I had noodles with Derek and David of Ponoko during my New Zealand trip back in January of this year (here's video interview by Marcus Schappi from Little Bird from the trip). Derek and David were amazing people, wonderful hosts, and had some incredible ideas. Their primary idea was to create a Star Trek replicator. Ponoko envisions the ability to hit a button on the wall, a small door opens, and the widget that we wanted then pops out of the wall. But if that is still science fiction today, how close can we get? It's this challenge that made me so excited to team up with Ponoko.
Imagine a product that helps you, specifically, with your specific problem. Take for example, the mechanical tuning of pianos. Not everyone needs to tune a piano, but for sake of argument let us say there are 10 people that do. Those 10 people really want a widget that helps them, and they understand that Yamaha is not going to help them out because Yamaha believes there is not enough of a market to justify the product development. If a person could design a product, she would have a market of 10 people. The 10 people understand that the product may not be as shiny or as polished as Yamaha, but as long as it works, they may be willing to try it out.
So that's what Ponoko is offering. You create the mechanical housing and piece together the electronic bits that are needed to complete the 'product'. When the end customer (the piano tuner) goes to buy the auto-magical piano tuning device, they place their order on Ponoko, and three boxes show up at their door two weeks later: a box of plastic pieces from Ponoko, a box of electronics from SparkFun, and a box containing assembly instructions from the designer. It's not quite a little door on the wall, but if you're getting a widget that does what you need it to do, it's getting scarily close.
And just recently, Ponoko added 3D printing as a service. This opens up so many new doors! I'm excited to see the collaboration develop. Ponoko has a beautiful website with clear pricing, many different materials (corrugated cardboard?!), lots of great material information and wonderful example photos. My head begins to spin with possibilities...