My Robot Nation Advances 3D Printing

They say when it rains, it pours, and it sure feels that way when it comes to news advancing the cause of making 3D printing accessible to the masses.

In one of the newer developments, 3D printer company Z Corporation is teaming up with a couple of game industry veterans and one of its print service customers to promote an upcoming Website and service, called My Robot Nation. The site, which hasn't officially launched yet, is all about giving average people with little to no knowledge of CAD tools the ability to create their own 3D designs that can later be produced by 3D printers or 3D printing services.

The idea behind the site is to address what Z Corp. says is the biggest bottleneck standing in the way of 3D printing for all: the development of 3D content. While the cost of 3D printers has come down significantly with new, sub-$2,000 offerings from companies like Makerbot and 3D Systems, the means by which someone actually creates a 3D design is still pretty much predicated on them having in-depth knowledge of CAD tools, according to Scott Harmon, vice president of business development at Z Corp.

"There's a lot of media interest and consumer interest in 3D printing, but the problem for 99.9 percent of Americans who get a Makerbot or another 3D printer in-house is that they can't do anything with it," Harmon told me in a recent interview. "Our intent is to bring the joy of 3D creation to everyone, not just to a few people that own a CAD seat and can drive the software."

To that end, Z Corp. is relying on Kodama Studios, a startup founded by Mark Danks and Sarah Stocker, who have deep experience in developing games for console, mobile, and social media platforms.

Using the latest in HTML5 and WebGL browser technology, the company has developed a browser-based content creation tool on the site that will let users easily take 3D parts and assemble them with colors and texturing to create robots that can then be printed via the third partner involved in the effort -- Offload Studios, a 3D printing service that uses Z Corp printers.

Users will be able to create the robot models, store them on the site in the content repository, and, for a slight fee, produce them via the Offload Studios printing service. While robots are the first endeavor and will likely attract the attention of the techie/hobbyist crowd, the technology can be deployed as a 3D content creation engine for just about anything, from desk sets to light switch covers, to book ends, Harmon says.

Given that we're talking more of a hobbyist/consumer market and about 3D printing services, not 3D printers, it raises the question of why Z Corp. is involved in My Robot Nation. Harmon says the answer is pretty simple -- Z Corp. sees big potential in the consumer market for 3D print capabilities, and it's actively trying to spread its wings in that area and carve out some turf.

Z Corp.'s traditional market is somewhere in between the big, $100,000-plus rapid prototyping systems and the low-end hobbyist 3D printers. Its offerings, used mostly for digital prototyping as a means to garner early feedback on designs from customers, engineering colleagues, and suppliers, range in price from $15,000 up to around $60,000.

While Harmon says Z Corp. isn't likely to release a low-cost 3D printer that would sell into the home market, it does anticipate an explosion in demand for 3D print services as the technology becomes more accessible. Its goal is to become the preeminent supplier of those printers to the service bureaus, hence its interest in promoting 3D printing for all.

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