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Mattel’s New ThingMaker

February 27, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 06:36

I’m old enough to remember the Creepy Crawler ThingMaker of the 1960s. I did not own one, but a neighbor friend did, and we made many plastic worms and bugs with it. We had fun with the simple product, even though we were limited to the shapes available from the small molds that came with it.

Fast forward a half century to two weeks ago. At the New York Toy Fair, Mattel announced that it is introducing a new ThingMaker that takes advantage of 3D printing. Price: $299. For me, this is an exciting announcement, given that I have put considerable thought into the idea over the past two decades. I even ran it by film producer James Cameron back in 2010 and he liked it.


Sure wish I could take credit for the idea, but I cannot. In the 1990s, Charles (Chuck) Johnson, then with the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, shared with me a future vision of 3D printing. He imagined a child waking up on a weekend morning and going to the kitchen for breakfast. The child switches on a device and then pours dry cereal, such as Cheerios, into it. She then pours milk into a reservoir inside the device. Viewing a small display, she selects a number of digital action figures that’s available and then readies the small machine.

The 3D printer grinds the cereal into fine powder and spreads it, as a print head jets milk for binder, layer by layer. If you’ve ever spilled milk, you know that it becomes sticky as it dries. After minutes of printing, she removes the action figures from the bed of powder, brushes them off, and then eats them.

Mattel’s new ThingMaker does not work like this, but it has a chance of becoming as popular as what Johnson had envisioned so many years ago. Over the past, I’ve shared his story with many groups and most found it interesting. Perhaps the new ThingMaker, slated to become available in October, will be a stepping stone toward Johnson’s cereal printer.

Autodesk has partnered with Mattel to provide software and an easy way to create 3D content—a key to success, in my opinion. So, stay tuned. It could be the beginning of something big.

Kill Decision

August 15, 2015

Filed under: entertainment,future,review — Terry Wohlers @ 10:15

A good friend recommended Kill Decision and I’m glad he did. Author Daniel Suarez knows how to get and keep your attention. Many compare him to Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy. The techno-thriller grabs you early in the book and has you on the edge of your seat most of the way through it. As odd as it may sound to some, I do not read novels for the pure sake of enjoyment. However, if the book provides interesting perspective into future, I’ll make an exception.

I chose the audio version of Kill Decision so that I could exercise while taking in something good. Also, narrator Jeff Gurner tells a story spectacularly. I’ve heard him before and he’s excellent. He nails foreign accents and characters (for example, a hard-nosed army general) better than anyone I’ve heard and his emphasis on certain points and phrases is flawless.


The book is focused mostly on drones and how they may develop to control the world around us. The tension-filled plot brings together many technical ideas in ways that are not only fascinating, but believable. At times, I could not put it down. The story builds and the plot thickens as swarming autonomous drones communicate and organize attacks. The drones and their “behavior” are modeled after swarms of weaver ants, which are very organized, even deadly, as a colony.

If you are looking for a good book to round out the summer, assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere, consider Kill Decision. You won’t regret it. And, if you like to walk, run, or go to the gym, take the audio version with you. Listening to narrator Jeff Gurner, alone, is worth the price.


July 20, 2014

Stelarc is a performance artist and designer that has lived much of his life in a Melbourne, Australia suburb. He was born in Cyprus as Stelios Arcadiou and changed his name in 1972. His work focuses mostly on the belief that the human body is obsolete, but its capacity can be enhanced through technology.

I first met Stelarc in 2005 at the VRAP 3D printing event in Leiria, Portugal. Travel prevented me from attending his presentation, although he was kind enough to provide me with an eye-opening set of printed images and a DVD. Many of his technical developments and works of art are unusual—some of which you’d have to see to believe. Entering “Stelarc” into Google and clicking Images will give you an interesting sampling.

I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Stelarc again nine days ago in Brisbane, Australia. He gave an intriguing presentation at a one-day 3D printing event organized by Griffith University. People in the audience of 170 were visibly stunned by his work. An example was the 2007 video footage showing a team of surgeons constructing an ear on his left forearm.


