Category Archives: Makers

3D Printing Talk at UNCW CIE

I was fortunate yesterday to spend some time with a great crowd at the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to talk about 3D Printing — sharing the time with an awesome team of presenters from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.  Jim Roberts, the Director of the UNCW CIE, a friend of mine since moving to North Carolina, invited me to see his impressive incubator space located at the edge of the UNC Wilmington campus – and I was glad to do so.  He has an impressive facility, and some great partner/tenant companies already working hard, I am excited to see what will be “hatched” under Jim’s leadership.  While there I also had the chance to meet with some great local entrepreneurs as well as spending some time with the Wired Wizard Robotics Team — and incredibly impressive group of young, talented, future scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians.   They were planning how to integrate 3D printing into their next design, I came away again believing how much STEM and the entire “capture to make” ecosystem should be intertwined.

One of the things I talked about yesterday was the interesting correlation between the performance of the publicly traded 3D printing companies and the relative rise of “3D Printing” as opposed to the technical term of “additive manufacturing”.  The upper left inserted graph is a Google Trends chart showing those search terms over time — if you haven’t used Google Trends — this data is normalized relative to all search volume over time.   In other words, a flat line would show that as a % of overall search, that term has stayed consistent (even as volume grows).  What you can see from this graph is the explosion of the rise of “3D Printing” as opposed to small, incremental growth of “additive manufacturing.”  Compare the rise of “3D Printing” to the stock charts and you see an interesting correlation indeed.  During the rest of my time I gave some reasons for why I believed this happened — looking at the macro level trends on both “sides” of the content to make ecosystem that may have unlocked this opportunity.

3D Printing + Additive Manufacturing

For those who have interest, you can download the slides I delivered here. TMK Presentation for UNCW on 3D Printing Opportunity (1.17.14 – FOR DISTRIBUTION)

Have a great weekend!

Disruptive Trends in the Content to Make Ecosystem

Back in April I prepared a presentation covering various aspects of the capture/modify/make ecosystem — covering what I thought were (and were going to be) the disruptive forces that would impact 3D scanning and 3D printing over the coming months and years.

I outlined the following disruptive trends:

  • Democratization of low cost 3D capture devices and solutions
  • Commoditization of high accuracy 3D capture devices
  • Democratization of 3D printing along with the Makers movement
  • “Gamified” content capture, creation and modification tools
  • Leveraging crowd sourced design and open source 3D content communities
  • Accelerating investment in 3D capture and creation technologies
  • New processing and interaction paradigms
  • Overarching policy issues

Disruptive Trends

I’ve posted the full presentation (minus embedded videos, sorry!) if you have interest.  Disruptive Trends in Capture to Make (4.5.13).  These trends continue to evolve and hold true – I intend to update these trends with new representative examples which have popped up in the last half of 2013.

littleBits Raises An Additional $11.1M in Series B Funding

littleBits, the New York City based open hardware startup, has raised a $11.M Series B round of funding led by True Ventures (@trueventures) and Foundry Group (@foundrygroup) and includes new investors Two Sigma Ventures (who had also just led an $11.5M investment in Rethink Robotics, and is invested into Floored (@Floored), who I have blogged about before) and Vegas Tech Fund (@VegasTechFund).   Returning investors Khosla Ventures (@vkhosla), Mena Ventures, Neoteny Labs, O’Reilly AlphaTech (@OATV), Lerer Ventures (also invested into Floored) (@lererventures) and new and returning angel investors also participated.  littleBits had previously raised $3.65M in Series A funding, and $850K in seed funding, bringing its total raised to date to over $15M.

littleBits mission is to “turn everyone into an inventor by making electronics accessible as a material.” littleBits makes “Bits modules” that snap together magnetically to make it easy for children and adults to build simple circuits and inventive projects in seconds. littleBits, and its CEO Ayah Bdeir (@ayahbdeir) have won numerous awards and are viewed as leaders in the maker movement.

