Draw in the air with a 3D printing pen

We live in the future. The lack of jetpacks gets a pass.

There is a moment in the Kickstarter video for the 3Doodle pen (which I found via the New Scientist's Paul Marks) which took my breath away. It comes after the introduction, when the pen is used to draw its own logo; and it is as simple as drawing a cube.

Only… it draws all of the cube:

The pen is essentially a handheld 3D printer. By extruding heated plastic through the nib, which then cools solid almost instantly, it lets users "write" in thin air, creating anything from relatively simple stick figures:

 

To insanely complex wire art:

 

(The 3Doodle team have joined forces with a bunch of Etsy wire-artists to show off the pen. The work above is by Ruth Jensen.)

On one level, the pen is clearly "just" a $75 toy. A few artists might find use for it (but then, artists find uses for anything), and it looks like it would be amazing fun to just goof around with, but it is difficult to imagine it revolutionising anything. And I'm pretty sure the launch-to-penis time (the time it takes for a radical new creative technology to be used to make crudely-drawn cocks) will be in the microseconds.

At the same time, though, it's a demonstration of just how close-to-market mainstream 3D printing is. The over-arching technology behind the 3Doodle genuinely does have the potential to shake up manufacturing — if not by letting people print consumer goods at home, the utopian dream, then at least by radically restructuring supply chains in conventional production.

The pen is currently less than $1000 short of its $30,000 goal on Kickstarter. I really want one.

Eiffel Tower made in 3Doodle.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.