The Darker Side of Crowdsourcing – 3D Printer Company Threatens Backer With Legal Action

We’re huge fans of crowdsourcing and have backed numerous projects on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo in the past. That being said, our results have been mixed at best. In general, our results have been better with Kickstarter projects, though both platforms have served up duds from time to time. As we pointed out in a previous post, the buyer should definitely beware. Choose the projects you back carefully, and make sure that you can afford to lose the money should the product fail to materialize.


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XYZ Printing Shows 3D Printed DIY Robots at CES – Kits to Hit the Market Later This Year

DIY robot

XYZ Printing has quickly developed a strong reputation for their low cost, high performance, 3D printer line, but most people aren’t aware that they also have a robotics division - XYZ Robot that develops and markets both service and personal robot products.

In the past, their robot division has primarily focused on their service robot line, offering a mobile remote telepresence type robot platform that can be used for auto-mapping, research, surveillance, and other similar applications. However, at CES 2015 the company unveiled an innovative strategy to combine the strong points of both divisions by offering a series of humanoid robots that feature body shells that can be printed using XYZ Printing devices.

While the company hasn’t released exact availability and pricing information yet, the robots are expected to come in two different configurations - Advanced and Intermediate. According to information circulated at CES, the lower end Intermediate robot configuration will sell for just under US$300. We’re speculating that the Advanced configuration will be closer to US$800-$1,000 since it utilizes 18 DYNAMIXEL AX-12A servo motors that typically retail for around US$45 each.

The kits will include the necessary servos, controller, AC adapter, internal frame, software and other parts. The users are expected to print their own body shells. Here’s what we know about the specifications for the two kits so far:

DIY robot 1

Hopefully the company will make some, if not all, of the 3D printed shell design data available for downloading and modification to help users kickstart their robots.

 DIY robot shells

Via: DIY robot

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World Maker Faire 2013: A Totally Different Type of Wire Bending

DIWire “Printer”

Usually when we talk about hacking electronic circuits and wires we’re referencing the people that bend circuits, but the folks at DIWire have a totally different approach. They’re are actually in the business of bending wires. Their new 3-D wire printer bends wires into curves that can be assembled to construct almost anything.

DIWire 3D Wire Bender
DIWire 3D Wire Bender

Practical uses for the printer include artistic design, small assemblies, organizers, and anything else you might want to put together with bended wire. It’s hard to tell exactly what uses it will be put to until it’s available to users and they get some time with it. It’s one of those interesting products that you know once people start to use that they will come up with things that are really surprising.

At this point the product is still a prototype. You can go to their website and give them your email address and other contact information so they can let you know soon as the product’s available. And, they expect to have a Kickstarter project active within the next month or so.

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World Maker Faire 2013: Humanoid Robot

One of Michael Overstreet's humanoid robots playing soccer at World Maker Faire 2013 in New York City. Michael puts in a tremendous amount of time and effort each year attending Maker Faires in NYC, Detroit, San Mateo, and Kansas City, along with RoboGames, because he gets real inspiration from introducing kids and adults to robotics.

13092X World Maker Faire 82

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World Maker Faire 2013: Sugru

"If Superglue and PlayDough had a baby" is the tag line for Sugru, a surprisingly useful self curing rubber concoction that turns out to be extremely useful.

Want to quickly fabricate a simple stand? Need to patch some rough edges or a break? Don't like the sharp corners on your smartphone or tablet? Sugru is the answer, and it's a whole lot of fun to boot.

13092X World Maker Faire-10

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World Maker Faire 2013: FormLabs Form 1 3D Printer

The FormLabs Form 1 high resolution desktop printer has some limitations/drawbacks for the type of work that I typically do, but it is so incredibly awesome that I want one anyway.

The part resolution, surface finish, and ability to produce parts that would be difficult if not impossible with other additive 3D printers, is really striking. Take a close look at the print developing in the Form 1 photo above. How difficult would it be for you to produce the same print with a Makerbot Replicator 2?

In addition to the print quality and performance, I love the aesthetic design of the printer itself. If Johnny Ive designed 3D printers instead of iPhones, this is the type of printer he would create.

At the same time, there are some downsides/limitations. The Form 1 won't be available until January 2014 at the earliest, and not in all US states or countries overseas. Japan is one of the countries that's obviously missing from the list at this point, though I did hear from the FormLabs staff at Maker Faire that plans for Japan sales and support are in the works.