I previously profiled littleBits in my two part blog series in November and December 2012 looking examining the intersection of the makers movement with the “Minecraft generation” in my own house – as I try to get my own kids to focus more on the worlds of atoms instead of bits.  You can find those two posts here: (1)  and (2)

Congratulations to littleBits!

MapBox, Geo Software Platform, Maps $10M from Foundry Group

It is great to see continuing venture capital and public market interest in areas such as data acquisition, unmanned aerial systems, manufacturing, AEC and GIS solutions providers.

MapBox (@MapBox) announced yesterday that it had taken a Series A investment of $10M from Foundry Group (@FoundryGroup).  After three years of bootstrapping the MapBox business, in the words of Eric Gundersen (@ericg), funding lets us plan for years of building the future of geo software, from the ground up.

MapBox is a cloud-based platform which allows for developers to embed geo rich content into their web and mobile offerings.  MapBox sources its mapping data from OpenStreetMap, keeping its operating costs low and without a tie to proprietary back end mapping databases.   It will be interesting to see how MapBox navigates the GIS/Geo Software playing field over the coming years – but more developer choices, relying on crowd-sourced mapping data, could be quite transformational indeed.

Foundry Group continues its string of investments in the technical solutions space.  They were part of a team which invested $30M into Chris Anderson’s (@chr1sa) unmanned aerial systems company 3D Robotics (@3DRobotics) a few weeks ago, which I blogged about here and were also invested into Makerbot (@Makerbot), which was recently acquired by the 3D printing company Stratasys (@Stratasys) (in mid-August 2013) for $403M (+up to $201M in earn-outs).  Seth Levine (@sether) explained some of Foundry Group’s rationale for the MapBox investment here.

Foundry Group is currently also invested into Occipital (@Occipital) which has recently developed a 3D capture device which connects to an iPad, called the Structure Sensor.  Occipital currently has a KickStarter campaign going for the Structure Sensor, and as of today they are only a few thousand dollars shy of the $1M mark. In June 2013 Occipital acquired ManCTL, adding a strong team to an already deep computer vision bench, but in this case on that had the chops to do real time 3D scene reconstruction from PrimeSense powered (a/k/a the Microsoft Kinect) devices.  Foundry Group put $8M into Occipital in August of 2011.

I am very excited to ultimately see what comes from both MapBox and Occipital!

It will be interesting to see whether/if Andreessen Horowitz (@a16z) looks for a big data, geo centric sector investment as well.

Rainbow Loom App for 3D Printing – What Will It Be?

If you don’t know what a Rainbow Loom® is – you probably don’t come into regular contact with kids between the ages of 7 – 12.   It is one of the hottest little trends out there, and it is yet another example of how we are all born makers, and how children in particular are driven with an innate ability to express themselves and make creative objects.   As I blogged about before The Makers Movement Intersects with the Minecraft Generation, I truly do believe that we are all born “makers” as Chris Anderson writes about in his book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” and as I profile in that blog.

So what is a Rainbow Loom (formerly known as Twist Banz), and what do you do with it you might ask?  It is, as you might have a guessed, a crafting kit that makes it (somewhat) easy for folks to knit together colored rubber bands (some even glow in the dark!) to create all kinds of wearable items, but mostly bracelets.  Here is a great NY Times article profiling Cheong Choon Ng, the Detroit entrepreneur/founder who developed the idea for the Rainbow Loom craft kit in the basement of his home in 2011.

As with Minecraft, the Kurke household is participating in this crafting trend – my youngest son has been creating all kinds of bands and bracelets for trade (and yes, gulp even sale!) in his elementary school.   I just ordered today another 3000 (yes, that’s right, 3000) rubber bands from Amazon so that he can continue with his “making”.  I watch him with fascination as he spends free time creating these intricate creations (there is a whole community of folks that have posted “how to videos” on Youtube, as with Minecraft).  I am amazed again when I realize that many of the posted videos have been made by kids – for kids – teaching each other how to use their Rainbow Loom.

Kurke Rainbow Loom

Pictured above is a Kurke WIP bracelet on a Rainbow Loom.

