A "Wiki Weapon" project took its first steps toward making a fully 3D printable gun by test-firing an assault rifle made with just one 3D-printed part. On the sixth shot, disaster struck for the gun.
The AR-15 assault rifle snapped in two when a Wiki Weapon project member tried to check it on the sixth shot, according to a blog post spotted by Wired's Danger Room. That failure during the Dec. 1 test reflects the challenges of making working gun parts from the materials currently available for 3D printing — a technology capable of turning computer designs into real objects by building them up layer-by-layer using plastics, metals or other materials.
3D printing technology could theoretically allow 3D printer owners to make practically any gun parts on demand in their own homes. The idea of guns based on easily sharable digital designs and printable almost anywhere excites gun enthusiasts, even if it could also present a nightmare for officials trying to enforce gun regulations.
Some gun experts have also questioned whether the 3D printer plastics could stand the stresses of a gun firing, including the force of the gunpowder explosion that propels each bullet. [ Video: A 3D Printer Of Your Own: When Will You Have One At Home? ]
The Wiki Weapon founders, organized under the name Defense Distributed, want to make history by building a working gun made entirely of 3D printed parts. They must wait for government approval of their U.S. federal firearms license before they can begin manufacturing fully 3D printable guns based on the work of independent designers.
But their latest test with the AR-15 rifle has already provided lessons for strengthening the design.
The AR-15 rifle fired one shot cleanly without any problems. After an examination, members of Defense Distributed loaded the gun with 10 more rounds. The 3D-printed part ended up fracturing in three places and ultimately broke on the fifth round following the reload.
The part tested by Defense Distributed came from a digital design posted online by Michael Guslick, an engineer in Wisconsin. Guslick previously tested his 3D printable gun receiver — a component holding the critical bolt, trigger and magazine parts of a gun — by firing off 200 rounds from a .22 pistol without any problems.
Guslick also ran into problems when he tried test-firing a fully assembled AR-15 rifle, but not for any reasons related to the 3D-printed part.
The Wiki Weapon project has managed to raise $20,000 online, even after the crowd-funding website Indiegogo shut down the first fund-raising project. Wiki Weapon has also attracted enough controversy to scare Stratasys, a 3D printing company, into withdrawing the use of its 3D printer equipment.
Still, the project has plenty of backers after two Texas companies stepped up to volunteer 3D printing equipment and space for testing the guns.