The initial cost is higher than other printers, which I can rationalize given the higher performance and print quality. What's harder to justify, for my unique needs, is the higher projected running cost given that the printer resin has to be purchased from FormLabs and it isn't readily available locally. That implies that users will have to stock resin or risk running out just when they need to produce parts for projects or clients. For overseas users, like me, where it can take a week or more even for expedited FedEx delivery (not to mention costing an arm and a leg), this is a serious concern.

There are also some limitations that might be troublesome, depending on your particular use case. For example, one of the FormLabs booth staff explained that the Form 1 resin parts take several days to cure to the point that they are solid enough to be used in functional parts that might be subjected to stress. This wouldn't be a problem for artistic or concept designers, but would definitely pose significant problems for the type of parts I design and use regularly.

All things considered, the Form 1 is in a class by itself and definitely worth serious consideration if it's characteristics match your typical use case.

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World Maker Faire 2013: Makerbot Digitizer – Part 2

Following on to my previous post on the new Makerbot Digitizer, the "gnome" character shown above is a perfect example of the type of parts where the digitizer will perform well, if not excel.

Just like Goldilocks experience with the three bears, the gnome is not too large and not too small - it's just right. It has no large cavities, no overhangs, is primarily smooth surfaces without drastic or abrupt surface changes, and it lacks the type of small details that would cause problems for the digitizer.

It's also a matte surface with no reflections that are difficult for the unit's lasers. Of course you can scan items with shiny surfaces, you just have to make them appear matte by applying some powder or other material to mask the reflection. This is a typical challenge with all digitizers of this type, not a design fault. It's just something you need to be aware of and plan for in order to get the best possible scans from your digitizer.

One other thing that was slightly annoying in the Makerbot Digitizer user manual and at their booth at Maker Faire was the over promotion of "Thingiverse". I'm a big supporter of Thingiverse, upload my designs to it often, and promote it to other 3D printer users when it's appropriate. It's a very useful resource and I'm very happy that the company supports it.

But with Makerbot, Thingiverse seems to have evolved into almost a religious mantra that pops up everytime one of the employees opens their mouth to speak. The same thing is true of the digitizer user manual. It keeps on telling you to upload your designs to Thingiverse, over and over again.

They do provide a check box in the software to set it up so that the designs you upload can be kept private. In my opinion, the setting to keep designs private should be the default, and you should always have the option not to upload. A lot of us work on design projects for customers, or have our own development projects that we do not want to share or even let the world know what we're working on until we're ready to disclose it. It seems all too easy with the Makerbot Digitizer setup and supporting software to overlook a checkbox and suddenly find that your project has been disclosed to the world, and possibly your competitors. Perhaps I'm overly concerned, especially since I'm basing my observations on what I was told by the Makerbot staff at the event and what I have interpreted from the user manual.

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World Maker Faire 2013: Makerbot Digitizer

I was really looking forward to seeing the new Makerbot Digitizer in person at Maker Faire in New York. During the three days I spent at the venue, I was able to stop by the Makerbot booth quite a few times to watch it in operation and discuss the unit both with the Makerbot employees and potential users. Downloading the digitizer documentation from the company website made it possible to ask intelligent questions and to verify key points.

Overall, I left with a fairly positive impression of the digitizer. It works as advertised, is dead simple to use, and produces robust STL files that can be sliced and printed immediately. The unit looks very professional and would look right at home in a engineering lab or design office.

So, what were the downsides? Unfortunately there were a few that will probably keep me from placing an order, at least for the time being.

First is the price. At over USD$1,500, before shipping/handling, it would be hard to justify amortizing the cost over the number of times I could put it to good use for client projects. I'm sure that there are potential customers with a different business model that can use the Makerbot Digitizer, I'm just not in that position right now.

Second is the lack of detail resolution - for me this is a non-starter, and I think it will impact a lot of potential users as well. A good (or bad) example is the puppy model shown above that Makerbot used at the event to show off the digitizer. As you can see from the photo, the puppy has a lot of fine detail, including the hairs on its back. Unfortunately the digitizer can't resolve that level of detail. The STL mesh created by the Makerbot Digitizer application produces smooth surfaces instead.

Third, and this is good news/bad news, the digitizer scan envelope will handle parts that can fit into a cylinder 203 mm in diameter and 203 mm high. While that sounds great, the digitizer can not handle parts that are under 50 mm in diameter or under 50 mm tall. This rules out quite a few of the typical parts I work with regularly. My first thought was to place my parts on a small cylinder, digitize everything, then remove the cylinder by processing the resulting STL data. But the lack of digitizer resolution appears to make that approach impractical.

All things considered, the new Makerbot Digitizer will be attractive to creative artists, some designers, and perhaps consultants, as long as they don't require fine resolution and can afford the price tag.

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