New vending machine aims to democratize 3D printing

Instead of making you pick from a selection of items, this new vending machine lets you create what you want by 3D printing custom-ordered objects.

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There's a new vending machine on the UC Berkeley campus, but it'll be of no use to students during a midnight snack attack. The Dreambox is a 3D-printing vending machine, the first of its kind. Conceived and created by three Berkeley graduates, the machine is intended to democratize 3D printing, making it available to the masses.

Dreambox CEO David Pastewka says the idea arose out of frustrations from trying to use 3D printers on campus. The university offers a handful of printers for student use, but wait times are nearly a month long. Pastewka sees the technology as an important educational tool.

"Getting people exposed to 3D printing and what it can do will hopefully encourage people to create their own models and solve their own problems," he says.

While 3D printing has existed for a few decades, it's certainly trending now. President Obama gave the technology a shout-out during his State of the Union address in February. The technology also made recent headlines when pro-gun groups used 3D printers to fabricate firearms that were successfully fired . The files for the 3D guns can be downloaded by anyone capable of searching for them online. Pastewka told me that a sneaky journalism student attempted to print a gun using the Dreambox (what won't a journalist do for "the story?") but that attempt failed. Dreambox's user agreement strictly prohibits the printing of firearms, says the CEO.

There are no restrictions on printing jewelry, though. That's good news for the accessory-hounds out there since it's one direction the technology is likely to take. Dreambox CTO Richard Berwick says the technology will get really exciting as 3D printers become capable of creating objects out of metals. Need the perfect pair of earrings or cufflinks to complement your party attire for the evening? Don't scour shopping malls; just send a model to a 3D printer and pick it up a few hours later.

Berwick further sold me on the virtues of 3D printing, as he described the potential to print edible structures. "We're also going to see other applications in food," Berwick says. "So printing chocolate, printing sugars...in a structure that no one has ever seen before. [We have the] ability to print what would go on top of a wedding cake and actually have minute detail in either chocolate or fondant."

About the author

    Sumi Das has been covering technology since the original dot-com boom. She was hired by cable network TechTV in 1998 to produce and host a half-hour program devoted to new and future technologies. Prior to CNET, Sumi served as a Washington DC-based correspondent, covering breaking news for CNN. She reported live from New Orleans and contributed to CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which earned the network a Peabody Award. She also files in-depth tech stories for BBC News which are seen by a primarily international audience.

     

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