What will it take for a Rainbow Loom like “app” to unlock the potential demand for consumer 3D printers?   The Rainbow Loom phenomena certainly makes clear that something which is challenging (e.g. you just don’t turn it on out of the box) is not an impediment to kids.  So, while I continue to believe that substantial work needs to be done to simplify the capture/modify/make ecosystem (e.g. easier 3D model capture, simplified printing workflows that don’t require seven different software applications, etc.),  Minecraft, Rainbow Loom, etc. seem to show that something which is hard, but has a low barrier to initial entry, is not an impediment to making a market for kids.   In fact, you can even argue that the challenge is part of the reason why the Rainbow Loom is taking off – kids show (and trade) their more advanced creations as badges of honor – and teach others how to make them for themselves.

If kids could go home and 3D print a bracelet, would it have the same impact or societal worth?  Part of the inherent value of the Rainbow Loom bracelets which get created/traded is the understanding that it took time (and in some cases significant time and learning) to “make” it.  Would it be the same if you could go home and push the “print” button?

Kids Love STEM – (and they don’t even know it ;-)

A few weeks ago I had a chance to do one of things I love most about my job – showing students exactly how cool technology can be with a hands-on demonstration of Geomagic capture/modify/interact/make technologies. Geomagic was a participant at the Brassfield Elementary, N.C., “Math & Science Fair” – and we were lucky to have a willing participant in the Principal for Brassfield Elementary, Ms. Elizabeth McWilliams.


In preparation for the evening of fun at Brassfield, Ms. McWilliams came to the Geomagic HQ so that we could scan her with a Kinect and then create a 3D model of her. One of the great team members here, Richard Lam, took that model (which given that it was captured using a $150 Kinect as a scanner is flat out amazing quality) and designed something surprising. Since we had already done Pez dispensers and mini-bobble heads we had to amp it up a bit.

On the day of the show we brought our Microsoft Kinect to act as a scanner, a Geomagic FreeForm setup which Richard Sandham handled, and a 3D Systems Cube printer. We loaded the model of Ms. McWilliams into FreeForm so that the students could experience haptic interaction with the digital model of their Principal. Of course that made for a very fun time indeed!


(Image above: What kids do when enabled to manipulate their principal’s 3D data.)

We then had the unveiling of the model of Ms. McWilliams. We took her scan and printed a model that held a coffee mug inside of it – so that she could drink out of her own head! The kids loved that indeed. . .


I love watching kids explore our technology. Kids don’t think about whatcan’t be done, they think about all the things that can be done. We can all learn from that. If I could harness the unbridled optimism and excitement that these kids showed into my daily life, I would be a better person for it.

I also noticed something very curious about the makeup of the students that were involved with the demonstrations. There were more girls participating than boys. We should ask ourselves why as a society many of these budding young female scientists, mathematicians and engineers seem to get filtered out before they pick a career. (While out of the scope of this blog, some statistics from the United States Department of Commerce are telling: While there is relative parity among men and women for all job types, STEM-related jobs are held roughly ¾ by men and ¼ by women, and even for those STEM jobs, women are paid less than their male counterparts. See:

If you are a relatively frequent reader of my blogs, you know that I believe STEM in the classroom is incredibly important. Our time at Brassfield is one small part of what needs to be a broader plan to engage with students in the classroom. Not only do I believe it is the right thing to do (from a US competitiveness standpoint, etc.) it is a commercial imperative for Geomagic!

View the video of how the 3D Cup wrap was made

So how might the use of 3D capture, interaction and printing technologies help push the STEM agenda within classrooms? As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words – see a great infographic below explaining how 3D printing could be used in the classroom to help promote STEM. While there a few mistakes in it, it generally does a good job of showing how these tools can be used to excite kids about technology in their classrooms. As our time at Brassfield (and other schools) shows, kids “get it” when it comes to these tools, in ways that even their parents sometimes have a hard time understanding.


Infographic. Source: How 3D Printing Will Revolutionize the Classroom (click image or the link to see a bigger version of this)

[This blog was originally published on February 25th, 2013.]

