The robots have arrived.
This morning, My Robot Nation officially launched, offering customers around the world the ability to design the droid of their dreams--and have it quickly 3D printed and sent to them.
Note: Please come back tomorrow for a behind-the-scenes story looking at how My Robot Nation's founders spent launch day.
A month ago, as reported first by CNET, the service launched into beta, and for the first time, people in the U.S., Canada, and Europe were able to use My Robot Nation's simple Web-based design tools to craft their own miniature robots. Since then, hundreds of people have done so, and within days, each got delivery of a package containing a ceramic-like figurine meant to be displayed wherever buyers like to show off their small collectibles.
The tools make it possible for anyone to make an almost infinite number of choices about the design of their robot, much as someone would do to create a video game avatar. That makes sense, given that My Robot Nation founders Sarah Stocker and Mark Danks have years of experience working at game companies like Electronic Arts and Sony. The finished products will be between two inches and six inches tall and run customers between $18 and $170.
For today's launch--the service actually hit its 1.0 state last night--My Robot Nation is expanding globally and has worked out a number of kinks in its system. It has also streamlined its social sharing strategy, making it easy for the public to "like" others' robots, and for every buyer's creation to have a chance to be voted one of the site's favorites. It is also offering a set of holiday-oriented flourishes for users' robots, including Santa hats, holly leaves, and more.
And Google is clearly on board with what the company is trying to do. My Robot Nation's beta launch was tied to that of the re-launch of the Chrome Store, and since then, Chrome's Facebook page has become a virtual billboard for the service. Yesterday, for example, four of the five pictures at the top of the page were of robots crafted using the service. And despite more than 7.4 million people who follow Chrome on Facebook, the service has identified only two entities that it likes--Angry Birds, and My Robot Nation.
Just the beginning
Although My Robot Nation is launching with user-created droids, the company sees that as a Trojan horse. The longer-term plan is to expand its offerings to a wide range of custom-designed and 3D printed consumer products, although the company hasn't yet said what those will be. That's a smart move, as there appears to be a hunger on the part of a variety of big-name companies to allow people to create their own versions of branded products, and 3D printing is likely the best production method for such offerings, given that it makes it economically viable to manufacture a single custom item.
My Robot Nation is the epitome of a lean Silicon Valley startup. The company's founders generally work in their home offices in Berkeley, Calif., and San Rafael, Calif.,--both within 20 minutes of San Francisco--or in coffee shops in between. When they need to meet with their far-flung workforce, they hop on Skype.
This means that for now, the company's costs are low, allowing Stocker and Danks to bootstrap My Robot Nation entirely with their own funds. And that gives the two the flexibility, at least in the short term, to pivot as necessary, and to take on better established competitors in the custom 3D printing field. Among those are Freedom of Creation, Shapeways, and Ponoko, each of which has their own business model. But My Robot Nation thinks that its WebGL-based tools give it a leg up on the others, because almost anyone--not just people with 3D modeling skills--can design and purchase its products.
"Because WebGL is integrated with the latest HTML technology, we can provide you with a seamless creation experience," the company's FAQ reads. "This means that the robot you see on your screen is just like the one you will receive in the mail."