Feb 12, 2016 | By Kira

Toy manufacturer Mattel is launching—or, rather relaunching—its original maker-movement-toy, aptly named the ThingMaker, as an affordable, colorful, and family-friendly 3D printer. Mattel teamed up with Autodesk in early 2015, who has created an easy-to-use ThingMaker Design app where children can customize and design simple 3D models. The ThingMaker 3D printer will be available to purchase through Amazon later this year for just $299.99.

Did Mattel invent the first kid-safe, consumer 3D printer way back in the 1960s? It seems unlikely, and, as we’ll see, the original ThingMaker wasn’t exactly using additive manufacturing technology as we understand it today, but at its heart, it was about encouraging kids to create 3D objects from scratch—the very essence of the now-exploding maker movement.

The ThingMaker, originally introduced in 1963 and later rebranded as Creepy Crawlers, consisted of die-cast molds in the shapes of bugs, dragons, flowers, and even Hot Wheels. Kids poured a liquid plastic (‘Plastigoop’) over the molds, baked them in the oven at 390°F, and voila: a new set of rubber-like, 3D toys to play with.

Mattel's original ThingMaker toyset

Though Mattel’s Creepy Crawlers haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves since, well, the late 1970s, the company is now seeking to capitalize on the growing popularity of 3D printing technology, all while giving kids a chance to learn while they play.

The ready-to-print ThingMaker 3D printer, which uses standard and non-proprietary PLA filament, was designed for users age 13 and up, and with child-safety in mind. For example, the door automatically locks when printing begins, and when finished, the heated print head retracts into a special recess, protecting tiny, curious fingers. The 3D printed toy parts are also rated as safe for kids 3+, making the entire process as family-friendly as possible.

For their 3D designing needs, kids and families can download the ThingMaker Design app, currently available for iOS and Android. The app, created by software experts Autodesk, provides templates and a palette of drag and drop parts, allowing kids to select pre-made designs (fairies, dinosaurs, skeletons, robots, wearables, and more) and customize them in terms of shape, size and color. The app was also designed to be compatible with other standard 3D printers, or can even be used just to let kids get the ‘feel’ for 3D modeling.

“All physical behaviors are as it would be when it was actually printed out, so you can get an idea for how it is going to mechanically move and what the limits of all the joints and sockets that you create are,” said Dan Pressman, creative director and Autodesk.

“Autodesk is dedicated to providing powerful, yet easy-to-use 3D design and 3D printing apps to unlock the creativity in everyone,” said Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Consumer and 3D Printing, Autodesk, back when the original partnership was announced in 2015. “Partnering with an iconic brand like Mattel provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate how Spark, our open 3D printing platform, can help create amazing experiences that bridge the digital and physical worlds and push the boundaries of creative play.”

There has been a growing number of 3D printing products designed specifically to get kids interested in making, and potentially lead them into STEM-related studies. In October, Qubea launched a Kickstarter for the $150 Rever 3D printer, and more recently 3Doodler created a totally kid-safe 3D printing pen.

Mattel is thus looking to tap into this market, while bringing its expertise in play and toy creation to the table. “We think this is the perfect time for us to come out in the market with a product that’s disruptive in our opinion,” said Aslan Appleman, a senior director at Mattel.

And of course, creating an additional point of entry for some of their most famous toy brands doesn’t hurt either: “Obviously we have quite a few iconic brands in our portfolio as well as access to partner brands. You can imagine that’s part of our longer term strategy,” said Appleman. Licensed 3D printed Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels, and Mega Bloks would almost surely be an instant hit.

The ThingMaker Design app is currently available for iOS and Android, and though the ThingMaker 3D printer itself won’t be available until Fall 2016, you can preorder it from Amazon as of next week. Mattel has said that they plan to use the time between now and then to gain further insight into how kids and their families will use the 3D printer, and what they can do to improve it. It’s been 53 years in the making, but the ThingMaker Movement has officially begun.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Henry wrote at 2/16/2016 1:33:22 AM:

It's sad to see when big companies scoop up what smaller companies have been working on for a while. This is literally just a copy of the Toybox printer at www.make.toys

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