Lloyd wanted me to be sure to check out the 3D printer from Cubify launched at CES this week. Had I not been asked to go find them, I'd easily have missed the booth as it is quite small and shoved near a wall. Yet being off to the side hasn't stopped gads of tradeshow goers from flocking to this tiny booth to see the new product that is targeted to kids but will be exciting for designers.
3D printing is a relatively new sensation. It has been around for years, but only recently has gained popularity for everyone from professional designers to garage tinkerers thanks to more availability and affordability. It allows a person to essentially manufacture a design as a prototype -- and it does so using minimal waste, which is why we think it's pretty neat. Sites like Ponoko has brought 3D printing to the average Joe by allowing anyone to upload a design, have it printed out for them and then mailed back. But Cubify is taking out that extra step -- this printer is small enough for your livingroom.
The printer is actually geared toward kids. Rajeev Kulkarni, VP and General Manager of 3D Systems, the creator of Cubify, told me that they're really aiming these at 8 to 10-year-olds to make their own toys, science projects, crafts and more. Essentially, they're making it exciting for the next generation of designers and engineers. But really, the audience is "kids from 8 to 80" as this printer is excellent for anyone interested in tinkering.
A user buys and downloads a design from Cubify's website (and there are thousands to choose from) and customizes it to make it exactly how they want it. They then plug the design into the printer and voila! Anything smaller than a 5.5" cube is crafted. For example, customized toys or wearable art:
Cubify is also creating an income for artists. Anyone can upload designs to the website and when the design is sold, 60% of the sale is given to the artist.
As for the material, it is ABS plastic, or #7 plastic. It's completely recyclable but you'd have to check with your county on if they recycle this particular plastic since not all counties recycle all kinda of plastic. As Kulkarni pointed out, though, these designs are customized and people put their thought and energy into them, so they tend to be important to the person and not just some random plastic commodity. That means they aren't just getting tossed.
Still, it is plastic. Kulkarni said they plan on releasing more material choices in the near future, including biodegradable plastic and food -- yes food. Cheese and chocolate were specifically named. Now that would make the cheese plate at your next party a lot more interesting.
Your designs aren't limited to what the Cubify machine can print -- if you want something bigger than a 5.5" cube or want it to have colors and shading, you can upload your design and it can be printed for you then mailed out to you. Here are some examples (remember, these can't be made with the Cubify printer, but it doesn't mean you can't send away for them):
So yes, you can make this yellow shoe with your Cubify printer, and yes you can send away for the white life-sized version:
As for pricing -- it's not cheap, but it's not expensive considering what you're buying. The printer is $1,299 and each cartridge of plastic is $50. Each cartridge can print between 8 and 11 items depending on what your design is. It's really rather amazing, and yes, I want one even though I'm not a kid or a designer.
So you might be asking, "How is this green again?" Well, if you're buying it for a kid just to make their own plastic toys, it's not green. It's cool, but not green. But if you're buying it for a kid to teach them about design and crafting prototypes in order to test and improve design -- essentially raising the next generation of minimal-waste-minded designers and engineers -- then it certainly has a strong green edge. And if you're buying it because as a designer, this tool can really help you build the best products using minimal materials for new prototypes, then yes, it's certainly green. And of course when new materials other than ABS plastic come out, such as compostable plastics or even food, then it will certainly have a smaller impact on the environment.
The Cubify booth was one of the most popular I'd visited in terms of people per square foot. The booth is tiny, and packed. And no wonder -- everyone loves the idea of getting to see their very own designs materialize before their eyes. It is no wonder that it is nominated for a Best of CES award. Winners will be announced on Thursday, January 12, at 2:00 p.m. (EST) live at the CNET booth. We have our fingers crossed for them.