The skin was suctioned over a scaffold, which was made of porous biomaterial. Tissue in-growth and vascularization then followed over a period of six months. This resulted in a relief of an ear. The helix needs to be surgically lifted to create an ear flap and a soft ear lobe will be grown using his stem-cells. A small microphone will then be inserted and the ear electronically augmented for Internet connectivity. Thus, the third ear will result in a mobile listening device for people in other places.

I was especially impressed by Stelarc’s knowledge and understanding of biomedicine, robotics, prosthetics, and 3D printing. The content that he presented and discussed and the questions he answered showed that he is not only an artist, but a designer and maker of complex machines and systems. In recent years, he has used 3D printing extensively to support much of his work.

Stelarc is a Distinguished Research Fellow and the Director of the Alternate Anatomies Lab, School of Design and Art, at Curtin University, which is located in Perth, Australia. He has many awards and honors to his credit, including an honorary doctorate from Monash University in Melbourne.


Good Music

November 25, 2012

Filed under: entertainment,life — Terry Wohlers @ 10:45

Until recently, I’ve been living in the past. With few exceptions, about the only music that I would listen to is classic rock, mostly from the 1970s. My argument has been that much of the music recorded after this period was not very good. I know that some people may disagree, but I just could not find the quality. When rap became popular, well, … don’t get me started.

Our 20-year-old daughter, Heather, introduced me to Foster the People and I liked the music almost immediately. The melodies, harmonies, instruments, and lyrics are good. Then, it was Gotye. Also, not bad. Later came others and I was hooked. I suddenly changed my view of music, but it took about 35 years.

Among my favorites: Fun and One Direction, which offer good quality music. (Heather is currently trying to get tickets for a Fun concert for her, a friend, and me.) I also like some of the music from Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Carly Rae Jepsen.

Heather also introduced me to Spotify, a service somewhat like Pandora, but better, in my opinion. It let’s you produce play lists and download music to handheld devices for plane travel, etc. Also, it lets you name an artist that you like and then it lists songs and bands that are similar. Listening to the music is free when you’re on-line, but you must pay $10 monthly to download the songs to a smartphone.

In the office, we play the radio or Spotify in the background all day long, so the new sounds are a nice change. It’s unclear why the music of the past couple years is so much better, or maybe it’s just me. Regardless, it’s been good.

A 3D Printer for Kids

October 15, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:20

Finally, a 3D printer for children. Well, it’s not yet available, but it’s in the works. Origo, a small startup in Belgium, is in the conceptual phase of product development. The goal: to offer a product that’s attractive to 10-year olds, and to make it as easy to use as an Xbox or Wii. The estimated price of $800 may be a little steep for kids and their parents, but it’s a starting point.

For more than a decade, I’ve sensed that a large market could develop for a very low-cost 3D printer targeted at children. Young people use their imagination to create objects of all types. With so much digital content now available, and a lot more in the works, a 3D printer would be the ultimate device for creative play and entertainment. A recent article published by Singularity Hub said it could be the last toy you’ll need to buy for your child.

In February 2010, I had a short meeting with James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss, and many other blockbuster films. Knowing that he is a user of 3D printing, I asked him about the idea of an inexpensive 3D printer targeted at children for entertainment. He responded by saying, “Absolutely,” with interest. This is a verbal endorsement that carries some weight.

Indeed a business opportunity is out there for Origo and others to develop and commercialize a safe and simple 21st century ThingMaker for children. A price range of $100-200 has been in my mind, but maybe people would pay more for an elaborate toy that could produce almost any shape.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details and Origo is faced with many. To reach a level of volume that drives cost and price to a minimum, the effort would require significant investment in engineering, manufacturing, market development, distribution, and support. It’s a giant mountain to climb, but I hope company founders Joris Peels and Autur Tchoukanov, both young men, are able to raise the capital needed to succeed. Peels is a former employee of Shapeways and i.materialise and a contributor to Wohlers Report 2011.

A Thrilling Sport

November 28, 2010

Filed under: entertainment,life — Terry Wohlers @ 13:32

I challenge you to name an activity or sport that is more thrilling than snow skiing. Perhaps there is one, but I have not experienced it. I’ve not tried sky diving or bungee jumping, at least not yet. I can assure you that speeding down a mountain and not knowing exactly what’s ahead is electrifying. Crashing is a distinct possibility, but that’s part of the excitement.

