Create (And Print) Your Own 3D Robot

My robot creation. Image courtesy of My Robot Nation.

Yesterday marked the launch of the San Francisco-based website My Robot Nation. The site — launched by Sarah Stocker and Mark Danks, both vets of the gaming software industry — is the first to offer a consumer-based 3D printing service, where users can create customized robot figurines. And, as it turns out, those 3D printers and software are made by Z Corporation right here in Burlington.

So how exactly is a three dimensional robot made? Once a user designs his or her robotronic masterpiece (variables include size, eyes, head, arms, torso, legs, positioning, and add-ons like circuit boards, image stamps, and color), imaging software breaks the virtual robot down into layers, much like an MRI or CT scanner does. These two-dimensional images are then stacked to make a 3D image. Then, the printer puts down a layer of gypsum composite powder followed by a water-based glue, which solidifies into the robot’s form when it comes in contact with the powder, as well as layers of color. This process repeats until the customized robot emerges, ready to do battle with all in its path ship to the customer.

Scott Harmon, the vice president of business development for Z Corporation, sees lots of potential for the technology. “My Robot Nation is fun because robots are cool,” he says with a laugh. “But to me, the bigger thing is that it’s really a platform for customization and creativity. I think in the future you’ll be able to make an extraordinary array of customizable stuff.”

I ask Harmon if that means, then, that I could theoretically build a 40-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex for my front yard. Because I found one online, I explained, but unfortunately the website doesn’t ship to the U.S. Oh, plus it costs $50,000. “It might take you a little while, but you could absolutely do that,” says Harmon, who says that the printed version would only set me back about $2,100. In a more realistic scenario, though, consumers will potentially have the ability to customize things like home accessories, tech gadgets, and someday, maybe even clothing.

The bottom line is that in addition to the fun and flippant, the technology behind My Robot Nation is something that gives customers a direct hand in designing and creating the products they’re looking for. I made my own robot using My Robot Nation’s beta site, and the end result (which I named Awesom-O 5000 in honor of one of my favorite cartoons) is nothing short of … well, awesome.

I’m pretty excited to see how this technology pans out. Personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that someday I’ll be able to print myself a renovated 19th-century farmhouse with an indoor spa and a big backyard. With a T-Rex out front.