If you thought the latest round of 3D printers targeting hobbyists and DYI makers broke new ground in terms of ease of use, another project pushes the accessibility factor even further into the mainstream. This one is simple enough, its inventors say, for kids to use.
Now, if your kids are anything like mine, they could likely fire up a 3D printer, get the design software rolling, and start creating a lot quicker than I could, even with the models available today. But I digress. The idea with Origo is that it's being designed with a 10-year-old in mind. It's not an industrial machine or a hobbyist kit like Makerbot, but more like an appliance like a toaster or microwave. The purple bubble design (it reminds me of the old one-piece Macs that came in rainbow colors) will be as big as three Xbox 360s, its inventors say, and will cost about the same -- somewhere between $800 and $900.
You're probably wondering why we're telling you about a purple, plastic kid's toy -- the Barney of 3D printers. Surely engineers aren't going to become Origo users, except maybe to buy one for their kids. And Origo isn't really a commercialized product yet. Right now, it's a 3D printed prototype of a work in progress started by Artur Tchoukanov and his business partner Joris Peels, who began work on Origo as a university project and are now looking to get funding to bring it to market.
The Origo 3D printer's out-of-box appliance design is touted as simple enough for a 10-year-old child.
More than the product itself, the really important thing about Origo is that it signifies yet another stage in the so-called democratization of 3D printing technology. It shows that both the design software and the printer hardware are becoming so readily understood that consumers, not just engineering shops and manufacturing groups, are ready and willing to take the technology for a test drive.
"The few of us who are involved in 3D printing and other 3D technologies have seen the vast potential of popularizing this technology," Tchoukanov told me in an email exchange. "What is enabling the adoption of 3D printing is how widespread interaction and familiarity with 3D content has become. From 3D TVs to video games, from augmented reality ads to 3D cameras on cellphones, we're embracing the added dimension."
More accessible CAD is also fueling the evolution of 3D printers into the consumer space. Products like Google SketchUp, Autodesk's Project Photofly, and TinkerCAD are making it easier for consumers, enthusiasts, and non-CAD engineering users to design their creations. If a 3D printer isn't immediately accessible, they can still send their designs out to one of the numerous 3D printing services, like Shapeways and i.materialize (where Peels hails from).
Origo is being designed to interface with 3DTin, a free Web-based 3D modeling environment. The choice of software, and the fact that Origo is designing and building the unit from the ground up to cater to children, will set it apart from the rest of the pack. "We have a clear direction and drive -- other low-cost 3D printers do not," Tchoukanov said. "They're shipping a product in development, which is fine for the DIY market, whereas we're developing a product to ship."
"Developing a product to ship" says it all. Origo, which started as a master's degree project for Tchoukanov, is just a prototype, though one that has been put through its paces with kids, most recently at a TEDxKids workshop with i.materialize. Tchoukanov says he and Peels are pursuing funding, and they're not standing still on the design. "We're working on improvements and ideas to the concept. The goal is to offer a product that is relevant for home use, especially for children."