You will have probably seen the story on the botObjects ProDesk3D printer that claims, in its promotional material, to be the “first Full Color 3D Desktop Printer for home and business”.
The botObjects website states, “Just like normal ink printers, the ProDesk3D uses its proprietary 5-colour PLA cartridge system, capable of mixing primary printing colours to generate the colours of choice for the object you wish to print. This is delivered seamlessly with our software included with the ProDesk3D.”
There has been somewhat of a backlash from those already in the industry with regards to these claims, which if true could signify an incredible breakthrough. That cynicism regards the legitimacy of the product and comes from several corners, those on Google Plus who simply do not believe it to be possible and most severely from TCT contributor Joris Peels, who posted this ‘does what it says on the tin’ article entitled “My doubts about botObjects”
One of the major critiques is the company’s decision only to release 2D renders of the machine with no sign of prints or the printer itself. We here at Personalize and TCT are as sceptical as anyone; take a look at our Massive Dynamics work if you don’t believe us. But we’ve refrained from publishing anything until botObjects had their say.
Unlike Massive Dynamics, botObjects were forthcoming with interview time and offered us half an hour with co-founders Martin Warner and Mike Duma. Martin did ALL of the talking and Mike only appeared on the phone in spirit.
Martin Warner has a fairly impressive track record and certainly has a reputation to stake on a product a lot of people are suggesting could be Vaporware. As the founder of Tech Entrepreneurs Week, which has included talks from people like WikiPedia founder Jimmy Wales, it is fair to say that Martin is au fait with technology but to launch a 3D printer out of the blue is unexpected, to say the least. “The only people taking risks here are the co-founders. I’ve got a sturdy reputation of building things that are great and I have no intention of changing that for this product” he told us.
Despite the criticism Martin was quick to fly in the face of those claiming the product's innovations not to be possible “I’ve been in technology for years, what you often find with new products [is scepticism], a bit like the PC revolution with Steve Jobs and Apple, they weren’t the first to try but they decided they wanted to do something sexier and people said they weren’t ready for it. “
Warner even went as far as suggesting perhaps those detractors of botObjects had a “vested interest, they may even be competitors”. It could be the case that those showing discouragement towards the project are worried, but the feeling we get is that people would love this to be the real deal.
When quizzed about why there’s only three renders of the printer, no photos of prints or of the printer itself Martin Warner told us the images were “tightly controlled” and part of a “timed marketing campaign”. This is, apparently, in order to keep the product images away from prying eyes until patents are granted. As far as images are concerned the co-founder told us that there will be more images coming soon and they certainly won’t be of Yoda Busts.
Another criticism in Joris’ article is as follows, “One thing mentioned in there is that for CMYK color to work on a FDM machine you’d need a fifth color, white to get lighter shades and no color. This would mean that including the support material the BotObjects machine would need 6 cartridges total not five, as mentioned. Or perhaps you would need the 5 cartridges as mentioned and an additional filament spool of support. But, this is not mentioned by BotObjects, they only mention a 5 cartridge system.”
When quizzed on the cartridge system Martin told us that there are six cartridge slots if you include the support material, whether that is in response to the article we’re not so sure. Essentially what we gather the ProDesk3D offers is filament in cartridges like inks in an inkjet that are mixed together to offer one colour. There’s some “clever stuff” that happens between the cartridge and the extruder, of which there are two.
Traditionally Mike Duma and Martin Warner have been software guys, they say the key to the ProDesk3D is the software that works seamlessly with the printer, overcoming all of the obstacles none of the bigger companies have been able hurdle, such as auto-levelling platforms, “We’re doing an awful lot to make the printing process as intuitive as possible. As it stands today, there is a requirement to understand a three dimensional object and how a product is represented in 3D. You can get round that but I think we’ll start to see more much more intuitive software coming out that can make assumptions for the layman, for the person who isn’t a CAD designer.”
