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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David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.