Fri Sep 21st, 2012 at 07:57:27 AM EST
We're still working our way through the spread of ubiquitous hand-held communicators and computers (the marketing idiots call them smartphones). Soon, almost everyone, globally, will have access to one. We can't foresee the effects that that is going to have.
We're already bored, asking "what's next". What's the next "big thing"?
Here's one possibility: 3-D printers.
Constructed of laser-cut plywood, with their internal workings on full display, previous generations of MakerBots were for tinkerers who were as interested in the machines themselves as they were in what they could make. Like the Homebrew Computer Club, which helped hatch the Apple II in 1977, MakerBot was part of what amounted to a Homebrew Printer Club, a global movement of hobbyists taking an existing industrial technology and trying to bring it within reach of everyone. Nearly 13,000 have been sold since MakerBot was founded in early 2009.
And as with the early personal computers, the enabling technology emerged before people figured out what to use it for. All you could do with those early PCs was program them; only later did spreadsheets, word processing, and videogames emerge (not to mention email and the World Wide Web). Similarly, for many owners of the early 3-D printers, simply experimenting with the devices themselves was reason enough to get one.
As the printers got more reliable, though, attention shifted from the machines to the designs they could print. At my house, the killer app for our MakerBots has been toys: dollhouse furniture, board game pieces, models. Print, paint, play. Free design libraries like MakerBot’s own Thingiverse and equivalents from Tinkercad and Autodesk mean that there are premade CAD files available to do just about anything you can imagine. It’s simply a matter of downloading them, modifying them if necessary, and sending them to the MakerBot to be printed.
It's still very early days.