TECH

3Doodler CEO Max Bogue Brings The Craft (And The Joy) Back To Tech At CES 2015

09/01/2015 16:11 | Updated 05 February 2015

Tech Editor Michael Rundle discovers the happiest man at CES 2015 - and his magical 3D drawing machine.

It's loud. It's overwhelming. There are terrifying robots everywhere.

But CES can be beautiful too.

Take booth 72729 - though it's not that easy to find. It's buried deep in the wide expanse of tables and small stands at the Sands Expo center, far away from the big boys of tech and their walls of TV screens and pounding DJ booths. And while it's not the smallest stand at the show, it's somewhat understated. There are no speakers on booth 72729. No dancers or handouts, raffles or giveaways.

Instead, there are tables and shelves covered with bright, plastic ornaments. There's a pirate ship on a roaring sea, a number 15 London bus and a dress spun with white and blue patterns and swirls. And at a table there is a man in his twenties, with messy, brown hair, and a contented smile on his face, hunched over a table, drawing an action figure with a lightly buzzing pen.

No, he's not drawing a picture of an action figure. This is CES after all. This guy is literally drawing a 3D action figure - of Groot, from Guardians of the Galaxy as it happens - in mid-air. He draws in tight, structured layers and lines, working with skill and quiet concentration close to the object, despite the mild smell of plastic fumes and the heat of the pen's tip. The figure itself is as perfect as you could expect when you're working in freehand with melted plastic at temperatures above 200C.

That's when I get it. Everything else on this stand was hand-drawn too. The dress. The boat. The diving dolphin. Everything. With melted plastic. My jaw drops at the skill and invention on display.

This is why I love technology.

The 3Doodler is described as "the world's first 3D printing pen". And the device itself is very simple. It takes the heated nozzle and plastic feeder from a 3D printer, and untethers it into a device which can be held in the hand and used like a pen. It can be tricky, but the result if you practice is something close to magic. You can draw shapes in mid-air, or in pieces to combine like a puzzle, and create amazing effects with only a small amount of practice.

It was one of the world's first true Kickstarter success stories, having raised $2.3m for the original version back in 2013. The pen has now sold 125,000 units, and been used by Prince Harry and David Cameron. I use mine to draw dinosaurs.

But if you're really good…

The company behind 3Doodler, WobbleWorks, used CES to announce the new version of the pen - a dramatic upgrade, which is 75% thinner, lighter, is made of alluminium and has a range of other new features. But while the company used CES as the launchpad, it posted the news first on Kickstarter - and raised its small $30,000 target (aimed mainly at its community of existing users) in less than 15 minutes.

It feels like the company's CES booth isn't demonstrating the new pen, really. It's demonstrating something else.

Fun.

"I still get wowed every time I pull it out. It's just crazy. I usually end up hating products I work on after they get released," Max Bogue, co-founder and CEO, told HuffPost as the Groot-doodler finished his work behind us.

"This is the first product where I still love it. And it's just getting better."

"It's weird for us because a lot of people are jaded and are sick of looking at TVs and 4K, whatever, and this is fun. It is useful on some level as well. I still get really excited people coming to our booth, and I just love that.

"I can't believe I created something that can help inspire people. "

There is a serious side to the 3Doodler too, Bogue said.

"It's fun but it's also serious on some level. You can sketch things. You can make things. And if you don't have those skills to make 3D files you're not limited anymore. You can use the 3Doodler to make objects and then, if you want to go further, you can take it to someone and put it in the computer or scan it in 3D. It's really a tool."

On a similar note the company launched a $1,000 Educational Bundle alongside the new Kickstarter, which buys 12 pens for a nominated school, library or makerspace, plus lesson plans, accessories and a bulk order of the right plastic.

Bogue said that the company is still "constantly shocked" by what people figure out how to make with the device.

"We don't come up with the ideas. For instance we never thought braille would work. But the visually impaired came to us and said 'we want to write braille' and we were like 'you can't do it'. They showed us you could."
CES is big. Really big. You might think it's a long way down to the local branch of Maplin but that's just peanuts to CES. Listen. Etc.

It's possible for companies and ideas to get swamped at the show - even good ones - by the twin demands of attention-grabbing fluff, and big launches that suck the oxygen out of the smaller rooms. Even the layout can be confusing - I overheard at least one person searching for the 3Doodler 2.0 at the show who was in the wrong part of the city of Las Vegas entirely.

Bogue admits it was "a little bit crazy" to launch the new 3Doodler at the show, and on Kickstarter, simultaneously.

"We're never going to do this again, it's a bit exhausting!" he said. "We just thought it would be a great way to start the year. We didn't want to come back with the old version when we have the new version ready to go so we decided to just do it at the same time. It was a little bit of a crazy decision given that it's a crazy show combined with the Kickstarter which is not a simple thing. But we're quite happy - we got funded in about 15 minutes. That's not so bad!"

Ultimately though, no one on the 3Doodler seemed to be having too difficult a time, all things considered. The artist making the Groot figure had already found time to complete a Spiderman and a Ninja Turtle.

And then there was the jacket. The jacket Bogue is wearing in the picture just above this paragraph. Yes, it was made with a 3Doodler.

"It's flexible filament!" he told me, wobbling a black piece of the drooping plastic. "It's new! I saw it and thought 'I should make a jacket, so I did!"

I ask him if he wouldn't mind putting the jacket on for a picture? I feel a bit bad - I just think it's neat, though I wonder if he might think I'm making fun. But he doesn't seem anywhere near as self-conscious as I would in that situation, and goes to pull it on at once.

"It's not really sized for me," he says, struggling slightly but finally sliding his arms into place. Once on, the jacket fits fine. "But isn't it cool?!"

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