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Tuesday
Apr082014

Why I decided to back The Micro, a home 3D printer

By Simon Cohen

New Kickstarter project brings the price of 3D printing down-to-earth for the first time ever.

I’ve been a little (OK a lot) fascinated with consumer-grade 3D printing ever since I saw my first MakerBot device in the flesh at the Consumer Electronics Show back in 2010.

The MakerBot booth was surrounded by onlookers on a nearly constant basis and not because the company had employed scantily –clad women to attract the milling masses. They didn’t need to. They had something way better than a booth babe: a new technology that let people create virtually any 3D object from scratch. Show attendees huddled around small wooden boxes that looked like they’d been made from spare TinkerToy parts, while a robotic mechanism jumped and jerked around, slowly producing a 3D object, layer by layer. It was mesmerizing.

Back then, three things were true of consumer 3D printing. 1) It was expensive. Even MakerBot’s original Thing-o-Matic (the device that kickstarted the 3D craze even before Kickstarter had its first hit project) had a starting price of well over $1,000 and it was the least expensive model on the planet. 2) The examples of what you could make were limited to what you could download from a 3D library or design yourself using 3D software. And 3) it wasn’t exactly consumer-friendly. Calibration was regularly required and the software was not the easiest to master.

Flash-forward to 2014 and things are a bit different. Thanks to four years of evolution and new competitors entering the space, there are way more objects that you can print (MakerBot’s ThingVerse library has well over 100,000 printables) and the software side of things has become a lot more friendly. But the price… that remains a barrier. MakerBot’s least expensive model, the Replicator Mini still clocks in at $1,375 while their nearest competitor, Cubify, sells its Cube2 for $1,299.

These prices have meant that all but the most well heeled technophiles have had to shelve their 3D printing dreams for the time being, or (if they’re located near one) head on down to their local library or soon, their local MakerBot Store.

But thanks to a new Kickstarter project, we might finally be able to bring a 3D printer home without needing to cancel our mobile data plans. Enter M3D’s The Micro, a 3D printer for the home that not only breaks the $1,000 price point, it breaks the $400 price point.

Yes, you read that correctly. The tiny Micro let the first lucky Kickstarter backers get in on the ground floor for $199. Those early-bird offers filled quickly (the project met its campaign goal in 11 minutes) and the next level (at $250) filled a few hours later. I suspect that by the time you read this, even the $299 pledge level will be full, leaving only the $599 as the cheapest option. 

The Micro isn’t the first uber-reasonable 3D printer. That title went to another Kickstarter project, the Buccaneer.  But since I missed out on that one (having chosen to back the decidedly disappointing 3Doodler instead) I was determined to get in on the action with The Micro.

I may yet be disappointed with The Micro. There are certainly a lot of areas where things could go astray. The company might take even longer than their anticipated 2015 ship date. In that time, other, better and cheaper options might surface. The Micro might not be as easy to use as M3D claims. It’s a very small printer – maybe too small for the kinds of projects that would make owning a 3D printer worthwhile.

And yet I can’t help but be excited. I have two school-age children and they are both tech-savvy and creative. My 12-year-old son is especially taken with architecture and 3D design and has logged hundreds of hours using SketchUp, a free 3D program once owned by Google.

What will they create with The Micro? Who knows? Hopefully not parts for weapons. That would be bad. Maybe they’ll make their dear ol’ dad a customized iPhone cover. Or maybe they’ll change the world.

Not bad way to spend $250.

-------

Simon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced consumer technology bloggers. He has regularly appeared on national TV and radio as a tech expert. You can find more of his work at Excitable.ca. 

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