that this thing is out there in the maker ecosystem it’s going to evolve independent of Wilson and Defense Distributed.
One key difference between Wilson’s Liberator and Joe’s Lulz Liberator: the Lulz Liberator design file is not available for download online and it’s unclear if or when Joe might release it into the wild. But it doesn’t really matter. Defense Distributed’s file is still circulating out there, and it’s unlikely Joe is the only maker out there tinkering with new ways to make better firearms from cheap plastic.