MakerBot does exactly what the name promises: it’s a robot that makes all kinds of things. More accurately it’s a 3D printer, which allows it to print objects of any shape at a maximum size approximately as large as a loaf of bread, as long as you have the plans for it. Users can find plans for objects online, create their own from scratch, or replicate objects by scanning them with a 3D scanner. Once you’ve decided on a blueprint, MakerBot creates objects by “printing” layers of thermoplastic, effectively drawing into existence the object you’re after.
Bre Pettis, the creator of MakerBot, is a former school teacher who now runs MakerBot Industries. Their website sold the original MakerBot Thing-O-Matic for $1,100 that was simply a kit buyers needed to put together once it arrived at their doors. They now sell an upgraded model called The MakerBot Replicator, which comes fully assembled and prints in two different colors for the price of $1,800. The website also sells supplies like extra parts, motherboards, and spools of plastic in various colors. The machine has even gone on to spark a web community of users who share their MakerBot creations and experiences.
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Its applications for now seem like a kind of novelty, though in a video on the company’s website Pettis tells the story of a customer who printed shower curtain rings for his new apartment. Some users are even harnessing the MakerBot’s dynamic printing abilities to create parts for their own robots, a process that will undoubtedly lead to the great robot uprising of 2020. MakerBot owners who don’t have 3D scanners of their own can use the website to download the designs shared by other users. In that instance MakerBot doesn’t even require any kind of fancy software, as the machine has an SD card slot like many printers from which it can read digital plans.
The summary of this article inevitably leads to that final, existential question: Can it make a MakerBot?