Definitely one of the coolest things on show at this year's CES is the Thing-O-Matic 3D printer from MakerBot Industries. Looking like something you'd find in Doc Brown's laboratory, this glowing wooden box connects to your computer and machines real-life objects using its poking, clawing mechanisms.
It works like this: connect the Thing-O-Matic to your computer via USB, and then use the open-source MakerBot ReplicatorG software to queue up computer-built 3D models for the miniature factory to print.
We were told by a MakerBot rep that almost any 3D modelling software would work -- create an STL format model, and the MakerBot software will effectively slice that model up into sub-millimetre layers. Then the Thing-O-Matic builds those layers out of heated-up ABS plastic filament. Layer by layer your masterpiece will be born into the real world.
In terms of size, the Thing-O-Matic can print objects that are up to 6 by 6 by 7 inches. So you won't be able to build your own death-ray, or indeed build more Thing-O-Matics (which in turn will create yet more Thing-O-Matics), but you will be able to craft an adorable mantelpiece decoration for your Nan.
We're told the plastic it uses costs about $10 (about £6.40) per pound, which sounds very reasonable. The printer itself costs $1,225, or around £790, from the MakerBot website, which is expensive, but if you're a dedicated modelling hobbyist, the thought of printing out your creations might prove just too tempting. We'll do our best to get our hands on one so that we can
fill the office with little plastic rabbits rigorously test the Thing-O-Matic's printing abilities.
3D printers aren't new technology, but this one is particularly charming -- we love the old-timey wooden frame, and the fact that you can watch the Thing-O-Matic actually crafting the stuff you're making. And that it glows of course.