Chris Anderson is an enthusiastic speaker, and is currently doing the rounds to plug his new books Makers, evangelical about the impact that 3D printing is going to have on us. But the example he repeats in every interview is about how he prints furniture for his daughters dolls house, and if it's anything like most early stage technology, the furniture probably looks the 3D equivalent of pixelated. I'm sure in some distant future we'll all be replicating food, cars and hats, but right now I am skeptical. This however, was until I strolled into Makerbot in NYC.
A day after it's official opening (though in reality they've been there for two months now) the Brooklyn based 3D printer for the home company is thriving. At a little over $2000 each, the staff tell me they are selling around 3 a day, mainly to schools, architects, model makers and rich parents keen for their kids to get over making things out of lego, and instead to design the building blocks themselves. Sure it's a boutique designed in the modern Brooklyn vernacular, but it's genuinely exciting to be in there as small printers on shelves whirr away creating houses, iPhone covers, watch straps and christmas decorations (all of which you can also buy – clever – sell the output of the demonstration too!).
I'd love to spend some time experimenting and playing with 3D print, and I think perhaps this idea of experimenting and playing is the key… kids. I remember playing with some sort of early printing robot thing at school called LOGO. You programmed it for half an hour and then set it free, after probably another half an hour it would trundle around a sheet of paper with a pen crammed inside it, and it would have drawn a square. MINDBLOWING. But now, the kids can print objects as complex as 3D models of themselves or as mind-bending as the building blocks to create mechanical toys from. Of course the developing world could be the greatest immediate beneficiary of this tech if replacement mechanical parts for farming machinery, for drainage systems or to help repair domestic products can all be made of strong enough plastic. I look forward to seeing how the makers who now own these machines use them, they are the self styled engineers and designers who will create uses we haven't even thought of yet, so we can get beyond making tiny chairs for our dolls houses.