Global Trends 2030: Is 3D Printing the Catalyst for a Worldwide Industrial Revolution?

A few weeks back, on one of my many flights, I had an opportunity to read Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, a publication of the National Intelligence Council (NIC).1

I found Global Trends 2030 to be sometimes a disturbing but always a fascinating read.2 I would highly recommend reading this publication, not because it makes specific predictions about the future (no one can do that) but because it does an excellent job of outlining the range of potential drivers and resulting outcomes that we, as a truly global society, will need to deal with in the future. For an alternative view of what the world of 2030 might look like, another worthwhile publication is Strategic Global Outlook: 2030, Ed. by Alexander A. Dynkin.3

Global Trends 2030 is broken into three main sections: (1) Megatrends, (2) Game-Changers and (3) Potential Worlds. The last section covers scenarios resulting from the first two. I am going to concentrate my review here on the Megatrends section.

Under Megatrends, the authors detail four broad themes that will influence the geopolitical landscape over the next 15-20 years (see below).


While shifting demographics (e.g., the aging of the West) and multipolar coalitions are certainly interesting, I was absolutely fascinated by the predictions around Individual Empowerment and Food, Water and Energy Nexus. I will provide some thoughts on the Individual Empowerment section below.

Individual Empowerment

Global Trends in 2030 predicts that individual empowerment will accelerate over the next 15-20 years because of the substantial reduction of poverty, the growth of the middle class, and improvements in educational opportunities and health care. Some of the drivers behind this shift are predicted to include the widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies. Potentially, this newfound access could enable disruptive, destructive individual “empowerment,” such as bioterror weapons or cyber instruments, both of which were formerly reserved to nation states. But improved access will likely be beneficial as well. Specifically in the case of manufacturing and automation technologies, the rise of 3D printing and robotics are predicted to change work patterns in both developed and developing worlds, thus diminishing the need for outsourcing (hurting semi-skilled workers in certain markets) but also stimulating an entirely new market of micro-manufacturers throughout the world.

Additive manufacturing could lead to large numbers of micro-factories akin to preindustrial revolution craft guilds, but with modern manufacturing capabilities. Such local micro-factories could manufacture significant amounts of products, especially those for which transportation costs are traditionally high or delivery times are long, and in the process shorten and simplify supply chains.

Later on the writers add:

Additive manufacturing could also level the playing field for those countries or organizations that missed out on earlier periods – because additive manufacturing requires less industrial infrastructure than conventional manufacturing.

The implication here is that countries that didn’t or couldn’t invest in infrastructure-supporting land-based telephone lines, but instead jumped straight to cellular and other wireless telecommunications methods, can begin to produce and sell their own products rather than simply watching traditional manufacturing powerhouses grab all the sales.


For the potential impact of additive manufacturing technologies in the world of 2030, see pages x, 86, 91 and 93 in Global Trends 2030.

The thinking here follows the same theme as Chris Anderson does in his book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” (which I had separately reviewed in my blog post from November 2012. As I wrote then, Anderson envisions a future where micro-manufacturers will fundamentally change the entire product development and manufacturing ecosystem. According to Anderson, new product manufacturing is “no longer the domain of the few, but the opportunity of the many.”

Additive Manufacturing As a Societal Change Agent?

Will the continuing explosion of additive manufacturing technologies live up to the promise suggested by Global Trends 2030 and by Anderson in “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution”?

Of course continuing technological developments will be required. For example, capturing 3D content and being able to use that content as part of a modeling session is still too hard and too expensive. But the good news is that cheaper 3D data acquisition tools and devices are trending upward. It is encouraging seeing young companies like Matterport and Floored receiving funding, and it was only a matter of time before 3D data acquisition tools would show up on Kickstarter. (See Lynx, which, at the time of this writing, has nearly reached its initial modest funding goal only a few days into the campaign kickoff.)

3D reality capture is only one part of the picture – continuing workflow simplification is key. Devices that can print with better, different and cheaper materials are required. Being able to vary material properties during the build process, and in the same build volume, will likely be key. Finally, we as an industry need to invest in the future makers, engineers and scientists with a concerted and coordinated effort to promote STEM in elementary, middle and high schools. What Lego Education does is instructive, we can learn from them.

