In one of the more obscure trends of the mid-1990s, there was a time when on-demand greeting card printing kiosks were all the rage. At our local mall, we’d take a break from shopping for CD singles to gather around the kiosk, peering through the machine’s little glass window to watch a metal armature sketch a design onto a blank greeting card chosen by whoever was willing to pay $6 for such an insta-treat. The cards were undoubtedly schmaltzy, with saccharine phrases and silly illustrations. Yet the thrill of watching the card come to life inside the machine — a joy that was completely lost on the card’s recipient — was enough to warrant multiple trips. Each holiday and birthday was an excuse to visit the kiosk.
There’s something absolutely transfixing about watching an object in production, even if a machine is the creator. Far beyond the flat surface of a greeting card, Wired Design describes the DreamVendor, a 3-D vending machine that spits out an object of your choice. The machine contains four MakerBot Thing-O-Matics —desktop 3-D printers that connect to a USB port on a computer. The Thing-O-Matics are arranged neatly behind glass so that you can watch them create your choice of one of the objects in flanking display cases.
What makes the DreamVendor so intriguing is its potential for user-generated creativity; the creators of the fantastically futuristic machine provide instructions for how to design and create your own custom items through the DreamVendor. Many are already taking advantage of the rise in low-cost 3-D printing; the Free Art and Technology Lab created adapters that allows kids to connect Legos, Tinkertoys, and K’Nex. Called the Free Universal Construction Kit, the designs are free to download and work with the DreamVendor and other 3-D printers. Imagine the possibilities. This process could radically change how we solve technical issues in our homes. What if instead of going all the way to the hardware store to buy a single screw, you could just go to your computer and click “print”?