We received a really endearing message in our inbox the other day that was just too sweet for me not to post in full:

My name is Pieter Scholtz I’m a high school student in South Africa ,I was wondering if you could help me with a post, I would be really thankful if you could. Firstly I have a bit of background to explain, Me and my friend (Gerhard de Clercq) worked on a project to print a nokia lumia 820 cover from an 820, the end result would be to take the computer component out of the 3D printing concept/system which would improve accessibility to 3D printing in areas where computers are scarce (Africa), we managed to do this and we found someone willing to sponsor a professional video shoot, we where hoping for this to provide us with some publicity and potentially help us to go further with this project. But currently we are not really getting any publicity, so if you could consider posting it we would be very thankful.

I’m really glad that Pieter and Gerhard found sponsorship to advertise their app, even if they’re too young to really understand the implications of corporate sponsorship, because I think that these two 15-year-olds deserve all the publicity they can get.  Without formal training, they’ve designed a smartphone app that allows them to print from their homemade 3D printer using their phone. Watch the Nokia-sponsored video below:

Pieter and Gerhard have gone a long way to making 3D printing more accessible. As Pieter points out in his message, 3D printing without a computer is very difficult. You either need a computer to run the machine, with a direct connection or wirelessly, or you need a computer to download or design 3D models for printing. In developing countries where computer access is limited, however, mobile phones are used to perform some of the functions normally made possible with computers and the Internet.  If 3D printing is doable via a mobile device, people in developing countries may be able to make better use of the technology. And, once this is possible, according to the folks at techfortrade, 3D printing has huge potential for the world’s impoverished, giving them the ability to produce their own home goods at little expense, recycle waste into useful objects and earn an income through the printing of marketable products.

Unfortunately, at the moment, mobile phone usage is not the same as smartphone usage, as Les Roopanarine at The Guardian explains:

Mobile phones are increasingly ubiquitous in poor countries, which now account forfour in every five connections worldwide (pdf). As Elsie Kanza, of the World Economic Forum,recently said: “Regardless of social class, almost everyone [inAfrica] has a mobile phone, or two or three. Even in remote villages, mobile phones have replaced the bicycle or radio as prized assets.”

An obvious caveat is that voice-calls far outstrip data use in poor countries, which remain an emerging market for smartphones and other data-enabled devices. One reason is cost. A quarter of the young people surveyed – and almost half of those from Ghana – said a shortage of money was the biggest obstacle to accessing educational resources. Even so, the rapid spread of mobile technology offers clear possibilities for learning. Of the young people participating in the study who had accessed the internet, half had done so on a mobile device.

The prices of smartphones, however, are continuing to drop and Gerhard indicates in the video that, from anecdotal evidence, there are more smartphone users than PC users in his own country.  As smartphones become more affordable, access to their capabilities increases and Pieter and Gerhard have added just one more capability to these powerful handheld devices.  All that’s left is protecting the environment from the harmful effects of smartphone manufacturing and to increase the standard of living for workers that are part of the smartphone supply chain.

I don’t mean to be patronizing, but don’t you just want to pinch these kids’ cheeks? How I wish that I was like them when I was 15.  Or like Riley Lewis, who participated in Avi Reichental’s presentation at the Inside 3D Printing conference in San Jose.  Riley told me that his school didn’t encourage him to pursue ‘making’, at all. Instead he got into outside of class by creating his own hackerspace in his backyard with friends. I may not be able to go back in time to take advantage of my youth, build a printer and become an inventor, but, perhaps the Maker movement will really permeate the youth of today and push them to reach their full potential in ways that formal schooling never could.