Last Saturday afternoon while other neighborhood kids were enjoying the early spring sunshine in the park, my Kindergarten Benny was indoors staring intently at an Ipad. Two hours of screen time straight. And me, I couldn’t have been more pleased.
He was using his finger to draw a doodle of a car. And five minutes later, in a feat of Willy Wonka-like magic, he was holding that doodle in his hand. It was a 3D printed object. And it wasn’t his first. Benny and his sister now know more about 3D printing than most grown-ups. And to my mind, that’s a really good thing.
Will 3D printing be bigger than the web like Chris Andersonand others are predicting? Maybe. Maybe not. But as affordable 3D printers lower the cost of entry into manufacturing, it’ll surely have a profound impact across industries – from drug companies to auto makers, from the military to consumer products . Who knows what field my kids will choose? But chances are 3D printing will have disrupted it. Future generations will be surrounded by 3D printed objects. So why not teach them about it now while they’re still tech savvy young kids.
That’s not just my view. Experts like Joris Peels, creator of the first 3D printer for children, agrees that grade school kids are ideally suited to the brave new world of 3D printing. Why? Because they’re the most creative. As he explained recently in a BBC interview: “Children make a lot of things but as we hit our teens we make less… We become afraid of designing. We hit that blank canvas problem and think ‘what am I going to make?’ We are basically very lazy creatures.”
Blank canvases are certainly not a problem for my kids and the others participating in the 3D printing workshop that I’ve been hosting at my apartment these past few weekends. Run by digital fabrication expert Arthur Young-Spivey, the kids are learning several highly intuitive 3D modeling software programs. Among them is Sculptris, a program that allows users to digitally sculpt objects onscreen — virtually molding it like a piece of clay. Last week, the kids experimented with Doodle3D, the sketching tool that brings 2D drawings to life.
Doodle3D was the breakaway hit at 3DEA, the 3D printing pop-up store in midtown Manhattan where I met Arthur in February. Created by Dutch developer Rick Companje, the software is amazingly simple to use. You just draw a sketch on a computer or tablet, click print, and the attached printer turns it into a 3D object.
Doodle3D and Sculptris are among the growing number of kid-friendly programs that don’t require knowledge of sophisticated modeling software. One app, Lets Create!, recently featured on Forbes, lets you design and paint pottery that you can have 3D printed and mailed to you. Another site, 3DMe, lets kids create 3D printed action figures that look just like themselves.
With 3D printers becoming increasingly more affordable, it’s not long before moms like me will be saying: “You want a new toy? Print it yourself.”