This week's New Disruptors video is up. I visited Desktop Factory, an Idealab startup in LA, and interviewed CEO Cathy Lewis as well as Idealab CEO Bill Gross. Most people probably remember Idealab from the 40-some Internet startups it launched in the late 1990s. Those included some duds like eToys. But also some major home runs like CitySearch and GoTo.com (which pioneered the concept of paid-search advertising, became Overture, and was eventually bought by Yahoo). I was surprised to learn that Idealab has a lot of atoms businesses these days (as opposed to bits businesses), including Desktop Factory.
Desktop Factory is developing a 3-D printer for the masses. It literally prints out three-dimensional objects made from a gray plastic powder. Most rapid-prototyping machines cost $50,000 and up. When Desktop starts selling its machines later this year, they will cost $5,000. And they eventually want to get them down to $1,000. Not only will more businesses be able to use 3-D printers to iterate their designs faster, but consumers will be able to afford them too. I'm sure this will be a niche business at first, but I can also imagine all of those Second Lifers printing out their avatars and all the virtual clothing, buildings, and vehicles that they already design online. Gross and Lewis want to encourage users to share or sell 3-D CAD designs online, so that people can find objects online to download and print as well. Watch the video. (Full transcript after the break):
DESKTOP FACTORY TRANSCRIPT:
WHAT IF MAKING A TOY RABBIT OR A TEA POT WAS AS EASY AS HITTING "PRINT" ON YOUR COMPUTER?
TODAY, DESIGNERS CAN LITERALLY PRINT THREE-DIMENSIONAL OBJECTS WITH "RAPID PROTOTYPING" MACHINES BUT THEY COST UP TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS.
IDEALAB CEO BILL GROSS WANTS TO BRING THAT TECHNOLOGY TO THE MASSES WITH DESKTOP FACTORY: ONE OF THE LATEST STARTUPS TO COME OUT OF HIS FAMOUS BUSINESS INCUBATOR.
BILL GROSS, CEO IDEALAB:
A 3d printer is a device that actually grows a physical object out of plastic. And it's amazing technology but it costs between 50000 and 500000 dollars. So my dream was to take this $500,000 machine and make a mass-available one for under a thousand dollars.
TO RUN DESKTOP FACTORY, HE RECRUITED A FORMER XEROX EXECUTIVE, CATHY LEWIS, TO BE THE CEO.
==CATHY LEWIS, CEO DESKTOP FACTORY==
If you think about 3D printing, think of taking an idea and turning it into an atom. A physical manifestation of your thought process. So if you can imagine it, and then you can get it drawn up in CAD CAM software, you can print it out.
==ERICK SCHONFELD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE BUSINESS 2.0==
Wow. So this is stuff that you printed with your 3D printers?
Every single item. These are traditionally manufacturing elements. But because it's 3D you can print anything.
WHEN DESKTOP FACTORY BEGINS SELLING ITS 3-D PRINTERS LATER THIS YEAR, THEIR STARTING PRICE WILL BE $5,000… BUT THEY'RE CONFIDENT A SUB-$1,000 PRICE IS ACHIEVABLE OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS.
The material is a nylon based powder which is the same that's used in face makeup.
THE GRAY POWDER IS ROLLED ONTO A DRUM WHERE IT'S HEATED AND ETCHED. INSTEAD OF USING A $10,000 LASER, THE DESKTOP MACHINE USES A $5 HALOGEN BULB. EACH RESULTING LAYER IS THEN STACKED TOGETHER TO MAKE A SINGLE OBJECT.
==ERICK SCHONFELD (OFF CAMERA)==
Now, are you disrupting these rapid prototyping machines that are used by designers and engineers; or are you trying to enter a new market that hasn't been available before?
You’re on it. It's really both. We are disrupting the existing market by bringing the price down and making it much more accessible to the average small business. But at the same time our ultimate end game is to go into the consumer market.
What do you imagine people will be printing with this?
We know that they're going to print toys. We know that they are going to print their avatars from their gaming that they play with today. We think that eventually you'll be able to go to do the Web and download repair parts for things you have around the house that you've broken.
The only cost is the plastic to make the object. So we think there will be whole catalogs of devices… that people make that they put up to share or sell.