Sub-$3,000 Desktop Factory

Desktop FactoryNewegg had a color laser printer on sale last week for a little over $200 (sold out!), but what I really want is an object printer. Of course, there is Cornell’s open source 3-d Fabricator, which they say can be made for $2,300. And now, Desktop Factory is looking to sell a printer in the sub-$3,000 range. I wish I knew enough about each to compare. I wonder, specifically, about how tough the resulting parts are, and whether you can make things other than little ducks (see photo).

The argument is that someday everyone will have these. The article linked above quotes Cornell University Professor Hod Lipson: “In the future, everyone will have a printer like this at home. You can imagine printing a toothbrush, a fork, a shoe. Who knows where it will go from here?” Yes, I can imagine printing each of those things, but this printer will not print those things. This printer will print a custom Barbie head; which is really cool, to be sure–who wouldn’t want to have a Barbie with your own head (me?)–but frankly, I see this as being the Christmas present that you potentially unwrap and play with intensely for four hours and then put on a high shelf in the closet. There are just so many Barbie heads any one person needs, and at present, the system appears to be able to make only one of the three items mentioned by Lipson, and maybe not even that one. Of course, it can make parts for all kinds of things. I can imagine some pretty gnarly MP3 cases, and a micro-industry of mobile-phone modders. But I’m not sure bringing the cost down to $3,000 is going to make this a mass device yet. I’m one of the people who thinks it would be really, really cools to be able to have one of these, but the necessary price-point for me is still way off.

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  1. Posted 5/8/2007 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    rather than as rapid-prototypers for the home, I think these will probably reach consumers first as print-on-demand units much like the photo-printing stations you see at drugstores. Cost is one obstacle, but I imagine a bigger obstacle is technical ability on the end-user’s part. While there are certainly amateurs who know 3D modeling, it’s a pretty difficult skill to acquire, and modeling something as complex as a Barbie head takes quite a bit of training. While there might be wizard-like software that automates the process of producing a Barbie head, as you point out, the novelty would wear off pretty quickly for most users.

  2. alex
    Posted 5/8/2007 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    McChris: That makes a lot of sense. While I cannot see shelling out three grand, that price puts it in the same range as the early color laser-printers, and if Kinko’s had one of these down the street, I can absolutely see running down there to do an, e.g, $8 print of something. Actually, the model is probably even less Kinko’s, and more upload and have it shipped overnight.

    In other words, it’s not at a price point where it can sit idle; but it does make sense for small university labs, for example. Hmmm; wonder if I can get Quinnipiac to set one of these up. Maybe team up with someone on the art side–they could do a sculpture class and I (or someone in SoC) could do a mobile device design project class. How cool would that be: teams prototype their own mobile devices, including UI.

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