As I wrote in my blog Reality Versus Hype: Analyzing the Innovation Hype Cycle on 3D Scanning and Printing:

I do believe, however, that we are at unique place in time, a time in which technology, market acceptance and demand are converging to catalyze change in the 3D capture and 3D printing space, carrying the space down-market from current industrial use cases. In the future, design professionals, students and children will be able to easily take innovation and inspiration from the real articles and objects that surround them, mash them up, and create entirely new designs along with a new creation and innovation cycle. What is needed is a simple-to-use, integrated end-to-end solution that allows people to easily capture, interact with, modify, manipulate and reproduce real-world 3D content. I believe we are not too far away.

I still believe that.

If I look at how much progress has been made in only the last six months, the world of 2030 looks realistic indeed.

Thanks for reading.

Formed in 1979, the NIC “supports the Director of National Intelligence [US] in his role as head of the Intelligence Community (IC) and is the IC’s center for long-term strategic analysis.” It is a bridge between the policy and intelligence communities with officers from academia, the private sector, the government and everywhere in between. For more on the NIC, click here. For a direct link to a downloadable copy of Global Trends 2030, in various forms (PDF, Kindle, etc.)click here.

This report is intended to stimulate thinking about the rapid and vast geopolitical changes characterizing the world today and possible global trajectories during the next 15-20 years. As with the NIC’s previous Global Trends reports, we do not seek to predict the future  which would be an impossible feat—but instead provide a framework for thinking about possible futures and their implications.

Unless otherwise noted, my reference point for the data in this blog has been drawn directly from the report itself.

A publication of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences

[This blog was originally published on February 8th, 2013]

The Maker in the Minecraft Generation: Part Duex

For those who read my earlier blog on the intersection of the Makers Movement and the Minecraft Generation (a term I coined and applied to my own children that is based on their fascination with virtual building in a Minecraft environment), you know that I have been trying to find ways to get my own children more engaged with real makers projects. I am happy to report that fort building has begun in earnest at the Kurke household, the structure consisting of logs, sticks and other things hauled from the woods behind our house and the garage. While their aspirations (as expressed in my son’s SketchUp 3D model of the fort he wants to build) are high, it is fun to watch my boys work together as they try to creatively problem solve in the real world.

ATOMS and littleBits – Electronic Legos

I came across an interesting KickStarter project yesterday, this one from a Boulder-based company called the Seamless Toy Company. The Seamless Toy Company is creating an electronics construction kit for children and adults called ATOMS. Michael Rosenblatt, the founder and CEO of the Seamless Toy Company, recently blogged in MAKE magazine about the challenges of enabling young makers  – a difficult balance of the necessary complexity to make constructed objects function versus the simplicity required to engage and foster creativity in children (and makers of all ages). A direct link to Michael’s blog can be found here –


(Image above – a typical project from ATOM.

Image below – an example of the littleBits kits available.)


The Seamless Toy Company is in the same class of companies as littleBits (see: For those of you who don’t know, littleBits is based in Greenwich Village, NYC, and they are developing a similar set of capabilities and modules to ATOMS. Though littleBits’ has a distinct difference in that they are following an open-source approach to their hardware. littleBits has been widely profiled as of late: Fast Company recently described them as a “starter kit for aspiring engineers and makers.” For a great write up, see: Aya Bdeir, former MIT MediaLabber, founded littleBits about a year ago and has since raised $4M (and a recent Series A round from Kholsa Ventures and others), see:

(Kurke boys – stop reading)

Thanks to Amazon Prime, and the marvelous folks at UPS, I had my own littleBits holiday construction set delivered to my door in time for a hopefully interesting Christmas surprise.  See:

Just wait until they can play with scan capture devices and 3D printers too as part of their Maker construction set!  😉

Happy Holidays everyone. Unleash the makers in your children!

[This blog was originally published on December 21st, 2012.]