Just because today's kids are born "digital" doesn't mean that they don't like old-fashioned toys, too.
And thanks to 3D printing, kids don't have to all get the exact same plastic figures that that toymakers churn out: They can customize their own. That's the goal of Sandboxr, a 3D printing startup that's currently raising funds via Kickstarter. The company showed off its wares at the Game Developer Conference 2013, and the results are mind blowing.
While 3D printing has gotten a lot of adoring attention in recent months, the process is still difficult and costly for the average folks who aren't dedicated "makers." After all, notes Sandboxr CEO Berkley Frei, "the only way for a 3D printer to work is that you need 3D content, and not everybody knows how to make a good 3D [computer] model." (Although the upcoming MakerBot 3D Scanner may help with that when it arrives in the fall.)
That's where Sandboxr comes in. The core idea behind Frei's brainchild empowers both pro designers and consumers alike. Sandboxr allows artists and game developers to drop their existing 3D files into the system, which translates this data into the files needed to create 3D prints. From there, designers can make their characters available for consumers to print-on-demand using Sandboxr's fleet of full-color 3D printers. The goal is for individuals to manipulate and design their own customized character figurines, and even scenes, complete with added objects like a long sword or Thor's hammer. [ See video.]
Make no mistake: 3D prints character will be a boutique item for some time, and regular plastic action figures are in no danger for now. (A small, 2.5- to 3-inch tall customized figure might cost $15-$20 to make, while a larger, 4.5- to 5-inch figure might go as high as $50.)
If Sandboxr takes off, it could even complement tabletop games, such as the still-popular Dungeon & Dragons (made by Wizards of the Coast). Sandboxr could provide an on-demand way to make objects that are used during gameplay. "I want to talk to Wizards of the Coast," Frei said, enthusiasm spilling over. "Video games are super ideal [for this], but there are opportunities for individual artists or a tabletop game company to create custom monsters, characters or objects. I would love the tabletop gaming community to realize the potential of our technology. I think they have as much to gain as anyone."