09 September 2008

Mass customization arrives

A dear, dear friend of mine is someone I'd refer to (affectionately of course) as a laborious schemer. He's an idea man and keeping up with his brain children is one of the more enjoyable aspects of my life. A pet topic of his is something he calls "mass customization." Mass Customization is an idea that makes me nervous. The idea behind it is that anyone anywhere can have anything manufactured to his or her specifications whenever he or she wants it. The logistics of something like that make my head spin, and there's something about the idea that there's no expertise needed to select specialized products that rubs me the wrong way. That must be it --the idea of empowering anybody to customize whatever they want leaves me and my profession out of the loop. Well, the day of mass customization is dawning with no regard to how I feel about it. Since I can't stop it, I'm going to hype it instead.

So the dreams of my friend the laborious schemer have come true in the form of a website called Shapeways. Shapeways uses a three-dimensional printer to produce 3D images uploaded to their site and then they sell the uploader the finished product. 3D printing has been around for a couple of years. Industrial designers use it for prototypes. It's a pretty cool technology, that's for sure. Where Shapeways takes it a step further is that they are opening up access to this technology to anyone with an internet connection. 

If this were a service for the trade only, I could upload a model, they would print it out and mail me the finished prototype. Now that's it's been opened to the general public, you can do the same thing. Don't know how to use modeling software? No problem, because Shapeways has a web application that does the modeling for you. Although it's still in a beta form, their service now has a generic prototype that you can customize to your specifications and then buy for yourself. For now, their offering is limited to something they're calling a Light Poem. But what's possible in the form of that Light Poem is mind-bending.

The Light Poem is a table lamp that looks like a candle holder. It is essentially made from text that you upload and lay out with the help of web application. Here's a video that shows how it's done.

Here's what the prototype looks like and in the background on the screen is its computer rendering.

Here's how the Light Poems look in life.

Stay tuned, I just joined this website and I am going to make a Light Poem of my very own.


  1. Could you please put me in touch with this schemer friend of yours? He sounds like a cool dude. I'd like to get with him and do some mass scheming. Thanks.

  2. He's a very busy man, but I'll see what I can do. In fact, he's been working on a video project; the results of which will very likely end up debuting here. Keep checking back.


  3. I want a set of candles made of haiku for Christmas!

    And one should include the second line of "I Want Cha Cha Heels"!


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