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MakerBot Replicator Turns Physical Objects Into Digital Designs

AUSTIN ( — Bre Pettis, the CEO and cofounder of MakerBot, unveiled the company's latest offering, the MakerBot Digitizer, during the opening remarks of the 2013 South by Southwest conference. The MakerBot Digitizer is a 3D scanner, which can scan objects approximately six inches wide by eight inches tall, turning objects in the physical world into digital blueprints which can then be manipulated or printed using a 3D printer.

The Digitizer uses two lasers and a webcam in order to capture surface details of an object that is set onto a rotating tray. The laser beams are reflected off of the object's surface and captured by the webcam, which turns these reflections into a digital format using MakerBot's desktop software. According to Pettis, the scanning process takes approximately three minutes and is sent to a computer via USB.

Pettis showed off a prototype of the new MakerBot Digitizer during his opening remarks speech kicking off SXSW. He assured the audience that the consumer ready product, which will be available this fall, will have a different design than the prototype, which appeared to be made of wood with a plastic spinning tray and had numerous loose wires. Pettis showed off the replicator by scanning a garden gnome before revealing a smaller replica of the same garden gnome as a 3D printed object, which was printed earlier.

This new project is an example of MakerBot's growing value in the burgoning market of 3D printing. MakerBot is no longer simply offering products that output objects, such as printers, but also machines that can easily create 3D designs. Users with no digital design experience can now turn their non-digital objects into 3D models. "The MakerBot Replicator goes hand in hand with the MakerBot Replicator 2," said Pettis. "Scan [an object] and then make as many as you want on the Replicator 2."

Pettis was fairly dismissive regarding the high potential for copyright problems, such as users who might want to duplicate LEGO blocks instead of purchasing sets from LEGO itself. He said that the power of the MakerBot comes from being able to take a 3D scan of your head and attach it to a LEGO body, rather than individually printing LEGO blocks yourself. Pettis did express, however, the ease of which it would be to print an actual LEGO block.

There was no mention of the price of a new MakerBot Digitizer. This new product, however, should be available in the fall and is expected to keep in line with MakerBot's commitment to making 3D printing relatively affordable. The Replicator 2, for example, costs $2,200, which is significantly less than other 3D printers that can range from the tens of thousands to millions of dollars.