Will.I.Am and Coca-Cola's new 3D printer embodies everything wrong with the market

By James Robinson , written on June 17, 2014

From The News Desk

For anyone familiar with CNN’s 2008 election coverage, the memory of the holographic bust of Will.I.Am beamed into the studio to provide comment is burned into your retina as proof of how greatly the Black Eyed Peas frontman loves the future. It's his thing. In a video for a single off his 2012 solo album, there’s a context-free shot of a Makerbot 3D printer. Just because.

It’s that two-handed, heart on his sleeve, I’m down with the kids embrace of the future that won Will.I.Am the Chief Creative Officer post with 3D Systems in January.

Today, we got news of The Ekocycle, the first major release under Will.I.Am’s 3D Systems stewardship. It was developed in tandem with Coca-Cola, prints with filament made out of recycled plastic and embodies pretty much everything that is wrong with the 3D printing market today.

Part of Will.I.Am’s brief with 3D Systems is to "inspire, shape and drive all of 3DS’ initiatives to mainstream the use of 3D printing through major collaborations with creative brand partners…" He’s ticked one box by working with Coca-Cola, but the entire exercise (complete with 53 second intro video by Will.I.Am replete with emotive music and a cry of "welcome to the future") comes off as every party involved wanting to bask in the vague glow of the future without having any true understanding of the market.

The Ekocycle will retail for $1200 and is mostly a slightly snappier-designed version of 3D Systems’ older Cube 3 model. It will ship with designs ready to print for rings, guitar picks, and phone cases. In the video, Will.I.Am points to a stand with a bracelet, robot, vase, and shoe on it. All of them can be made with the Ekocycle. None of them cost more than a few dollars.

Consumer 3D printing is lampooned today for being too expensive and producing cheap, tacky crap -- essentially, the sorts of things you might see on the bargain table at a flea market. The Ekocycle plays into every piece of this negative stereotype.

Using recycled plastic  is a positive step, turning discarded bottles into 3D printed filament, though it’s not exactly a new idea. It’s cheaper, for one thing, and some hypothesize that it may end up as a more energy efficient method of recycling plastics in the long term.

The Ekocycle will make headlines today, and maybe tomorrow. It’s Will.I.Am! With Coca-Cola! 3D printing is hip! (Pando is now just as guilty of this as anyone, of course.) But it won’t move the market a bit. People will forget. 3D printing’s consumer explosion won't come until it gives consumers real everyday utility and support. We’ve moved past the point where talking blandly about the future and pointing to a cheap-looking iPhone case is enough.

You’d think America’s pioneering holographic news correspondent slash rapper might understand that. But maybe that’s too much to ask.