A look at MakerBot's latest Thingiverse challenge

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on September 9, 2013

From The News Desk

"Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door," is one of the world's greatest misquotes. (Ralph Waldo Emerson never said it.) At the same time, whoever did was speaking an undeniable truth. Often the small objects in our day-to-day existence get overlooked despite that, perhaps, they could use some 21st century improvement.

Well, MakerBot, yours and my favorite 3D printer maker, has concocted new challenge, soliciting innovations on three prosaic items: the pencil case, ruler, and pencil topper (which, I gather, is a cute pencil hat).

The challenge, tailored to those in throes of the back-to-school mania, gives people a month to design their own 3D printable version of all of those objects and submit them to MakerBot's open-sourced 3D design platform, Thingiverse. Once the September 24th deadline hits, the company will choose three winners: best design, most useful, and coolest. The latter, obviously, being the most objective category.

According to MakerBot's Jenifer Howard (I believe she's 3D printing an extra "n" for her name as I type this), the company relishes these kinds of projects. "Education has always been at the forefront of what we do," she says.

This outreach includes the company's curriculum program, which provides outreach for teaching MakerBot in the classroom. In addition, MakerBot, which merged with Stratasys earlier this summer, has worked with the New York education-based nonprofit MOUSE to provide student 3D printing workshops, and hosted other challenges similar to this back-to-school one.

Howard pegged a more recent challenge, which asked people to submit plans to build an updated birdhouse, as one of the more successful ones. Indeed, if you search on Makerbot's open-sourced Thingiverse website for "birdhouse" you find almost 200 entries for new 3D printable birdhouse models. At a quick glance, my favorite one is a sculpture of pants where the open fly is the recessed area where the bird resides. Stay classy, Thingiverse.

But, as Howard told me, the real advantages to these kinds of events wrests in seeing how others make use of MakerBot's platform. While the company will provide numerous examples of 3D printing in action, the real potential lies in the community and how they make use of 3D printing. MakerBot is interested to see what the potential  is: "We love to see what the community does," she says.

So far eight entries have been submitted, touting some pretty innovative designs. Personally I'd like to see how people update a ruler's design. If you ask me, it seems pretty straightforward as it is.

At any rate, let's hope the person who designed the open-pants birdhouse doesn't make a similar hybrid for the ruler. Actually, let's do.