State of the 3D Printing Union, Per The Telegraph
You might not know anyone with a 3D printer yet, but, says Neil Gershenfeld, head of the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “digital personal fabrication has been growing exponentially, and the ways these exponentials work is that there’s a kind of barrier to perception. You may think nothing’s happening and then suddenly there’s a revolution.” Brooklyn-based MakerBot has sold around 6,000 machines, to tech-savvy early adopters like the aforementioned eggcup maker, Brendan Dawes.
But we don’t know how many 3D printers there are out there – some, like the RepRap, can make their own parts and reproduce themselves. Bowyer designed them to be “evolutionarily stable”: RepRaps offer people goods so that people will build them, just as flowers offer bees nectar so that they’ll carry their pollen.
Another problem with the perception of desktop 3D printers is that the things people are making at home right now don’t look that exciting. Take the Thingiverse, a website where people upload photographs and design files of things they’ve designed and made themselves. There are plastic kittens. Plastic door stops. Plastic plant pots. Plastic toy planes. Plastic widgets and encoder wheels and screw isolators and servo wheels, individual parts to improve your printer but not much else.
But just when your inner cynic starts to kick in, because homemade plastic tchotchkes don’t look much more appealing than ones made in Taiwan, someone will tell you a cautionary tale. Gershenfeld invokes the name of Ken Olsen. The head of a company called the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), in 1977 Olsen made a famous pronouncement: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” As Gershenfeld says today, “Now DEC is bankrupt, and you have a computer at home.” Underestimating the potential for new technologies to adapt, evolve and thrive can make you look stupid.