MakerBot announces nationwide school initiative

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on November 12, 2013

From The News Desk

MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis at the MakerBot store in Manhattan

3D printer manufacturer MakerBot is on a mission to take over the world. Or, at least, to get every American student to use MakerBot (which, in truth, is a good bid toward world domination).

The company has been on a streak of big announcements. First came the opening of its huge factory in Brooklyn, then its merger with Stratasys. And today the company announced its nationwide plan for school outreach.

The Brooklyn-based company announced its new initiative: MakerBot Academy. This program lets teachers register accounts on the crowdfuding platform, a donation website aimed specifically public school-target projects, in the hopes of getting a Makerbot Desktop 3D printer into their classroom. From there, the company is teaming up with other companies, including Autodesk and 3D printing and additive manufacturing accelerator America Makes, to get the news out to the masses and acquire funding for the initiative.

Anyone interested in becoming a donor must sign up on the DonorsChoose website. Each school requires a donation of $2,254, as well as a personal contribution of $98 in order to enroll. In addition, any teacher who wants to take part must state what their intention is with the 3D printing device.

MakerBot's CEO Bre Pettis had trouble keeping his thoughts in order while making the announcement. "For me this is very personal, having been a former teacher," he said. "This is my favorite announcement ever."

Throughout the press conference he kept emphasizing that this is only phase one. The first step is getting the devices into the classrooms, from there he's excited to see how students respond. Maybe math scores will improve, or maybe students will print the next robots to destroy homework forever. Who knows?

For Pettis, all he wants is to see a "MakerBot in every school in the country."

That's a tall order, and he's putting his own skin into the game. He divulged that he is making a personal contribution, yet wouldn't enumerate the number. "I am committing to… a lot of money… to take care of Brooklyn," he said. Another person at the conference chimed in saying that Pettis' contribution is on par with those from the Bill and Melinda Gates Fund. So we're likely looking at something well into the six figures, although he wouldn't comment officially.

But what kind of schools will be getting these printers? As with any crowdfunding and tech initiative, the free market rules. So it's any school that has a good intention and a backing donor. But DonorsChoose focuses specifically on public schools, and Pettis said that 80 percent of the schools seeking aid on the website are considered "high need."

In addition to this announcement, MakerBot is launching a Thingiverse (the company's online repository of 3D printing plans) competition to make the best math manipulation device. The intention is to get excitement on both ends to he spectrum -- the teachers submitting plans to receive the MakerBots, and the students submitting ideas to the Thingiverse challenge.

But, as Pettis kept reminding us, this is only step one. From here he wants to see where students can take these devices and how teachers can implement them into their pedagogies. MakerBots are still carry a steep price tag, with its cheapest being at $2,199. Other companies are beginning to catch up with 3D Systems' recently announced $399 scanner.

But this doesn't seem to be fazing Pettis in the least. His focus seems to be on more global things than mere competition. Will it succeed? Well that all depends on how many donors he can find who are willing to shell out $2,254.

First that, then the world.