3D printers have been doing a myriad of incredible things recently, from printing food to printing biological tissue. Thus far, though, the instrument has remained largely scientific in application even as at home use is on the rise, largely due to the process of CAD-ing models beforehand and the high degree of subject expertise necessary to make functioning objects. If the kids have anything to say about it, though, that’s all about to change.
Mattel, the toy corporation responsible for brands like Barbie and Fisher Price, is taking on the task of bringing 3D printing to children across the country with the introduction of its ThingMaker 3D Printer. Set at a comparatively reasonable price point of $300, the printer features a number of safety features custom tailored to child use, such as a locking door, and simplified systems for operations such as loading color.
Mattel hasn’t just made the printer easier, though, it’s streamlined the whole process of design. The printer is accompanied by the ThingMaker Design app, developed in partnership with Autodesk, the company behind the CAD and modeling softwares frequently used to create 3D printing blueprints. The app allows kids to not only select from pre-set toys, but to design their own using a series of templates of locking parts that can be used to form articulated toys. The app is available for both iOS and Android, meaning that kids don’t need to learn new systems or skills to use it. Instead, they’ll learn the basics of 3D design in systems that are already native to them.
The technology is open, too, which is perhaps one of the smartest moves the toy manufacturer could make. This way, the hardware will be able to print from designs created external to the app, and designs from the app can be exported and printed on other printers, if desired.
Why It Matters
So kids get a new, expensive flavor the week kind of toy, you may say. Why does this matter on the tech front? It matters specifically because it is for kids. While its low price point means it will likely find popularity amongst beyond its target audience, the fact that this is being mass-produced for children is significant.
It marks a shift from 3D printing as a largely scientific endeavor or something that only technophiles do to a common household practice. Think back to when tablets first came out. Early adopters took them on first, proved their utility, and they trickled down from there to the point where now anyone can go to a big box store and get a tablet for less than $50, some custom made for use by kids. The quality will differ by price point, of course, be the fact is that as they became ingrained in the daily lives of the next generation, they became more a part of daily household technology.
The same is now being seen with 3D printing, and that’s major. That means that we may not be too far off from not just having it as a tool or toy, but as a regular part of daily life in the modern household.