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“EEG sensing is ready for prime time.”

From the editors of MAKE magazine, the Maker Pro Newsletter is about the impact of makers on business and technology. Our coverage includes hardware startups, new products, incubators, innovators, along with technology and market trends. Please send items to us at [email protected]. Click here to subscribe to this newsletter!

News


Amazon Adds 3D Printing Category

3D printing moved a little closer to the mainstream last week with the launch of a 3D printing category on Amazon. The online store features 3D printers, filament, parts, accessories, software, and books.

The new department comes a few weeks after Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos told investors at the company’s annual shareholder meeting that 3D printing is “super interesting,” but more suited to prototyping than mass manufacturing.

“It will be an exciting world, though, when it happens someday,” he said.

Bezos, by the way, is preparing for that someday. Bezos Expeditions is an investor in the consumer 3D printing companyMakerBot, a company that was also in the news last week…

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MakerBot Opens Expanded Factory as Acquisition Rumors Swirl

The Brooklyn-based 3D printing company hosted a public opening of a new factory and warehouse last week, but as the invited crowd mingled, the #1 topic of discussion was probably not filament or extruder heads, but the persistant rumors of a MakerBot acquisition.

The Wall Street Journal started the meme with a report that MakerBot, looking to raise a new $25 million round of investment, was now in discussions with an unnamed company interested in acquring the four-year-old company. A few days later TechCrunchadded fuel to the fire by naming Stratasys as the likely suitor.

Analysts like Michael Wolf (@michaelwolf) pointed out that MakerBot’s online 3D marketplace, Thingiverse, is probably as interesting to suitors as the 3D printer market.

Other analysts suggested that Autodesk or Amazon might make a winning bid for the young company.

At the Brooklyn factory opening, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis (@bre) addressed the rumors saying, “We’re not going anywhere.”

MakerBot Rumors — The Untold Story

The most widely circulated MakerBot-acquisition rumor, the one published in TechCrunch, has Stratasys as the potential acquirer. It may or may not be true but here’s some speculation as to what the story behind the scenes might be. In some ways, a MakerBot acquistion could be the worst-case scenario for the maker community. It would be rather like having a young Apple Computer getting acquired by AT&T. We want to add our own speculation about the sequence of events that could have led to such rumors, which have a life independent of whether there’s an actual acquisition in the works.

  • Stratasys is suing or threatening to sue MakerBot for patent infringement.
  • MakerBot is out raising a huge round of investment.
  • New investors want some assurance that MakerBot won’t be overwhelmed by legal troubles, à la Napster.
  • MakerBot approaches Stratasys for a strategic licensing deal to avoid going to court in the future. They might offer a piece of the company at the new higher valuation.
  • Stratasys starts to take an interest in MakerBot and starts liking the idea of themselves as a strategic investor in return for giving access to its patent portfolio.
  • After looking at a valuation for MakerBot, the thinking at Stratasys moves from strategic partnership to acquisition. Stratasys sees how it gives them the low-end market that they don’t reach and a chance to bring to a new market the advanced 3D printing technologies they already own and have under patent protection.
  • The acquisition makes sense to MakerBot’s current investors wanting a lucrative exit before dilution.
  • Stratasys is willing to pay a premium now because they realize the price only goes up if MakerBot takes a new round of investment.
  • MakerBot, not sure about being acquired, is happy to have rumors circulate about this potential sale and then see if the news generates interest from other acquirers or influences new investors to come in at the higher valuation.
  • Stratasys doesn’t mind floating this idea to get some signal from the market about moving forward or not. And even if they didn’t float it themselves, and it caught them by surprise, then the rumor got their attention.
  • Deal or no deal, MakerBot’s interests are strengthened.

This is a dance, and perhaps in the end neither MakerBot nor Stratasys will commit to a long-term relationship, but the dance alone served both of their interests. It may just help each of them find new partners to dance with.

We tend to think that a Stratasys acquisition of MakerBot would be discouraging for the surviving players in the personal 3D printer market. The survivors could expect more lawsuits from Stratasys and 3D Systems unless they remain irrelevant or agree to be purchased. An acquisition would not accelerate the growth of the personal 3D printer market, but it would potentially put MakerBot in the hands of a company that doesn’t understand the emerging market.

The major innovation of MakerBot is not technological, however. Like Henry Ford, who did not invent the car but instead built cars that he thought everyone should own, MakerBot has built 3D printers that were designed for anyone to use. To do that, MakerBot had to overcome obstacles created by companies like Stratasys and 3D Systems, who not only sought to protect their margins in the industrial market but also keep their technology out of the hands of competitors through patents. We hope that MakerBot remains independent.

