3D printing for kids with Origo

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When I was a kid, you could give me a stick and a puddle of mud and I would be entertained for hours. In fact, one of the most beautiful things about the world I grew up in, was that we were positively encouraged to use our imaginations and to invent our own games.

Nowadays, kids seem to compete for the latest and greatest toys, and these toys are getting increasingly hi-tech, which begs the question “are modern toys teaching our kids not to use their imaginations?”.

That’s why I was really excited to come across Origo, a project that is dedicated to making a usable 3D Printer for ten-year olds. This is something that could allow kids to use technology to explore their own creativity and to make their own toys in their own time.

Origo is being designed to interface with 3DTin, a web-based 3D modelling environment that makes it incredibly easy for absolute novices to create their own 3D object designs. In fact, if you haven’t tried 3DTin out yet, give it a whirl. Its very intuitive and great fun. The most exciting thing about 3DTin is that once you’ve designed your own 3D model, you can export it in a format that can be sent to any existing 3D Printing service company, and you can have it printed out for you.

A great example of this is i.materialize, who can print out your design in whatever material you require. Actually, Joris Peels, one of the developers of the Origo previously worked at i.materialize, so these guys know their market well.

Artur Tchoukanov, the originator of the Origo idea, has been working on the project since early last year as his Master’s project for the Umea Institute of Design. His problem was that 3D printing is generally expensive, but its great fun and very useful during the design and prototype phase of any project. Artur was struck by how difficult it was for the average person to design and print a 3D model and started to think that there would eventually be a time when 3D printers would become commonplace on the desktop.

He immediately set about designing a printer that would be inexpensive to manufacture and that would be simple enough for children to operate. With the arrival of 3DTin, it is clear that Tchoukanov was heading in the right direction. As the tools to design become easier to use, so the demand for 3D printing is likely to increase.

Recently, Joris Peels ran a TEDxKids workshop with i.materialize, where he helped to teach 56 children how to 3D print their own designs. The results were fantastic, with kids designing everything from a pair of very cool and geeky custom made sunglasses to a toy billiards table complete with balls and cues.

It seems that kids are ready to adopt 3D printing with a vengeance. Peels points out that their time working with children to understand what they want has changed their perspective. He says, “Parents usually think in terms of toys whereas kids often want to make interior decoration things for their rooms or fashion accessories.”

Peels emailed me to say, “The reason the Origo is special is because it’s the first 3D printer designed from the ground up for home use. A lot of effort has gone in to making it not only easy to use but also a relevant tool for kids. By designing a lot of custom components and thinking about the entire ecosystem around the Origo, Artur has been able to envision a 3D printer that could be in everyone’s home. It’s up to us now to see if we can turn that vision into reality”.

While all of this is very exciting, Origo doesn’t actually exist yet. At least not in any commercial form. In fact, at this point Peels admits that the Origo is only a visual prototype that has itself been 3D printed.

That doesn’t mean that you should give up already. Peels says that they are working on a production optimised prototype at the moment and they’re hoping to have the Origo on the market in 17 months. When it finally goes on sale, the Origo will cost less than US$800.

It will support 3D printing in bioplastics which are similar to ABS plastic, the same material that LEGO bricks are made of. So, while you may be feeling a little deflated that you can’t get your hands on the ultimate toy-maker for this coming Christmas, you’ve got a bit of time to become a pro at designing your own 3D models.

Outside of 3DTin, Peels recommends checking out TinkerCAD and Minecraft which he considers to be pretty easy to use. Of course, for those that are a little braver, there is Autodesk 123D, Sketchup and even Blender.

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