This National Geographic video about 3D printing exemplifies the worst kind of gee-whiz reporting. Just scan a crescent wrench, print it, and bingo, you’ve copied a real tool with moving parts!
A commenter notes differences between the copy and the original and concludes:
If the real wrench was simply scanned, this would not have happened. A human has built the design data.
3d printing is cool, why do they feel they have to lie about the input method?
The input method is, of course, 3D CAD. From the product brochure for the printer:
Z Corp.’s 3D printing technology leverages 3D source data, which often takes the form of computer-aided design (CAD) models.
Gee-whiz reporting insults our intelligence and trivializes its subject matter. It’s fun to imagine a magic replicator, but it’s more interesting to know about the human/computer interaction that makes real replication possible.
Once I wrote a review of a dozen 3D CAD programs for BYTE Magazine. The benchmark was a model that I commissioned an architect to design. We called it the BYTE Pantheon and it looked like this:
My job was to construct that model in each of the dozen CAD programs. It was hard! That was partly because I had no prior experience with CAD software. But it was also because each program had its own way of using 2D gestures to manipulate 3D objects. That was my main takeaway from the project. There wasn’t (and I think still isn’t) a standard suite of gestures. Even if there were, and even (I suspect) when you can use 3D gestures, it would still be hard because you are making a precise description of a complex object. Wikipedia calls CAD an “industrial art” for good reason. Models with the same functional qualities can differ in terms of style and sophistication. Those differences come into play when the model is shared and modified. Or so I imagine, anyway. I’m not a 3D modeler but I understand 3D modeling to be a process akin to programming.
A friend of mine, Gary Spykman, describes himself as a designer, furniture maker, and artisan. He has also become a 3D modeler, and uses SketchUp to explore his designs and render them for clients. A couple of years ago, Gary designed and built what he calls his cabana. Here it is as designed in SketchUp, and as built in Gary’s back yard.
When I saw what Gary was doing in SketchUp I was inspired to try using the program for some simple needs of my own — to visualize my geodesic tomato suspension dome, and more ambitiously to visualize a remodeling of our kitchen. And you know what? It was just as hard as I remembered! If you do this stuff for a living, as Gary does, then it becomes second nature. But if you only do it occasionally, like me, you’ll be impressed every time with the level of skill required to precisely describe an object or a scene.
Like the commenter on YouTube I have to ask: why lie about this? National Geographic’s gee-whiz reporting doesn’t just fail to inform. It also fails to celebrate the synergy between computational power and human skill that makes 3D modeling so fascinating.