Quirky’s Ben Kaufman on GE Patent Portfolio

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Ben Kaufman, center, at one of Quirky’s weekly product evaluations

Ben Kaufman (@benkaufman), the energetic founder of Quirky, explained to us his recent announcement about working with GE. There were two parts to the announcement. One was that GE would partner with Quirky to encourage the development of a new generation of smart products or connected devices and help bring them to market through the Quirky community platform. Kaufman said that GE was the first company “to commercialize invention; it built around the process of inventing, not a specific product.” The mission of Quirky, which he repeats often, is to make invention accessible to everyone, and the heritage of the GE brands means something to Kaufman and in the marketplace.

The second part of the GE announcment with Quirky is perhaps even more interesting. GE agreed to make its patent portfolio available for non-competitive use on standardized commercial terms through the Quirky platform. Essentially, that means that if a Quirky-developed product depends on a patent that GE owns, and the product doesn’t conflict with the commercial use that GE leverages, then there is a standard price for licensing the patent. It eliminates negotiating over licensing a patent and there’s no up-front cost to using the patent. The inventor pays on the license only if the product sells.

One can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to put this deal together. And it may continue to be difficult to determine what a particular patent covers, and whether a new application or invention is competitive or non-competive.

Having standardized pricing for patents, however it is done, is a breakthrough. Anyone trying to license a patent today will spend much too much money on lawyers and engage in a process that could take years to reach a conclusion, and often doesn’t. Patent holders aren’t well served by the process either. When Ben was asked what the USPTO (patent office) thought about this effort, he said they supported the idea of making patents more accessible to people.

Kaufman expects that over time, he will work with others such as universities who have large patent portfolios. For now, the GE patent portfolio is only available to inventors using the Quirky platform, but Kaufman indicated that that might change in the future.

Chris Anderson Calls for a Standardized UAV Platform Consortium

At DroneCon, the kickoff event for the SparkFun Autonomous Vehicle Competition held in Boulder, Colo., Chris Anderson(@chr1sa) introduced the concept of the Dronecode Consortium, an attempt to create a governing body of sorts to help create standards for the platforms on which these commercial and hobbyist vehicles run.

Drone control was also behind last month’s $10.7 million investment in the unmanned aerial systems (UAV) autopilot platform development startup Airware, led by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.

MIT Technology Review recently surveyed the drone operating system landscape.

3D Printing “Comparison Engine” Launches

SupplyBetter is hoping to insert itself helpfully between designers and the growing number of 3D printing service providers. Submit a drawing and SupplyBetter will ping suppliers and offer you a selection of what it considers the best suppliers based on cost, quality, process, or geography. In its launch literature, the company described itselfas a variation on popular travel comparison engines, calling itself “the Kayak of 3D printing.”

GE Announces Two 3D Printing Challenges

The first challenge, a 3D Printing Design Quest, asks participants to “completely reimagine” the bracket and hangers which support critical jet engine components during handling, and make them 30 percent lighter. GE and its partner, GrabCAD, will manufacture and test the top 10 designs and the winners will receive $1,000 each. The eight designs that perform the best in tests will divide an additional $20,000 prize pool.

The second, a 3D Printing Production Quest, is looking for ways to use 3D printing to manufacture “highly precise and complex parts” for health care. The top 10 entrants will receive $5,000 each and an invite to produce the parts from materials of GE’s choosing. GE and its partner, Nine Sigma, will then select up to three winners who will receive up to $50,000 each.

Personalize has more details.

UK Invests in 3D Printing

The British government will lead an investment of 14.7 million pounds (around $22.8 million U.S. dollars) in 3D printing projects. A total of 18 companies will receive money from firms that specialize in cranio-facial implants to custom insole makers.

Briefs

  • iRobot and Cisco announced a “video collaboration robot,” Ava 500.
  • GetPrinting3D, a 3D printing retail showroom and “demonstration cafe,” has opened in Evanston, Ill.
  • Domino’s is testing a pizza drone.
  • Watch for a possible collaboration with the beer-delivery drone.
  • And both may be sharing the skies with sushi drones.

Features


Makerspaces en France

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Julien Desprez in front of his 3D printer, Dood, at the FAC LAB at the University of Cergy-Pontoise, north of Paris in Gennevilliers.

MAKE publisher Dale Dougherty (@dalepd) toured Parisian makerspaces recently, and kept a rolling conversation going with his hosts about the maker movement in France.

The general consensus seemed to be that it is emerging slowly, in small spaces, and the places that Dale visited bore that out — particularly the “small” part. But the tour also captured how the maker movement in that country is developing in fascinating ways that are responding resourcefully to French attitudes towards entrepreneurship, capitalism, and the value of individual initiative.

By the end of the tour, there’s a sense that French makers have actually come a long way towards creating a variety of makerspaces that will help to establish their own cultural context for making.

Thought-Controlled Drones

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Imagine that you are making a fist with your right hand. That will turn the quadcopter to the right. Think left fist, it will go left.

