Friday, October 26, 2012

Horse's Mouth: Panda Robotics stops Kickstarter

Panda Robotics has just announced that they will be closing their Kickstarter early and seeking private funding. This is sure to bring mixed emotions in the 3D printing world. The text of their statement is below (or here):

"A lot has happened during these three weeks of our Kickstarter campaign. We have been blown away by the overwhelming support we have received from everyone. We have been able to witness first-hand – for the first time – the sheer excitement and enthusiasm that exists for a 3d printer for the masses. We’ve been featured on BNN, the National Post, CTV News Network, TechCrunch, The National, and a myriad of blog posts and tech articles throughout the Internet. We had no idea any of this would happen, and at times it felt a bit surreal. We had to shake ourselves, and wonder “is this really happening?” All of this makes us feel that, just maybe, we could be that little engine that could. 
Via Panda Robotics
But amidst all the excitement, we’ve had to make a very difficult decision. It breaks our hearts to do it, but we’ve decided to end our Kickstarter campaign early. Please let us explain why. 
In the past weeks, we’ve received requests from institutions like universities, resellers, distributors and individuals who want to buy final PandaBots in bulk. This is wonderful, but we don’t want our Kickstarter backers, those who put their money on the line for us, to settle for a beta product so we can build a better product for all those who waited. Our wish is for our backers’ experience with Panda Robotics to be free from the inevitable concerns that arise from beta products. This will ensure you will be able to save your money and purchase the PandaBot when the final product is ready. To achieve these ends, we are in the process of seeking alternative forms of funding in order to manufacture and certify the production run.
It goes without saying that we are truly grateful to all our backers on Kickstarter. Thank you. It really is your belief in us and your support of our vision that makes us want to succeed. The last thing we want to do is to let you down. We will be providing to all of our backers a Panda Robotics t-shirt and a Panda Robotics sticker as a thank you for supporting us during our Kickstarter campaign, plus a $200 coupon that can be applied towards a PandaBot after we have gone through final certifications and can promise you a product you'll love and enjoy for a long time. 
For now, please stay with us. We can't do this without you. We’d love to share with you our progress over the following months. 
Please follow us on Twitter(, join us on Facebook( or contact us with your email( and we will add you to a mailing list for updates. 
With all of your support, we hope to have production PandaBots available for you in the first half of 2013."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nathan Myhrvold: Patenting the "Unpatentable"

In the 3D economy of the future the issue of patent rights will definitely be a highlight over and over again. Enter Nathan Myhrvold (Right), the former CTO of Microsoft, whose company, Intellectual Ventures, was recently awarded a new patent on “Manufacturing control systems”(see image above), commonly being interpreted as Digital Rights Management (DRM) for 3D printing. Think of it as CD protection from burning or protection on music you buy on iTunes pre-2009, but for 3D blueprints. But besides the basic 3D printing with plastics this patent may also apply to printing food and organs (technologies I have highlighted in the past, here and here)

Some have called Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures patent trolls (here, here and here) because they hold thousands of patents and spend a lot of money prosecuting those that are infringing on their intellectual property (IP) rights.

Many have gotten angry about the restrictions that this will have on the growing 3D economy. The truth is that a DRM system will incentivize development in the technology, so that those who want to develop 3D printed blueprints for sale to the general masses can still do this without the risk of of loosing profit and  get returns on their investment of time and money. And for those that are hard-core printers Ryan Whitwam at ExtremeTech put it best:
"Every DRM scheme implemented so far has been cracked in some way. It’s really a cruel joke on the average user — while DRM stymies their digital life, those that actually might be engaging in shady behavior will be able to print all the patented objects they want. DRM won’t actually solve any problems — it never does — but it might be an inevitable part of 3D printing’s future."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Manufacturing Holy Grail: Will it work?

With the economy still not recovered governments are continuously putting out reports about what they will do to fix it. The strength of these commitments are questionable because once the economy recovers the governments will inevitably no longer feel the pressure and may lapse in their gusto for improvement. Across the world these reports are starting to see calls for more 3D printing and the results take different forms:

1. EU: In a recent paper leaked to Reuters, the European Commission called for region wide investment in new technology, like 3D printing. The paper goes as far to set a goal of "raising manufacturing from 16 to 20 percent of EU GDP by 2020" using such methods.

