This weekend's Maker Faire in New York City was lousy with 3D printers. Every tent in the outdoor area was packed to capacity with the things, their owners standing beside them, showing off the small trinkets they'd created with the devices. Judging from their presence, there seems little question that the technology has proven a success with the maker community. Amongst the general public, however, they've been a much harder sell. Perhaps it's the price, or maybe it's the generally dull connotations of the word "printer," or it could just be the fact that there hasn't been the right iconic image to help sell the products to the public at large.
MakerBot's Turtle Shell Racers may well be just the ambassador that the world of 3D printing needs. The toy football-sized RC cars are proof positive that the devices can turn just about anything you can imagine into reality. There are certain limitations, of course, like the fact that the objects printed can't be larger than five inches in diameter. The Shells' creator circumvented that admitted shortcoming by assembling the products out of small pieces that snap together. Check out more hands-on impressions and a video with the racers after the jump.%Gallery-134372%
The Shells are constructed out of ABS -- the same plastic used to create Lego -- which is fed into the printer from a spool. About a pound of ABS goes into the shell, gear shaft and other printed components -- which, at MakerBot's going rate for raw material, would run you around $22 or so. The company recommends a specific brand of RC car that can be purchased from Target for around $15, putting the total cost of components at under $40. MakerBot isn't actually selling the Turtle Shell Racers, so much as the components here. You can download the plans for the whole thing from the company's Thingiverse site.
Once printed, the racers are pretty solid. They stood up to a lot of abuse this weekend at Maker Faire, being driven around the track by scores of children with a penchant for crashing things into each other. They're not quick, by any means -- keep in mind, that this is a pound of plastic on top of a low-end car. We also had a bit of trouble turning the things, but again, some of this can likely be chalked up to abuse suffered over the weekend.
All in all, the Turtle Shell Racers are a pretty great experience -- one certainly recommended for anyone with a 3D printer lying around. For those who haven't gotten around to picking one up, however, the entry price of such a device is likely a deterrent. Still, watching a product like this make the transformation from idea to real world object is about as good a selling point for the technology as we've seen.