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Finally, 3D printers are becoming more noob-friendly

Leah Yamshon | Jan. 13, 2014
2014's crop of 3D printers are more plug-and-print then build-and-calibrate.

Cost can be just as off-putting as difficulty, and many of the printers we saw were a bit friendlier on both sides. XYZ Printing's Da Vinci is truly a plug-and-print machine, mirroring the steps you would take to set up a normal at-home inkjet printer. Just connect it to your PC via USB, install the drivers, load the filament, and print. The filament even looks like a big cartridge, and instead of manually feeding filament from the spool to the extruder, you just install it into the cartridge area and the Da Vinci does the rest.

Cel's Robox follows the plug-and-print concept as well. Though it does require a bit of calibration to level the printing bed before you use it, the Robox's AutoMaker software will walk you through the process step-by-step. Then, it's just a matter of selecting your file and pressing start.

Because XYZ Printing is an offshoot of a larger inkjet printer company, the Da Vinci is relatively affordable at $500. It's ideal for total 3D printing noobs who want to ease into the process.

The Robox costs $1400, which is on par with other pre-assembled printers. Yet the main difference between the two is that the Robox aims to be a bit more future-proof: It can accommodate a second printing extruder, or the main extruder can be easily swapped out in case printing with materials besides ABS or PLA plastic becomes the norm (like food!).

Fix the software
The designers at Sixense don't think the machines are the issue, and they focused instead on creating an intuitive platform for building models. Designing or manipulating files to print on most 3D printing software can be a big challenge for beginners or for people without industrial design backgrounds (read: most people).

This software, called Make VR, lets you take existing shapes, change them, and piece them together to make your own models. You can then export that design directly to Shapeways and print it there, if you don't have a 3D printer at home. Your designs live in a virtual reality world that you can share with friends. It kind of turns building 3D models into a social gaming experience.

What really makes Make VR incredible is how it's used with another Sixense machine, the STEM System. STEM is a wireless motion-tracking platform designed for video games and other virtual reality worlds, and you use two handheld controllers to track your movements and gestures. When using STEM to make 3D printable objects, it feels as if you're building something with your own hands. You can physically reach out to grab a (virtual) tool, turn it over, and mimic a hammer motion to build or punch holes. STEM captures your motions really fluidly, and the process looks like a natural build.


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