2. US: The Obama Administration announced in recent months the formation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in Youngstown, Ohio. This public-private endeavor consists of "70 small and large companies, universities, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations" that will work together to develop advantages in (additive) manufacturing that the US has lost over the years in the nation's historic Rust Belt. 

"Last week the Department of Defense (DOD) chose the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from among 13 applicants to manage the institute, which will tap talent from the tri-state area of northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. DOD is putting up $30 million over 3 years, and four other federal agencies have promised to contribute another $15 million. Companies in the consortium have agreed to provide $40 million in matching funding." (Check out here for more cool details)
(A quick note: NAMII is scheduled to host its first official meeting today)

3. The World: Who will be next????

The question then becomes will the EU and US be able to maintain this lead in support of 3D printing and will it even matter when other governments themselves turn to 3D printing? Although we like to think so, the US does not have the monopoly on innovation or technological prowess. 3D printing offers an opportunity for advancement, but once the technology is developed there is nothing stopping it also becoming a workhorse in cheaper labor markets. This transition may take decades because, for the time being, transportation costs and convenience are enough to prohibit remote 3D printing from being too desirable. But as everyone gets excited about 3D printings [for good reason] there should be no misconception that this will be the end of global trade in manufactured goods. While it may help in the short and medium term, in the long term we will most likely be back in the same place economically. Like space travel and nuclear fusion, 3D printing is a technology worth pursuing, but it will not change the fundamental competitive nature of our world. The hope then becomes the perpetual need to find the next "big" technology, but for the next couple decades 3D printing will be shaking up the world.

[UPDATE: 10/20/12 (via and Xinhu News)

3a. China: The Asian Manufacturing Association (AMA), Chinese government and other 3D printing organizations held a 3D printing technology seminar October 15th to discuss the state of the industry in China and prospects in the future. Representatives from China's Ministries of Raw Materials and Industry were among those represented. The main result was: (from Xinhu News via Google translate, I didn't change anything in order not to misconstrue the message.)
"The experts agreed that the 3D printing technology as a major technological revolution in the manufacturing sector... At present, China in the field of 3D printing technology core 3D company with the United States, Israel Objet international giants basically at the same level. However, in terms of material and software development, equipment, there is a gap, but also need to attract the attention of the competent government departments and major technological special project grant support....Advanced manufacturing park in Asia Asian Association of Manufacturers is currently being planned, will be 3D printing technology as a leading industry to support and intensify in the near future to set up the national 3D printing technology R & D base and industrial demonstration bases."
What is clear is that China is realizing where they are behind in 3D printing and is also working on encouraging their industry.]

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Copy-right or -wrong: Catan and Guns

Picture of Catan set from articles in Jan. 2011

So lately there has been a lot of discussion of 3D printing regulation and its possible implications for the industry, whether from government or larger corporations. This comes after Stratasys recently seized a printer that was leased to a man that was working to create an open-source gun.  This goes to show that my previous prediction about weaponry being the catalyst for regulation of (and a spotlight on) the 3D printing industry may turn out to be true (see my previous analysis of WikiWeapons here).

Get this Catan border frame on Ponoko here
Get 3D tiles like this on Shapeways  here.
Get these pieces on Thingiverse here.
But this is not the first time that the regulation and censor has come up, another example is my personal favorite board game Settlers of Catan. In searching around the web you find a number of Catan related objects, like border frames, 3D tiles, and building pieces. What they all have in common is that the augment the original Catan set in some way without being in the same price range or completeness of the original Catan board. But back in January 2011 there was much talk (here and here) as a Thingiverse user, Sublime, posted a complete Catan set (pictured above). Fast forward to October 2012, a search on Thingiverse yields no such user or plan, which leads me to believe that after some dispute (possibly legal) IT WAS TAKEN DOWN!! [SEE NOTE FOR REVISION 10/16/12] This does not mean that Thingiverse (owned by Makerbot) is bad, it just exemplifies the exploration of what will and will not be "acceptable" in the 3D economy. The current definition seems to be that if it complements or supplements it is OK, but if it is a complete replacement that is another story. As many predict, the 3D economy will have many growing pains as lawyers and regulators work with developers and innovators to shape what the future will look like. One thing is for sure, it will not be easy, already there are more projects (here) like Sublime's creating Catan mock-ups, but the question is if they get attention will they also be taken down?

Check out this timelapse video of the printing of all the pieces for a Catan board below:

UPDATE 10-16-12: Thanks to Criedieki for pointing out that Sublime has moved all of their Catan products to github (here)