The Victoria and Albert Museum has added some very unusual exhibition items to its archive: Two prototype Liberator 3-D-printed plastic guns. The weapons were bought from Cody Wilson, the 3-D printing pioneer who unsettled law enforcement agencies around the world earlier this year by designing, printing, and successfully firing the gun, and then uploading its specs to the Internet for anyone to access.
The museum bought the weapons via funds that support purchase of innovative design examples. In this case, the weapons will be displayed as part of a demonstration of fabrication with natural polymers. Wilson’s innovation caused panic in the U.S. the moment he released proof that his weapon–which is difficult to detect using many traditional screening systems, and is all plastic apart from its metal firing pin–worked well. The government forced Wilson to take his designs offline, but by then they had been widely copied.
3-D-printed weapons have since proven to be surprisingly reliable, even using more basic technology than the multi-thousand-dollar printer Wilson used. A recent rifle design successfully fired 14 rounds before fracturing.
The 3-D-printing revolution is widely considered to be ready to radically innovate manufacturing, but it’s not without controversy. Brands worry consumers could simply 3-D-print clones of their products at home. And new group cofounded by Wilson called Defense Distributed has vowed to produce and share more weapon designs.