Meet AIO Robotics‘ Zeus “3D copy device”: a 3D printer, 3D scanner and 3D object faxing machine that’s blasted past its $100,000 Kickstarter funding goal after about a day on the crowdfunding trail. This hybrid box is on a mission to consumerise 3D printing by converging multiple functions and taking away some of the rough, manual edges.
Building a hybrid box that incorporates both 3D printing and 3D scanning functions makes plenty of sense. The rise of 3D printers begets obvious demand for 3D scanners. Having an object digitiser on hand means you can clone and remix the real-world objects cluttering up your life, not just pull 3D designs off Thingiverse et al. for printing purposes.
Add to that, making a 3D copy box that’s super easy to use is also a worthy goal — and a required one to accelerate 3D printing towards a more mainstream audience than the hacker/maker community that’s largely been fuelling demand thus far. Which is exactly what AIO wants Zeus to do.
The 3D copier simplifies the print/scan process down to four basic functions: scan, print, copy, fax. Scanning means generating an accurate replica of a real-world object (the machines uses a swiping laser scanning process for increased accuracy) in a 3D digital file form that it can then print out, while the “copy” function means printing a simplified plastic copy of an object (so it’s quicker but less accurate). The fax function allows Zeus’ owner to send a copy of an object to another Zeus printer where it can then be printed out.
Zeus will have a seven-inch colour touchscreen interface where users can select which of its four functions they fancy, and navigate through any stored 3D objects they want to print — there’s a built-in micro SD card slot and also on-board Wi-Fi for faxing and grabbing files from the Internet.
Having a familiar touchscreen window for its owners to poke and prod, and a clean-looking UI, is clearly a key part of what gives Zeus a consumery, mainstream feel — as its creators note (albeit, it remains to be seen if the shipping product lives up to their easy-peasy UX claims):
Our 7 inch Touch-Screen Display and User Interface is bar-none the most beautifully designed touch experience on the planet for 3D printers. We strongly believe this feature will change 3D printing forever as it not only makes everything easier and faster, but really provides that shelf-ready quality product that everyone desires. The incredibly simple UI makes the ZEUS extremely intuitive and user-friendly to transform all the complex technology into a simple experience.
On the print side, the Zeus has a layer resolution of up to 100 microns, a build/scan volume of 26cm x 18cm x 15cm, and uses machined aluminium parts to improve stability/print quality. Also on board: a 2.1 megapixel camera (used for scanning and to help the machine’s AI correct scanning flaws and produce a smoother print), and a 1.7GHz quad-core chip — powering the on-board AI.
Zeus is not the only hybrid 3D printer contending for your crafty custom. For instance, there’s the FABtotum 3D hybrid, currently seeking funding on Indiegogo, which also incorporates subtractive manufacturing abilities, such as milling and engraving into its print/scan mix. Plus there’s Mebotics‘ Microfactory “machine shop in a box.” However both of these devices are aimed at more specialist maker users/use-cases, rather than the more mainstream consumer Zeus is going after.
Meanwhile if you want to go the Makerbot route, you’ll have to shell out for a separate Digitizer scanner to go with your Replicator 2 printer. And with the Digitizer costing $1,400 and the Replicator circa $2,199 that’s not a cheap option. (Albeit, there are plenty of alternative 3D scanners to pair up with a Replicator.)
Zeus is offering its Kickstarter backers the chance to shave the cost of Zeus ownership down to size a little. At the time of writing, all the lowest price pledges — $1,999 — for its machine are bagged bar one but the next cheapest pledge offer of $2,499 is still a ways cheaper than the Makerbot combo. Backers are going to need to be patient, though. Zeus is not due to ship till July 2014, which is an awful lot of time in tech, so expect the 3D printing market to have changed considerably by then.
If Zeus is able to live up to its promise of converging and simplifying 3D print tech — in an easy to use, consumer-friendly, all-in-one package — it could well carve out a sizeable niche for itself in a rapidly expanding space. There’s no doubt that converged, simplified devices are the future of mainstream 3D printing. It just remains to be seen who will end up making the breakthrough consumer device.