It may seem like just another way to monetize on the giant Thingiverse network and probably it is, at least in part, since MakerBot needs to find a way to support the huge effort necessary to allow thousands of people to freely share their designs online. However the new models that have been added to the MakerBot Digital Store are so much more than that.
Over the past decades I have often written about the value of video games in education, with the contributions of experts saying how important it is to actually “do” and experience the subjects rather than just listen to a teacher speak and explain. With the ongoing 3D printing revolution, it could be argued that “making” might be even more of an incentive and that is what MakerBot wants to leverage by introducing models of 3D printable ships, buildings and even skulls that have a significant place in history.
The idea of creating collections of designs to 3D print and assemble is an effective business model. Modelling collectors thoroughly enjoy the challenge of assembling each model and acquiring the entire series. With 3D printing it becomes even more involving since the challenge is not only to assemble the model but also to create each part from a digital design. Giving the first one away for free is a great way to “jump start” that collection spirit.
However MakerBot, who is actively contributing to America Makes with a number of STEM program related activities, is particularly interested in the educational aspect. Maybe because it is a new technology, perhaps because it really is fun to watch something digital come to life, one can only imagine how involved students would be in reproducing models that they can also learn from. Now it is ships, buildings and skulls, but in the future it can be anything. And there is little doubt in my mind that, after replicating it from scratch, one would want to know everything there is to know about a particular historical object.
Pricing the single model at only a few dollars (anywhere from $2.99 to $9.99) and requiring only a few cents in filament, means that – once an educational institution (or even a parent) has invested in a 3D printer – this type of activity can be extremely affordable and offer many more benefits than it costs.
The first historical ship models introduced by MakerBot in the Famous Expeditions collection are the Bao Chuan, the Trinidad, the Endeavor and the Sao Cristovao, with the Drakkar, the ships used by the Vikings to explore the world, included as a free download. The Storied Skulls collection includes a Dragon, a Ram and a free Saber-toothed Cat. One is an imaginary creature, one is extinct and one still exists.
For each model MakerBot has devised different examples of possible lesson plans for different age groups, for teaching history as well as paleontology, anatomy and mythology. With 3D printing these once boring subjects (for some) about intangible things from a remote past, now sound as fascinating, interesting and real as ever.