In the flurry of new announcements of new consumer 3D printers from 3D Systems, perhaps one of the most significant new developments for the growth of 3D printing escaped my immediate attention. But, when I went back to review the announcement, the real import struck me hard.
I didn't start out trying to be an "early adopter" back in the 1960's when video recording caught my attention. I was simply fascinated by the possibilities. Nor was I looking to be an "early adopter" when personal computing caught my attention in the 1970s. Maybe I became known as an "early adopter" because I'm easily amused by new things. :)
Whatever the reason, being an early adopter of many technologies has allowed me to view and experience the processes by which a new and unknown technology seems suddenly to become a mass market phenomenon. For video recording the explosion came when the tape was put into a cartridge. Institutions embraced the 3/4" U-Matic format and the consumer explosion was the result of the 1/2" VHS was introduced.
Personal computing stalled and languished until VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet application, was released.
These breakthrough events are called "Tipping Points" which launch a slowly emerging product or service, known only to the "early adopters", into an explosive growth of mainstream consumer acceptance.
I believe that the announcement that I almost overlooked might just signal the tipping point for 3D printing. The 3D Systems announcement was released almost in parallel with an announcement by Intel. Interestingly, they each introduced a different new buzz word as their focal point in talking about a new 3D Scanning breakthrough. Each are important to understanding the progression of the tipping point I see coming.
Called "Real Sense", Intel announced the development of a new, compact and thin 3D scanning camera/sensor that major manufacturers of Intel based systems will be building into tablets, etc.
Using the term "Perceptual Computing", Intel described ways to incorporate gestures, voice and facial recognition as user interface enhancements. While not specifically designed for 3D printing, it brings capture capability to every new device having Real Sense. This is where 3D Systems comes into the picture with its announcement.
In a parallel announcement, 3D Systems announced that they have teamed up with Intel to add the Sense scanning, editing and 3D printing software for devices equipped with Intel's Real Sense 3D camera.
Linking up with Intel and introducing the term, "Physical Photography" to describe the result of this merger of technologies was a brilliant move! It is, in fact, THE likely event that we will look back on as the "Tipping Point" for consumers to actively consider a 3D printer purchase. If, as I suspect, people will want to try out their new tablet with 3D scanning capability, then it follows that a good many of them will want a way to print their "physical photographs".
Physical Computing + Physical Photography + Diversity = Creativity Explosion
A Tipping Point is only important if it has some benefit to society. When I first picked up a black & white video camera there was no way to know that once the "tipping point" for consumer adoption would end up with video being so important to us socially and historically. When I saw my first "personal computer" it was inconceivable that it would so deeply impact society.
When I ponder the 3D Systems and Intel announcements in light of the greatly broadened consumer applications of 3D printing technology as evidenced by the ChefJet (food) and the CaraJet (Ceramics), I have to believe that the 3D Printing Tipping Point is here. And, that is a wonderful realization.
My interest in 3D printing is NOT simply because 3D printing is fun or cool. It is because I see that having the capability to bring ideas to life with a 3D printer is life altering because it unleashes the creativity that I believe is our most uniquely human trait. I want every child and adult to be able to experience the liberation of creativity that I've found by having the benefit of a 3D printer. It is just that powerful.