Now 3D printers are toys

ThingMakerÔäó-3D-Printing-EcosystemHot on the heels of the news that Aldi supermarkets are selling 3D-printers comes Matel’s unveiling of Thingmaker – a 3D-printer as a toy, or way of making toys, or both really.

Thingmaker is a brightly packaged 3D-printer with some safety-features beyond the norm – retracting print-head and a door that locks while printing is happening. It comes packaged with a version of design software from Autodesk and a concept that revolves around creating toy-parts that click together with ball-and-socket joints to build bigger objects. Altogether it’s a nicely packed 3D-printing toy although there’s absolutely no reason it couldn’t be used well beyond the toy level. Matel are saying it’s suitable for ages 13-up and will be priced at US$300 when released later this year (although they’re taking pre-orders through Amazon now). There doesn’t appear to be a price on the filament which, from the pictures comes in small rolls, and is likely to be where the real cost starts kicking in.

Inevitably the core pitch for Thingmaker is all about creativity. “In today’s digital age, it’s more important than ever for families to transcend the digital world and make their ideas real,” said Aslan Appleman, senior director, at Mattel. “ThingMaker pushes the boundaries of imaginative play, giving families countless ways to customize their toys and let their creativity run wild.”

It would be fascinating for someone to do a study after this comes out to see how many families actually leave the safe reservation of the provided templates. Just like we now check ourselves in at the airport, and do our own scanning at the supermarket, unless you create new designs the Thingmaker is pretty much a way of having people manufacture their own, ultimately expensive, standard toy parts. The value in 3D-printing is not in the manufacture, it’s in being able to design your own things and have them made real.

It seems likely that Thingmaker will be a big hit next Christmas. But I’ll be surprised if by the middle of next year there aren’t a vast number of the units gathering dust on bedroom shelves or available for very reasonable prices on Ebay.

Regardless of the accuracy of that prediction, there really is no question that when 3D-printers are available in supermarkets and being sold as toys the mystique has worn off. In an incredibly short time 3D-printing has gone from science fiction to everyday fact.

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