It seemed inevitable, and now it's here: 3D printing meets robots.
With the launch of My Robot Nation, which is taking place today in conjunction with Google's official re-launch of its Chrome Store, almost anyone can go online and create the droid of their dreams.
And it's just the start of what could be a revolution in consumer-focused 3D printed products.
My Robot Nation is from Kodama Studios, a Silicon Valley startup founded by two longtime video game industry veterans. The service offers a chance to craft your own robot design and have it quickly 3D printed and delivered to your door. Using a set of simple Web-based design tools that will likely be familiar to anyone who's ever created their own avatar in a video game, up to 9 billion different combinations of custom robot designs are now at consumers' fingertips.
Those who make a purchase will get, within a few days, a ceramic-like model intended to be displayed on a shelf or any place where buyers like to showcase their collectibles. My Robot Nation clearly feels that the designs can be attractive--and unique--enough that people will jump at the chance.
As part of the Chrome Store re-launch, Google will promote My Robot Nation as a featured app on the store, the search giant exclusively told CNET.
According to founders Sarah Stocker and Mark Danks, robots are really just a "Trojan horse" for My Robot Nation's real business: getting people used to the notion of designing 3D models of just about any kind of item and having them quickly delivered to their door.
"We chose robots because they're easy to understand, and they're cool and cheap," said Stocker. "But [we want to set] expectations that everything they own can be personalized."
My Robot Nation is all about helping people feel comfortable with consumer-oriented 3D printed products, Danks added.
"If we do this right," said Stocker, "instead of sending Mother's Day cards, you'll go to the site, choose from a few keepsakes, add some trinkets, and make [your 3D printed item] personal."
"The engine underlying our creation tool is completely flexible and designed to be a platform for 3D creation and customization of any object," according to a My Robot Nation FAQ. "With our [patent-pending] browser-based engine...we can build a platform for customization of any item you can hold in your hand. Robots are just the beginning."
To Stocker and Danks, 3D printing is a revolutionary technology that offers an almost infinite amount of creativity and choice, along with high quality production. But today, the tools required to design 3D printed products are complex and in the hands of a small number of artists or CAD-trained developers.
With My Robot Nation, Kodama is hoping to turn that dynamic on its head. The service is employing WebGL, a browser-based tool that is intended to make it easy to "see and interact with 3D objects natively in your browser," according to the FAQ. "Because WebGL is integrated with the latest HTML technology, we can provide you with a seamless creation experience," the FAQ reads. "This means that the robot you see on your screen is just like the one you will receive in the mail."
The service will work initially with Chrome and Firefox. The company intends to apply the same concepts to future 3D printed offerings.
In the early going, however, it is focusing on robots, and consumers will be able to craft their personalized designs utilizing a wide variety of 2D stamps, 3D attachments, body parts, colors, and poses. The finished products will be between two inches and six inches tall and cost between $18 and $170, depending on customer choice.
Of course, My Robot Nation isn't the only company offering consumers the ability to buy 3D printed models of their own designs. Others include Freedom of Creation, Shapeways, and Ponoko. But Danks argued that the only people who can purchase their own designs from those companies are those with sophisticated 3D modeling skills. By comparison, Danks said, the WebGL tools available to My Robot Nation customers allow almost anyone to successfully design--and then receive physical versions of--their own creations.