Fear and hatred at CES

We were on the edge of convention somewhere around the Las Vegas hotel when the cold veggie wraps started to take hold from the hotel lobby. I remember saying something like “I’m feeling a little lightheaded; Maybe you’ll go ahead of me…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the strip sounded like giant bats, all swooping and diving around the convention center.

And a voice was shouting: “What are these damn animals?” My wife took the camera by her neck and started taking pictures. “What are you screaming about?” He mumbled, staring into the viewfinder. “Never mind,” I said. I took out my iPhone, loaded up the CES app, and started looking for 3D Printing TechZone. I thought there was no point in mentioning those bats. Poor bastard will see them soon.

It was almost one, and we still had to go over a hundred yards. Those will be tough yards. Pretty soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. But there was neither going back nor time to rest. We have to ride it.

Exhibition hall presentations and glam-filled press announcements were already underway, and we had to go there by three to sit on the “Impacts of the 3D Printing Revolution” panel, which included Macor Technologies CEO Conor McCormack; MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis; Joel Emmons, an IP lawyer; Chris Milnes, inventor of the 3D printed plastic widget for using the Square payment tool for the iPhone; and led by Sean Capt. of TechNewsDaily.

A trendy 3D printing blog took care of the reservation… and I was, after all, a professional journalist; So I had an obligation to cover the story for good or bad.

The panel was the kind of stuff you’d expect, informing the hardcore enthusiast public about the revolution they started. Bre asked the crowd, whom I took in the field for novices, to raise their hands if they knew anyone who had a 3D printer. He estimated that 60% of the room raised a hand.

Just five years ago, MakerBot was the only 3D printer company coming to this CES gig to sport its wares, constantly explaining to traditionalists what 3D printing was all about in the first place. And now — well, now, I may have heard covariates saying what 3D printing really is and should be.

Some, out in the exhibition hall – TechZone – were already claiming their machines could print better resolution than the older MakerBot machines, having not seen what the new three could produce. There were new companies in the market working on faster, thinner 3D printers. For example, the Roblox was a FFF machine that used two extruder nozzles, one fine and one fast, to print at resolutions up to 20 µm.

Keeping the extruder motor away from the actual print head, the print head zips from one end of the machine to the other before you can do what you call “additive manufacturing.” Both FSL3D and DWS Lab intend to outperform other machines with stereolithography technology.

FSL3D is like the little brother of FormLabs, only the two never met and my veggie wrapped brain is telling me they already hold a grudge. The DWS lab, based out of Italy, is using a stationary laser with rotating mirrors to outperform its SL competitors. They were selling industrial machines, but plan to go into the consumer market this spring with an impressive range of materials, including some elusive ceramics and rubber.

It was clear that things were beginning to change and that once-niche technology would soon be in the hands of everyday animals like me. And when we start whining and wheezing that this miraculous machine called a 3D printer can only print plastic, a company like 3D Systems will come along and create a 3D ceramic printer, a 3D Chinese printer, and a full-color desktop. Will announce 3D printers.

I was clearly in the middle of a veggie wrap-induced psychosis. Suddenly, the technology was kicked off five years into the future, with all other manufacturers looking like the wreck of last year. The company’s acquisitions over the past year made sense, the day we’d print everything we wanted and Exhibits A, B, and C would provide tangible, delicious proof that we’re getting there.

My wife and I met with the Occipital team, which launched Structure3D Sensor for iOS. They let us scan rooms, play with a virtual kitty cat in an augmented world unlike Vegas and even give us a glimpse of a future where facial recognition security checkpoints let us howl in our underground. I keep it closed. He made a deal to sell his technology to 3D Systems as iSense.

After telling us that they planned to establish a 3D app ecosystem, with accessible technology like the iPad to let people know what’s possible and a range of 3D sensing apps, we talked briefly about the acquisition. Key, told me with them that there were some companies that you want to get your start-up, that will give you fuel to pursue your ideas, and companies that you will regret.

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