by makeme

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

I’m Conflicted About Buildatron

In Uncategorized on 15, Sep, 2011 at 22:13

I have a few keywords like “reprap” and “makerbot” on my google alerts list, so I heard about this new company Buildatron. The link in my email took me to a press release that is responsible for the inner turmoil.

See…I want 3D printing to move into the mainstream. There’s only 4 years left until my inter-family prediction of “this stuff is totally going to be everywhere” becomes premature. I want to go to Wal-Mart and pick up a $100 3D printer that makes cell phones, and I want it now! On the other hand, I am convinced that the old people who own all the stuff and write all the laws are going to fill up their Depends when they realize the same people who pirate music and movies are now free to pirate physical products.

As is pretty obvious to anyone who bothers to look ahead: 3D printers are going to create some legal issues. With the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people, and Congress worried that existing businesses might not pay for their reelection, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that 3D printing would end up strictly regulated. The exciting thing about desktop additive manufacturing is how much more efficient it makes people. That’s great for individuals, but not so great for existing corporations. Combine the threat of copyright infringement with the decreased revenue from simple (and not so simple) little gizmos and you’ve got a recipe for a new version of the RIAA.

It seems to me the best way to make that possibility unlikely is to push 3D printing into schools where it can give a whole new generation a reason to learn STEM. About the time industry lobbyists are marching around demanding regulation I want school kids marching around showing off how they invented a new pacemaker or something. That will even get the attention of industry (they need all the STEM geeks they can hire). Thus, creating a strong argument for allowing 3D printing to flourish with modest, safety-based regulation.

That’s my point of view, and I’m working on it (slowly; I have a day job). But then I see stuff like the Buildatron 1. The company’s press release stops just short of going “YOU get a car and YOU get a car and YOU get a car”…but then you click on the link.

They put a box around a reprap. Then they put their name on the box. Then they promised a revolution.

The best thing is that there are already companies selling reprap parts and kits assembled or disassembled. There’s makergear and reprapcentral and reprapstores and reprapkit and XYZprinters and botmill and techzone and I’m sure I missed some. Last but certainly not least there is Dr. Bowyer himself. And you know what? None of them bothered to brand an open-source project. Why does the Mendel need a box around it? I assume it was the only way they could create enough space to FIT a brand name in there.

I love open-source for exactly that reason. Since no one had ever thought of putting a big title on the machine there isn’t even any room to add one if you want to. It’s a marketing department’s nightmare.

See, Buildatron instantly invites comparison to Makerbot. Makerbot is from New York, so is Buildatron. Makerbot had 3 techie founders, so does Buildatron. Makerbot was based on the reprap project and so is Buildatron. Makerbot looks like a box…and so does Buildatron. Even the name looks copycat (build-a-tron, mak-er-bot). However, all that stuff is just surface. What seems significant to me is that Makerbot looks like a box because those guys actually designed a new printer. It makes sense for them to put their name on a product that was merely inspired by the reprap project. The Buildatron 1, however, IS the reprap project. With a box around it.

They didn’t even have the decency to make the box printable.

A  few of my favorite quotes from the press release:

Today Buildatron Systems announced the international launch of the Buildatron 1 3D printer…

Their offering represents a new paradigm in 3D personal manufacturing technology…

social network driven DIY (Do It Yourself) 3D printer kit.

We worked … industry leading customer support via Buildatron’s social network gateway

Buildatron’s opening of the 3D printer market to millions at industry shattering prices makes no bones about the impact they will have…

Buildatron is working hard to put you in the drivers seat by developing a new generation of tools unparalleled in history.

It’s just sooo cookie-cutter and over-the-top. They’re international because they have a website. They’re a new paradigm because they have a box. They’re social networking because they have a facebook page. They’re industry leading because there’s no industry to lead. They’re opening the market by sitting next to Makerbot at Makerfair. They’re unparalleled because they’re taking what everyone else is working on in a weird direction. The best part is that they could actually lower the price of their kit if they didn’t bother to put it in a box.

All of this leaves me conflicted. I want people to get involved in 3D printing who can hype it. Bre Pettis is awesome because he can get in front of a camera and really evangelize 3D printing. I don’t think an external control panel is all that important or useful, but I’ll let Makerbot do anything they want without complaint as long as they’re putting so much effort into building public awareness. However, the approach Buildatron is taking, right from the get-go, makes me want to tell them to stop.

You know who else saw what Makerbot was doing and thought it was a good idea? Well, Rick Pollack of Makergear and Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker come to mind. They are both selling their own (branded) boxy 3D printer. But THEY DESIGNED NEW PRINTERS! The Mosaic and the Ultimaker are both brand new and innovative designs that take INSPIRATION from the open-source projects that birthed them. It makes perfect sense for them to give it a new name because it’s new. Buildatron just put a Mendel in a box.