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Matter.io wants to make it easier for everyone to modify and print 3D models

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 1, 2013 02:10 PM

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Will we one day have a Google Drive or Microsoft Word for 3D objects — a way to create, modify, and share three-dimensional models without having to learn complicated CAD software?

That's the vision at Matter.io, a startup operating out of the Koa Labs shared workspace in Harvard Square. Greg Tao is the company's chief technology officer, and Dylan Reid is CEO. (In the photo, Tao is on the left, Reid on the right, along with a few of their 3D printers.) Their co-founders and initial investors are serial entrepreneur Andy Palmer, who started Koa Labs last year, and Frank Moss, former director of the MIT Media Lab. Jim Palotta of Manhattan-based Raptor Ventures is another Matter backer.

I stopped by to visit the company a few weeks ago. They'd just printed out the dragon model you see here, adding Lego nodules to the bottom of it so that it would click into standard Lego pieces.

matterlego.jpgSo far, Reid says, "CAD has been for professional engineers who are designing products that will be mass manufactured." What Matter is trying to do is create web-based software for an age when individuals and small businesses — including those without engineers on staff — will want to create or edit 3D objects, and have them produced in small batches, or perhaps as one-offs.

"We want to make the experience of working with three dimensions more like the experience of working in two dimensions, like on a document or a spreadsheet," says Reid. They also want to make it easy to embed 3D models into websites, the same way today people can integrate YouTube videos or slide shows. A videogame site, for instance, might embed models of popular video game characters, and let users make changes to them — perhaps adding some text to the base — and then send them to a service bureau or a site like Shapeways to be produced.

Today, Tao says, 3D object design is a "for nerds, by nerds" kind of space. A growing number of 3D printers are available, some for just a few hundred dollars, but they require plenty of care and feeding — when I arrived at Matter, Tao was canceling a Makerbot build that had gone awry. The company is "interested in how normal people would want to make stuff. They don't perceive the objects in their lives as being flexible, since most are mass-produced in the millions. But we think people want to apply their creativity to objects." Some examples: customizing a doorknob for your house (see below), or taking a 3D scan of your friend's face, and mashing that up with a nice coffee mug someone has already designed. The perfect personalized gift...

doorknobs.jpg

Reid and Tao say they're still hashing out Matter's business model. "The two things we're focused on right now," says Reid, "are cultivating a group of early users who want better 3D design tools, and then asking them what they want to be able to do?"

Update: I wrote a bit more about Matter as part of this Globe column on whether 3D printing will go mainstream.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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