3Doodler co-creators on the future of 3D printing and eliminating the gender gap in STEM education

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

March 10th 2016 at 1:34PM
UPDATED March 10th 2016 at 5:38PM
3Doodler co-creators on the future of 3D printing and eliminating the gender gap in STEM education

Billy Langsworthy talks to 3Doodler co-creators Maxwell Bogue and Daniel Cowen about the origins of the product, the new kid-friendly version and how schools have embraced the concept.

When did the first version of the 3Doodler launch and where did the idea for it come from?

Maxwell Bogue: The 3Doodler itself was first introduced to the market in 2013 via a Kickstarter campaign. We did 26,000 pre-orders and raise $2.3m. It was one of the larger Kickstarter campaigns at that time.

Where the idea came from was that we were designing a dinosaur and it was a 14-hour 3D print. When we came to see the finished piece, we found that a layer was missing. So we had two perfectly good pieces but they weren’t together. My business partner Peter Dilworth said, “I wish you could just take the nozzle off of the 3D printer and fill in that layer and join them together.” We then thought ‘why doesn’t that exist?’

We spent a day looking on the Internet, as we were sure that someone must have already thought of this. But no one had. The next day, we took apart our 3D printer and made the world’s first 3Doodler. The first one worked horribly, but it worked. We iterated through different concepts and designs and that’s how we came up with the first generation 3Doodler.

We’ve now also got the 3Doodler Start, which is designed for kids. This has been in the works for three years. When we first came up with the 3Doodler, we wanted to make a kid-safe version. The adult version has a metal tip that is 230°C so it’s not something you want to hand to a child. The 3Doodler Start is kid-safe. It runs at around 55°C and it can’t get to the skin. The biggest innovation is that it’s wireless and battery powered and you get 45 minutes to an hour of continuous use. The plastic comes in 15 standard colours and one that’s glow in the dark.

We have Doodle Blocks too. These are moulds that you doodle into the groove and then pop them out. It eliminates the barrier of first getting starting, as a lot of people feel intimidated when they first attempt it. Then we have the plastic, which is actually an amazing new material. It’s biodegradable and made from food safe materials so if you eat it, it won’t do anything bad to you.

You can make articulated items with it too, like your own action figures. You can also use it with other toys. It can stick to LEGO, but won’t fuse with LEGO.

As well as the 3Doodler Start, are there other products planned under the 3Doodler banner?

Daniel Cowen: From day one we had the kid version in mind. We’re already developing version two and we’ll have some announcements for later this year. We have next year and the year after all planned out, and we also have some excited concepts coming outside of the 3Doodler universe.

What did you both do before creating the 3Doodler?

MB: I used to work for WowWee. I did the Rovio, Tribot and a number of other toys for WowWee. Then I worked for a robotics company and I worked for a financial analysis company – and now I do more fun stuff.

DC: I'm totally different. I was originally a corporate lawyer. Then I ran two software companies mainly in apps and then I got involved in this.

There have been concerns in the past that kids will soon be creating their own toys using 3D printers at home, rather than buying toys. What do you see the future of 3D printing looking like in the toy space?

MB: We’re currently in the pure infancy of 3D printing. Even with a kid-friendly 3D printer, you will still have to do very technical things like levelling the print-bed platform. The quality of the prints that you’ll get from a 3D printer is also still somewhat limited.

But the biggest limitation is the software. Even if you make click-friendly software, you’re still limited to what is available on that library of software. You’re limited to whatever licences that 3D printing company happens to have. Until we get to a point where you can tactilely create objects that can be digitally translated and reproduced by the 3D printer, it’s not a consumer item yet.

Yes, everyone and their mother is attempting to make a 3D printer for kids, but I think it’ll be a good five years until we reach a 3D printer where a kid can make something on a digital device and print it out. That’s the level I’m talking about.

DC: No-one has nailed it yet. No-one has found a way for kids, or even adults, to manipulate 3D models. And all those limitations that we’ve mentioned add to the price. The reason the 3Doodler and the 3Doodler Start have both done so well is the price point. The adult one is $99 and the kids’ one is $49. That means anyone can get one of these and start using it straight away. You can’t do that with a 3D printer.

MB: You don’t need to know these expensive software packages. If you know how to draw, you know how to use the 3Doodler and the 3Doodler Start. You pick it up and go.

DC: All the talk of ‘a 3D printer in every home in five years’, I don’t even think 20 years is a realistic estimate, if ever.

MB: Also, 3D printers consume a lot of energy. They are not eco-friendly. If you’re making hundreds of something, it makes sense to 3D print it. If you’re making thousands of something, it doesn’t make sense. Go back to injection moulding.

Arts and crafts as a category hasn’t always been at the forefront of the latest technology. What has the reaction to the 3Doodler been like in arts and crafts circles?

MB: It’s been very positive. One of the most amazing things we’ve found is that boys see it as a tech item and girls see it as an arts and crafts item. They are both right. We’ve done some pilot programmes in schools for high-schoolers and the teachers have come back with some amazing results. They said that it eliminates the gender gap in STEM education.

DC: We do educational bundles for schools.

MB: We’ve found it’s applicable for almost any lesson. You can 3Doodle a bridge and test strength. You can do a physics lesson on acceleration using a 3Doodled rollercoaster. Making temples for history class.

The beauty of the 3Doodler is that it’s a tactile experience. Both visual learners and non-visual learners are happy to pick up the technology and get moving with it. And on the art front, an artist in New York has made pieces just using the 3Doodler that have sold for thousands.

And did you get a cut?

MB: No, then she’d want free plastic!

An artist in the UK actually paints pieces and uses the 3Doodler to make parts of painting look like it is leaping off the page.

DC: Over Christmas we saw #MyFirstDoodle trending on Twitter and we didn’t start that. It wasn’t manipulated. People were sharing their creations and in terms of users, it’s 50 per cent male, 50 per cent female, young and old. There’s a pen for everyone.

The 3Doodler Start is available to pre-order now for $39.99 at 3DoodlerStart.com.