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3D printing on demand, delivered via vending machine

Thomas Travagli | June 17, 2013
The Dreambox, a vending machine in Berkeley, California, contains a 3D printer that can print out almost anything you want: bottle openers, phone cases, or customized shot glasses, among other items.

The top floor of the tallest building in downtown Berkeley, California, is windowed on all sides with views of manmade creations: the Golden Gate Bridge, UC Berkeley's Sather Tower, houses perched on hillsides.

But the most interesting window here in the offices of SkyDeck—an incubator and accelerator for the university's startups—is inside a small room, on the face of a 400-pound metal box. Behind its plexiglass is a vending machine that can make almost anything you want.

Will Drevno stands in front of the machine and looks at it. Drevno is a student at Berkeley and cofounder of Dreambox, a company he started with recent graduates Richard Berwick and David Pastewka to make 3D printing more familiar and accessible to the masses.

The company's first product? The vending machine that dispenses 3D-printed creations, also called the Dreambox.

He picks a design sent to him by an architect and feeds it to the printer as a demonstration. The printer's spinneret nozzle moves like a silent insect, unspooling hot plastic threads and slowly giving definition to an object, layer by layer.

Drevno senses the fascination: "People love watching it print. It's like watching a video game," he says.

The table next to him is a scrapyard for test prints, including a small, hard triquetra model made from blue biodegradable PLA plastic and a flexible iPhone case that got warped in an experiment in printing with nylon.

Fraternities and sororities have requested custom shot glasses; Dreambox doesn't frown on anything except weapon parts. Drevno favors more practical creations. His favorite request so far is a bottle opener.

The machine stands nose-level beside him as he quickly explains how it works. First, someone uploads an object's 3D blueprint taken from a computer-aided design (CAD) program. You can do this online or, soon, by plugging a USB drive right into the vending machine, using a touchscreen to navigate.

If you don't have a custom project on hand, you can choose from a collection of popular designs, like a replica of Sather Tower. When the printer completes an object, an arm nudges it off the included MakerBot Replicator's build surface, where it slides down a chute and into a private locker.

All of this takes about an hour and a half, and you get a text message with a code to unlock the item when it's ready for you to pick up. A single print typically costs around $15, and it can be as large as a loaf of bread.

How it started
The Dreambox founders met two years ago in a mobile app development class and competition at Berkeley.

 

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