Are Physibles the next download revolution?

Back in my house in the UK, I had a this very cool (literally) Siemens refrigerator – beautifully engineered except from one part in the salad box which would break with frustrating regularity. It was really user error but each time this part broke, I lamented the fact that I had to go to the Siemens site, download a PDF, locate the part from a sketchy diagram and then order it and wait two weeks for delivery. It got to the point that I’d order two at a time as the part wasn’t expensive and I knew I’d be breaking it again soon. Whether it’s your refrigerator, a missing part from a self build furniture set or a kids toy, we all know that frustration of not having a vital but inexpensive piece of plastic.

Fast forward today and maybe we’re on the cusp of a change. I noticed a post on Mashable last week that noted how the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay introduced a new content category called “Physibles.” Our world has changed dramatically with digital music and digital TV/movies and it could change again with digital objects – physical objects you can download and print with a 3D printer.

Is a revolution afoot? Dylan Tweney says that 3D printers offer levels of “Jeffersonian self-reliance that our founding fathers only dreamed of” and with a MakerBot Replicator costing $1,750, he may be right. Like plasma and LCD TVs before them, these printers are only going to come down in price and go up in capability. This sub $2k unit prints 3D objects in one color and for an extra $300 you can get two colors. Imagine if Siemens started providing downloadable files that would allow me to crank out my own spare parts on these things?

At CES, we showed KinectFusion – a Microsoft Research project that uses an off the shelf Kinect sensor to build realtime 3D models of pretty much anything you’d like. In the What’s Next booth we had examples of 3D objects that had been printed from a scan taken with KinectFusion. On that note, check out the video above of Dylan chatting with the folks behind the Cubify Cube printer, a $1,300 3D printer. Notice the device in the back of the early part of the video. A Kinect sensor…hmmm.

My birthday wish list just got a Cubify Cube added to it!