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.

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR