Apple’s ARKit will make 3D printing mainstream

$99 Obsidian 3D printer shows what’s coming

Apple, iOS, iOS 11, ARKit, Obsidian, 3D printing
Credit: Wikipedia

Imagine your imagination. Imagine being able to build the items that you see in your mind’s eye in 3D space, using gestures and a pen. Then imagine being able to bring those creations into the real world with a 3D printer.

Life after ARKit

That’s the potential we’ll see unleashed in the coming months as the perfect storm of technology advancements empower this section of the industry.

Apple’s move to introduce AR support at a platform level with ARKit means developers – including hardware developers – can now develop sophisticated solutions for a huge market of customers.

They can rely on Apple’s core platforms to develop and deliver integrated solutions that can become part of everyday life.

As Apple continues to develop its AR platform we will see it become better at doing things like recognizing walls as well as floors, and see it develop the capacity to recognize objects in the real world. (What, after all, is the object recognition AI baked inside Photos all about?).

Obsidian opens this up

That’s where Obsidian steps in. This recently funded Kickstarter project aimed to create a 3D printer for the rest of us.

They wanted to create a system that costs under $100 (though it scales to $249) and combines classy design with a decent user interface. (As you’d expect, given former Apple project manager Michael Husmann is CEO of the firm). The project achieved its funding target in three minutes. You can read a quite interesting interview with Husmann here.

“We felt that all the current 3D printers out there were missing the point. They’re too complex and hard to use, and not focused on the user experience. Obsidian is a 3D printer done right: powerful, sophisticated, smart,” Husmann says in a press release.

I can’t say if the company has achieved this. I’ve not seen Obsidian in use, but I can show you this video which may provide some of the flavour of the beast.

Obsidian 3D Printer - Kickstarter Video from Kodama, Inc. on Vimeo.

What I like in what I saw includes the seeming ease-of-use, certain Apple Mac and iPhone compatibility, and the interesting creative use of 3D glasses to create an environment in which a creative can make new shapes and designs.

In future, the company says it seeks to figure out how to enable 3D printers to print in different media, that’s an essential step (I think) to development of the space. Why should I not be able to print everyday household items like rawlplugs, plastic bowls, or even electric kettles? NASA is already experimenting with printing components using Moon dust.

How this works

Think about the nature of ARKit. It provides a system 3D designers working with other platforms (Unity et al) can develop to. It also makes it possible for developers on Apple’s platforms to build solutions integrating elements of ARKit. The arrival of ARKit will inevitably kick-start evolution of 3D AR design tools – (that’s kind of what we saw during the WWDC 2017 demo).

The potential of all these combined solutions mean we should see acceleration in development of 3D games, information services, and entertainment forms, as well as, industry collaboration, support and maintenance services and undersea exploration.

But it’s in combination with 3D that I think we will see some of the most interesting potential unlock. With solutions like Obsidian it will soon be easy and accessible for people to get into 3D printing of things they design in Apple’s 3D environments. We’ll see it becoming a key tool for fast product prototyping, and (I think) it’s incredibly likely we’ll also see the evolution of a new form of 3D art.

Boosted by Apple and ARKit, I think Obsidian is a weathercock that the 3D industry is about to escape the hobby segment and become mainstream. That shouldn’t surprise anyone -- you will see 3D printers now in some US libraries 

This also tightens Apple’s offer, as AR isn’t just about finding things in imaginary space, but will also enable a new industry of bringing imaginary things into the here and now. As it evolves, this industry may make the desktop publishing explosion look small. I don't think Apple did too badly out of DTP, really, did it?

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