All of this sounds fantastic; auto-levelling, full colours, intuitive software… etc but one of the internet’s self-written rules definitely applies here: “Pics or it didn’t happen!”. Surely if there is some fantastic technology at work here, botObjects would be showing it off to the world? Especially with regards to prints, there’s no way from a picture of a print we’d be able to go and put together a rival machine.
Sometimes the mega-sceptics of the industry get it wrong; we’re pretty sure everyone said that Cody Wilson could not print a gun in ABS as it would blow up in his face, every industry expert we talked to said the 3Doodler was a piece of junk, a piece of junk that has sold over 75,000 units incidentally. More often than not though, experts get it right and with very little evidence to suggest the ProDesk3D is everything it claims to be, we’ll hang fire on judgement until we see it, which according to Martin Warner will be at a demo day in “summer”.
On a personal note, I am looking forward to seeing the next press release (expected this week) and I would love for botObjects to stun the world with an amazing game-changing bit of kit. However talking to people who understand how FDM machines function I can't see how it is possible, I would love those people to be proved wrong.
Read the full interview below which includes more on botObjects, their funding strategies and why they chose New York over London…
It is fair to say although the claims made on the site are grand there is a degree of scepticism about the ProDesk3D. Can you put our minds at ease?
Martin Warner: It’s fascinating, I’ve been in technology for years, what you often find with new products [is scepticism] , a bit like the PC revolution with Steve Jobs, they weren’t the first but they decided they wanted to do something sexier and people said they weren’t ready for it.
The truth is that it’s a bit like 3D Printers. They’ve evolved from the engineering to kit like machines we see today, they are fantastic in their own right at what they’re trying to do and it’s been developed from the open source community.
What it [the evolution] allowed people to do is to try to replicate and modify existing products. When somebody (BotObjects) decided not to follow that path and decided to design something from scratch we came up with something radically different to what is out there now.
You’d think from the reaction that we are the new messiahs, we’ve got a wonderful product that is very innovative and it’s taken us a couple of years but a few people, and to put this in context it is a ‘few’, we’ve had over 60,000 enquiries and over 60 countries want to distribute it, most people are generally excited but I think that it is fair to say that the people who say “this cannot happen” are the would be bloggers of the world, they may own a 3D printer, hell they may have even built one, they consider themselves experts, they may even be competitors or have a vested interest, but that’s not a bad thing. You can’t come into a market with a proudct this innovative and not take criticism. The only people taking risks here are the co-founders.
I’ve got a sturdy reputation of building things that are great and I have no intention of changing that for this product. So take it as it is.
We’ve been following developments on twitter and taken into account what a lot of the 3D printing world has been saying. We noticed you’ve got another Press Release out soon can you tell us what that entails?
We have to ensure we build under the lines of what we can set as expectation because when you come out with PR you don’t want it to be wrong you want it to be right every time. The next release will give more information about the product, we’re most likely to provide a product specification and give info on product orders, we’re likely to talk about pricing, we’ve not gone to market with any prices yet, we’ve given indicators as where we’ll fit in with our competitors in the 3D printing space. We’re likely to talk about cartridges, running costs of consumables like this are very important to people.
The best place to keep up with BotObjects is our own website and twitter, we’re using twitter because we got a very early following.
When are we going to see pictures of prints or of the actual printer as opposed to renders?
The blueprint we’re following here to release the product is certainly not uncommon. We have our prototype and we’re busy talking to manufacturers about production and assembly.
We understand that in the way we want to present the product that the images are everything. The way we’re running our marketing is that the three images you see on the website are tightly controlled but that IS the product.
We don’t know the precise timing of when we want to release the next set of images yet but I assure you images are coming which are necessary for people to understand the quality of our product.
I hope it’s not a Yoda Bust!
Ha, you know what is so funny about the 3D printing world is that there’s a top ten of images used and Yoda is certainly top of that list.
There’s no Yoda in our images but I’m not giving you examples but I think you can connect the dots.
Talk us through the five colour mixing cartridges system.
I’m not going to go into any more depth about the cartridges than we have in our introduction to the product because as we go through the various patent procedures we have to very careful of that. We have to guard ourselves very carefully until we do release the product.