That’s the interface on a system designed by researchers at the University of Minnesota that was unveiled last week. A skullcap with a “brain computer interface” picks up electroencephalography (EEG) signals from the brain and conveys them to the quadcopter.

Although the technology gives rise to all sorts of fantasies about future interfaces, the researchers are focusing their efforts on developing ways to allow people with paralysis or other disabilities to control devices: from wheelchairs, to robots, to prosthetic limbs.

New Scientist reports: EEG sensing is ready for prime time.

Boston Robotics Firms Top Funding List

The Hizook VC Funding for Robotics list is out: the 2012 edition.

Boston tops the list in number of deals and amount of funding; it also has the three largest deals: MedRobotics ($33.6 million), Rethink Robotics ($30 million), and iWalk ($17 million). Silicon Valley was at the top last year.

The list is interesting even if you aren’t looking for VC dollars. In an intro, the authors say that “2012 was a great year for robotics as an industry,” citing the creation of Grishin Robotics, the first VC funddedicated exclusively to robotics; several robotics companies that were acquired for impressively high valuations (Kiva for $775 million, Evolution for $74 million, and Aldebaran for $100 million); many crowdfunded robotics campaigns that launched new companies; and an increase of robotics-specific grants to academia.

The authors mention that they did not include any deals under $1 million, saying “this meant that we did not count things like VGo Communications ($900k), Double Robotics ($400k between Y Combinator, YC VC, and Grishin), RobotApps.com ($250k),Black-I Robotics ($170k), and innumerable crowdfunded companies.”

3D Scanning with The Smithsonian’s Laser Cowboys

We shouldn’t be surprised that The Smithsonian Institution, “the nation’s attic,” has an extensive, ongoing 3D printing operation, with a staff of three. But it’s interesting to see the department at work: scanning objects as various as whale fossils and a plaster cast of Abraham Lincoln’s hand. Because of the variety of objects they are scanning, these “laser cowboys” are on the cutting edge of 3D printing problem solving. And the models they create, which belong to the American people, will soon start showing up — extensively modified, no doubt — in classrooms all over.

A More Comfortable 3D-Printed Shoe

There was quite a bit of discussion about this hybrid 3D-printed shoe design last week.

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The reason: it actually looks wearable, unlike the first generation of blocky, uncomfortable-looking, 3D-printed shoes (and 3D-printedshoe/smart phone case mashups, below).

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3D Scanning and Imaging: The Flip Side of 3D Printing

Although 3D printing is getting most of the attention these days, the input side of the equation — 3D scanning and imaging — is an equally large industry. A recent investment profile of Faro Technologies, one of the largest 3D imaging companies, gives a sense of the size and shape of the 3D scanning marketplace.

The bulk of Faro’s work is for industrial application, but the Florida-based company does have some consumer-facing products, includingScenect, a free 3D scanning app (Windows only) that turns the motion sensor in your Xbox Kinect or Asus’ Xtion Pro Live into 3D laser scanners to create 3D models. The company just came out witha new version of the software.

Updates


A Play-Doh 3D Printer

It was one of the best of this year’s crop of April Fool’s jokes: a 3D Play-Doh Printer. Now it exists. It can also print plasticine and modeling clay.

If you want to know the resolution of the objects it prints … you’re looking at the wrong 3D printer.

Events


World Maker Faire New York

There’s only about three months until the show, which is Sept. 21-22. The Call for Makers is open now until July 28.

Featured Maker Faires

Maker Faire Kansas City is taking place June 29 and 30 in Union Station. The fourth annual Maker Faire Detroit happens on July 27 and 28 at The Henry Ford.

Also, start making plans to participate in the first Maker Faire Rome, Oct. 3-6. Event curators Massimo Banzi (@mbanzi) andRiccardo Luna (@riccardowired) are producing the event withWorld Wide Rome, a Rome Chamber of Commerce initiative, but the fair is really for Europe at large and will attract an international crowd from all over Europe and beyond. The Call for Makers has been extended until June 30. If you’re a maker, performer, or presenter, Maker Faire Rome wants to hear from you.

Mini Maker Faires

More than 70 of them are currently scheduled for this year, around the world. Check the Maker Faire Map to find the closest one to you.

MAKE’S 2013 Hardware Innovation Workshop

New product ideation is no longer the province of corporate product managers or even the young visionary at the latest hot startup. Communities are now defining new products, one feature at a time.Quirky is taking the concept of community generated product ideas to the next level and has created a community-based business model that includes manufacturing, marketing, and distribution services. Watch founder and CEO Ben Kaufman’s talk from the recent Hardware Innovation Workshop, May 15, to find out more.

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DC Denison

DC Denison

DC Denison is the editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

The former technology editor of The Boston Globe, DC is also interested in content management systems.

One of the places where DC can be found online is Google+ (which I’m adding here only because I want to see if by adding “rel=author” and “rel=me” to those two links I can get Google to display my picture in its search results.)

Hey, it works!


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