My first day of skiing for the season was Friday. Copper Mountain, located in Summit County, Colorado, had a 89-cm (35-inch) base at mid mountain and 102-cm (40-inch) base at upper mountain. These depths are unheard of this time of year. I wiped out—only once—and lost both skies. One of them was about 20 meters uphill from where I landed in a fairly steep and bumpy area. A very young girl brought it to me after saying, “Do you need your ski?”

I tried K2’s new Rictor skis yesterday. I liked them a lot, so I may ask Santa for a pair. I’ve had my K2 Axis skis for seven years and like them, but it may be time to upgrade. The technology has improved, so new skis should make the experience even better. If I end up getting them, they will likely make my “Best of 2010” list that I plan to publish in January 2011.

If you have never skied, I urge you to give it a try. You’re never too old to ski. Several years ago, in the month of March, a friend and I rode up a chair lift at Vail Mountain with a 70-some year old who had never missed a day of skiing that season. I certainly hope I’m able to ski when I’m 70. It’s one of the few ways to entirely clear the mind of work and day-to-day stress. If you’re not focused when racing down the mountain, the consequences could be dire, and that’s partly what makes the sport exhilarating.

3D Data for Additive Manufacturing

September 4, 2010

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 07:34

CAD solid modeling has been the source of data for most additive manufacturing (AM) parts. I estimate that at least 95% comes from CAD, but it could be closer to 98%. Increasingly, we are seeing more data from medical scanners, primarily CT, and 3D scanning/imaging systems for reverse engineering applications.

In the future, video games could become a major source. World of Warcraft players, for example,  can have their character manufactured by FigurePrints, and about 1,000 per month are doing it. Other companies are working with Z Corp. to offer full color models from games, such as Rock Band 2 and Spore. Much smaller players, such as Karbon Kid and Maqet, have also entered the market. In the future, it might become a large and financially interesting segment.

To gain some perspective on how big it could become, one needs to compare annual CAD solid modeling shipments to video game shipments. The “Big Four” CAD companies (Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, and Siemens) shipped an estimated 116,000 solid modeling seats in 2009, according to data gathered by Randall Newton and published in Wohlers Report 2010.  Meanwhile, game makers shipped 379,000,000 units the same year, according to the NPD Group. What’s more, 778 new game titles were launched in 2009, up from 764 the year before.

Not all of these games are candidates for AM products, but many are. And, as game creators discover the advanced capabilities of AM, more will develop games that create objects consisting of closed volumes—a requirement of AM. As this transition occurs, don’t be surprised to see games gain a strong foothold in additive manufacturing. In fact, it could influence AM system development, similar to how video games displaced CAD’s influence on the development of high-end graphics for personal computers. So, brace yourself for what video games could mean to the additive manufacturing industry.

Cameron on TED

June 13, 2010

Filed under: entertainment,review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:09

I’ve been impressed by the caliber of speakers and quality of information presented at I know little about the organization, but have learned that the 15-20 minutes presentations are well worth my time.

I’ve become an admirer of James Cameron. This came after hearing him speak at SolidWorks World 2010 and later talking with him in early February. Avatar had been out for about six weeks at that point, although I had not yet seen it when I met him. Of course, I did not tell him that, but I did congratulate him on the success of the film.

Cameron gives a fascinating speech at He talks about his experiences in the deep sea, which I found interesting, given that I’m also an avid scuba diver. (He has spent 2,500 hours scuba diving and 500 hours in submersibles.) His work at great depths has become even more meaningful, now that he and a team of experts are proposing solutions to the BP oil disaster.

Cameron is also the producer of Titanic and gave some insight into his initial motivation for making the movie. He admited, “Secretly, what I wanted to do is dive to the real wreck of Titanic. And that’s the truth.” Six months after proposing the movie, he found himself in a Russian submersible 2.5 miles down in the North Atlantic looking at the real the Titanic.

If you have not viewed a speech, now may be the time. Cameron is an intriguing individual and speaker. He makes movies and documentaries, but his passion for the sea, space exploration, computer graphics, engineering, and manufacturing are what I find most captivating about him. I hope you agree that his views and experiences are engaging.