What I can say is, we have a proprietary cartridge system, we like to think of inkjet printers and taking filament and turning it into a liquid material, that’s what happens with an FDM printer, taking raw colours and that allows us to play with the chemical composition and to change the colour gamma.
We have two extruders and there’s some clever stuff that happens between the cartridges and extrusion but I can’t talk about that too much. The printer is capable of printing ABS and will print support material, the cartridge system will have six places. That’s all I can say about the cartridge system as it is obviously going to attract a lot of attention. We will provide more information with the next press release.
Ok then, tell us about the software that the site describe as “seemless” I see software as one of the biggest stumbling blocks in Desktop 3D printing.
We’re both software guys and BotObjects is a software development company as well as a product manufacturer. What makes Apple work is tight coupling between hardware and software and we’d like to do the same thing.
The problems you’ve talked about (ED: How software doesn’t inform you what went wrong in print etc) which makes a printer more intelligent and responsive through software is how it provides sensors inside the hardware. There’s vital information that needs to be sent back and forth which can be built intelligently into the user experience.
We’ve thought an awful lot about software, if you think about how inkjet cartridges work, we’ve got a cartridge system and there’s information you need to know at the start, middle and end, there’s information you need to know when you swap cartridges, there’s information you need to know because we have an auto-levelling build platform, there’s information you need to know about the file before it comes in and then when it’s in the printer.
There’s also an awful lot more you can do with the 3D model itself. We’ve made a significant leap because we get it, we get that to turn a 3D model into a 3D print is currently cumbersome.
That’s another big area that we are addressing, we go some way to allowing the layman to create 3D models. This industry has been around for a while but what is happening during this explosion is that more and more companies are developing software so that the layman can 3D model, software that will make assumptions on what it is you want to do with that object.
We’re doing an awful lot to make the printing process as intuitive as possible. As it stands today, there is a requirement to understand a three dimensional object and how a product is represented in 3D. You can get round that but I think we’ll start to see more much more intuitive software coming out that can make assumptions for the layman, for the person who isn’t a CAD designer.
You’re involved in wefund.com the British equivalent to Kickstarter, was it ever considered going through that channel for funding just for the buzz it creates?
For transparency Mike and I are involved in wefund.com, I took that on that investment at one of the Tech Entrepreneurs Week shows I run, wefund came there and I liked it so much that I got involved.
I get crowdfunding, we see a distinctly British opportunity for this revelation in the investment segment. It is distinctly social and distinctly local, crowdfunding is massively cultural, Wefund is going great guns and we feel like we’re doing what Kickstarter are doing in the UK. Crowdfunding is here to stay I truly believe that.
It is predominantly suited to products and services but mainly products that require a level of user engagement and validation. Once you find reasons for people to engage it is very easy for them to validate what you are doing.
BotObjectsis self funded, phenomenon is a strong word, but we know we have the leading position in the desktop 3D Printing world. We thought long and hard about what a 3D printer might look like and might do in five years time and this is the best product that we could put out there.
We didn’t expect the level of response we’ve had, this doesn’t require much marketing it has caught the imagination of a lot of people and is spreading globally. We didn’t know this was going to happen but in terms of marketing and hype that comes from a crowdfunding buzz, maybe we don’t need it as much?
We don’t plan to go to Kickstarter or wefund, but I’d never rule it out, if we think we need it and think it is healthy for the company then we’ll do it.
Talk to us a little about being a British company in a market dominated by Americans?
I always think us Brits are cynics; we’re lucky only a handful of people have been cynical about our product. It always surprises me to see Brits being cynical about other British inventors. They should be getting behind Britain, most of the great inventions we’ve ever had we’ve given away!
BotObjectsis growing so fast, even though we’re going to lead with the American market, it is after all the most important market at the minute , but we’re British so we have access to the European markets and Asian markets from London. We will be opening a UK office but for now we feel it is best to it the American market from New York.
We chose New York as a strategic location because we needed to think about our distribution agreement and shipping channels. We’re not forgetting the UK we’re very much British and shortly we’ll be operating in those two markets.