MakerBot wants to put a 3D printer in every US public school

The 3D-printing company is "on a mission," according to Chief Executive Bre Pettis. In an initiative supported by the White House, MakerBot is turning to crowdsourcing to fund the scheme.

Zack Whittaker Writer-editor
Zack Whittaker is a former security editor for CNET's sister site ZDNet.
Zack Whittaker
3 min read
MakerBot Chief Executive Bre Pettis Zack Whittaker/CBS Interactive

NEW YORK -- MakerBot wants to put a 3D printer in every school in the United States, and it's drumming up support from the industry and general public to make it happen.

While 3D printing, for now, remains a gimmick to many, it garnered enough attention for President Barack Obama to mention the emerging technology in his recent State of the Union Address. He described 3D printing as having the potential to "revolutionize the way we make almost everything."

That sparked an idea in MakerBot founder and Chief Executive Bre Pettis. A former teacher, Pettis said MakerBot has "education in its DNA" during his remarks at the new initiative's launch at the flagship store in New York City.

"Instead of waiting for someone to create a product for you, you can create your own," he said. "It can change the whole paradigm of how our children will see innovation and manufacturing in America."

Founded in 2009, the company shot to prominence during the rise of 3D printing, a new technology that allows ordinary consumers and businesses to build polymer-based products in their homes or places of work. Now MakerBot is partnering with companies involved in the developing technology, including America Makes and design software giant Autodesk.

The US government is also supporting MakerBot's efforts. Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in prepared remarks: "We all need to think creatively about giving our young people the tools to be 'the makers of things, and not just the consumers of things.'"

And once 3D printers start rolling out to schools? MakerBot insists the devices won't be expensive paperweights. The company is also launching Thingverse, an online 3D digital design community where schoolchildren can design, share, upload, and print designs of their own.

With the initiative launching Tuesday, individuals and corporations can donate funds using DonorsChoose.org, a crowdsourcing site for teachers. Pettis wants those in communities around America to contribute to their local schools. Meanwhile, MakerBot is offering significant discounts to lower the price point of the 3D printing machines.

MakerBot and its parent company, Stratasys, are putting in funds themselves to offset donor expenses. They declined to say how much, but said it was "a lot." Pettis personally has pledged to put the company's latest 3D printer, a MakerBot Replicator 2, in every public high school in Brookyn, New York, the company's hometown.

Pettis told CNET that this initiative has been on the company's mind since its founding. "We have one core mission: empower the next generation," he said.

There's no doubt that as a business, the company has to stay afloat. Pettis didn't deny that the initiative could be a significant revenue driver for MakerBot, but he also said that was "not our focus," describing how he is using "every tool at our disposal to make this happen."

"If we don't, who will?" he said. "We just have to take responsibility."

The company's founder appeared truly excited by the news. In asking him what keeps him awake at night, he paused momentarily. "I'm actually sleeping pretty well, but I don't think that's what you were asking," he chuckled. "We want to make sure that what we do is relevant, has a deep impact, and is genuine."