The MakerBot is a 3D printer. It takes in a piece of plastic, the way a regular printer takes in a piece of paper. It melts down that plastic, then uses it like 3D ink, building it back up into a 3D object based on a computer file that tells it what the object should be, like a Word doc printing into a paper essay. People are already sharing their files for designs, free, on the Thingiverse. This is where I could download my new salt shaker. I could have this salt shaker in five minutes or so, from what I can gather by watching video of how the thing works. The machine itself looks like one of those hook carnival games that you can never win, except with this one you always win.
Until now, 3D printers have been like early computers—gigantic, affordable only for institutions and corporations. But now that a desktop version is out, invented in part by a former Seattle guy named Bre Pettis, you only pay $1299 and you can make objects up to five inches per side.
An arts collective in New York hosted a MakerBot Make-A-Thon this weekend, which prompted a story in the New York Times that asked a good question: How will artists use MakerBot? "Art is not traditionally an open-source practice," says MakerBot Make-A-Thon artist-in-residence Marius Watz. Let the old Benjaminian debates begin.
I'll be over here thinking up what I want to see built up out of a skein of melted plastic pumping out of a nozzle.
Update: There's a place on Broadway that has a MakerBot. Here in the office we can't think of the name of the place, but it's the building that used to hold the mysteries museum. Leave the name of the place in comments if you know it.