With its forthcoming ThingMaker 3D Studios, Mattel will attempt to bring two things out of the shadows: Affordable, at-home 3D printing for the everyday Joe, and Everyday Joes buying kids toys they have no intention of sharing with their kids.
The $300 price tag takes care of the first. The second will be achieved by stocking ThingMaker with home electronics rather than toys on retailer’s shelves. The one thing about ThingMaker that’s explicitly for kids is its output: a wide range of jewelry and action figure pieces that easily snap together in an infinite number of combinations to create one-of-a-kind toys.
The software company Autodesk created ThingMaker’s companion app, ThingMaker Design, which combines a highly sophisticated 3D modeling system with intuitive blueprints for rings, necklaces, skeletons, scorpions, and components thereof. From any phone or tablet, you can choose your color and part and start printing unique toys that assemble with simple ball-and-socket connections. No technical complexity — just drag, drop, preview, and print. If you wanted to get more complex, the smartphone app is compatible with any other 3D printer that reads STL files, and the printer will print from other sources than the app.
Until you’re ready for that, this is a great intro to 3D printing that’s also simple enough for your kids to understand and join in. And there’s plenty of reason you should suck it up and give them a turn. For one, it does print toys. Kind of their thing. More importantly, by the time this technology is in everyone’s homes and the robots are readying their uprising, you’re going to be counting on the next generation to print you up some weaponized Nerf darts with which to defend the human race.