Business Stripped Bare

March 21, 2010

Filed under: entertainment,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:30

Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur is written by British industrialist Sir Richard Branson. He is responsible for launching 360 companies under the Virgin brand over the past more than 30 years. At the time of the book’s publication (copyright 2008), the Virgin Group was valued at an estimated 12 billion British pounds. In today’s dollars, that’s more than $18 billion. Not bad for a guy who left school at age 16 and never attended college. He is the 261st richest individual worldwide, according to Forbes’ 2009 list of billionaires.

I met Branson, sort of, at SolidWorks World 2009 in Orlando, Florida. He spoke to those attending the event in a keynote session and then answered questions at a press conference that I attended. The guy comes across as being genuine and humble, both in person and in the book. That’s when I got a copy of Business Stripped Bare, compliments of Branson himself, and I finally got around to reading it.

Like a dose of Ambien, some books put me to sleep. Not this one. It is anything but dry and had my attention from start to finish. The writing is excellent, to Branson and his editor’s credit. He writes in first person and shares intriguing, often gripping, stories and anecdotes about his business dealings and some of the astonishing people he has met.

Branson talks mostly about his companies, nearly all of which are relatively small. He said he never wants to run a large corporation. Branson takes risks and often uses his natural instincts to make important business decisions. As one would expect, Branson presents most of his Virgin companies, employees, and culture in a favorable light, yet he did not come across as boastful in the book. The 330 pages convinced me that his companies offer some of the best products and services that money can buy.

Not all is rosy at Branson’s companies, however. Last Thursday, I read a USA Today article about some very unhappy passengers aboard a Virgin America flight from Los Angeles to New York’s JFK. The flight circled New York for two hours due to bad weather and then was diverted to Newburgh, New York. After landing, the 126 passengers were kept on board for 4.5 hours, and then the flight was canceled. Passengers were livid and said they were treated rudely by the flight crew.

Overall, I believe Branson and the Virgin Group are top notch. His recent work on attacking HIV/Aids and climate change is noteworthy and he’s done a remarkable job creating the Virgin brand. He offers helpful words of advice to entrepreneurs and is a source of inspiration when encountering challenges and taking risks. I found the book entertaining and stimulating. Get it and read it. You’ll be glad you did.

James Cameron Uses 3D Printing

February 5, 2010

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 15:15

About a year ago, entertainer Jay Leno presented the use of laser scanning and 3D printing in a video clip on the Jay Leno’s Garage website. I learned this week that it has become the most popular video on the website. Perhaps it will take celebrities, such as Leno, to help create the awareness that these technologies deserve to become more broadly adopted.

On Tuesday of this week, I listened to inspiring anecdotes from film maker James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, at SolidWorks World 2010 in Anaheim, California. SolidWorks co-founder Jon Hirschtick interviewed him in front of more than 5,000 engineers, designers, and others interested in SolidWorks. I was surprised and glad to hear him say that he uses 3D printing to help bring some of his creations to life. What’s more, he envisions a day when the technology will be used to print parts and products on Mars rather than transporting them from earth.

I was one of the lucky few to meet Cameron and have a short conversation with him. We talked about 3D printing and he agreed that there’s indeed a future market for an ultra-inexpensive version targeted at children for entertainment. I said to him, “You and I grew up with the Creepy Crawler ThingMaker, but the 21st Century “thing maker” will be an inexpensive 3D printer.” He responded by saying, “Absolutely,” with enthusiasm, although maybe he was only being kind. I gave him my business card, mildly hinting that it’s a project we could work on together, knowing clearly that the odds of it are slim, at best.

I found Cameron to be a nice guy and very down to earth. It’s no secret that he started his career as a machinist. He’s a hands-on guy that fully understands the value of getting your hands dirty and making stuff. During his interview with Hirschtick, he explained how he and his team designed and built a 12.7 kg (28 lb) stereoscopic camera used to shoot much of Avatar. Previous generation stereoscopic cameras were as large and heavy as refrigerators. Cameron surprised many by discussing everything from the use of tools for finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics to deep sea exploration and space travel.

Avatar has received nine Academy Award nominations and broke box office records. Cameron also produced Titanic, the Terminator movies, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, and many television documentaries. It’s good to know that people like Leno and Cameron are not only familiar with 3D printing, but they’re also using it and telling others about it.

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