Libraries have a fundamentally important role in modern societies. In fact, historically libraries - as well as schools - have been the early market for disruptions. Think of Augmented Reality (AR) or 3D-printing today or personal computers (PCs) in the 1980s.
With AR, VR and 3D printing, our digital world is becoming more 3-dimensional. There’s no doubt that educational institutions need to be on top of this change among others: technology skills are going to be even more relevant in the future.
It's been a long time since I've been stateside, but I flew home for a good reason just last week. 3DBear is working with numerous school districts in New York. This week we did the first two of a series of school districts in New York. I'm here to talk to you about how it went.
You should know right off that this is a long story, but I hope you'll find it interesting. There is enough of it, that I figured by breaking it up I could make a reasonable blog, talking about resources, DIY, dreams, and engineering. So I'll start this off by talking about how my buddy and I started working on the 3DBear recycler.
I'm Paul, and I became a student of engineering, because I was tired of watching poorly made and badly designed things break down, and become trash. It broke my heart to know so little about materials like the plastics that are accumulating in our oceans, and what to do about them. So I went back to school. The Arcada University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, Finland has a program in material science, an engineering degree, so I spent the summer brushing up on my math, and tested in. I met Janne my first day at the school and we got along right away, talking about mechanics, and 3D printing, and possibilities.
Once I got started there I learned loads of reasons that things are worse than we thought they were, and loads of reasons that we can't do anything about it; but I wanted more, I wanted to know about the things that haven't been done yet, and the basics that could be used to develop new methods. So I applied for funding for a research trip, I wanted to better understand waste accumulation. So I went to Bali and convinced local villagers to participate in an ecological project where waste was collected and I did my best to see how quickly it was accumulating and what was being done about it.
A pic of me sorting plastic waste during the Bali Ecological project
The project was a success. I got good data, and I learned a lot of practical skills in the process. Additionally I got the attention of a startup called 3DBear, they wanted to meet me to discuss an opportunity with them. Kristo Lehtonen, one of the founders, strode into the coffee shop where I had agreed to meet him. He is a striking sort of guy, his smile lights the place up and he seems to have an unlimited optimism, traits that are more common in my homeland of California than here in Finland.
I noticed immediately that nothing was small or commonplace with him. Instead it was overarching vision and seizing this very moment. Usually I find that sort of thing a little cheesy, but when Kristo tells you about it, you can almost see it. So he told me 3DBear was all about changing the world starting with education, and I am all about that, but he went on.
He wanted me to build a machine. An ecological device that would transform waste plastic into 3D printing filament. 3DBear was scouting both Janne and I to make something new and interesting. I was processing his plan just fine until he said something that threw me off. He said once Janne and I finish building the machine, the entire project goes open-source.
Now that guy who was tired of watching poorly made and badly designed things break down, me; well that guy knew for sure that companies don't invest in open-source. I also knew that startups, and 3DBear was a startup that was two or three months old, startups don't make investments in projects like this. But Kristo was adamant, he and his cofounders were set on doing more than just "changing the world", they wanted to do it responsibly.
So I hope you can understand that I had no choice in the matter. I was working with people who honestly wanted to do the right thing, and had assembled a team with the right skills and passion to meet those goals. I was making accessible technology that changes the way we look at waste. And I was working with one of my best friends. I could not be more grateful of the opportunity, and I have zero regret.
It has been a year, and the project is online, so come and check it out.
I'll be blogging here, to talk about next steps, to talk about how the recycler can be used, to relate behind the scenes stories, and hopefully, to inspire you and those you know to redefine words like trash, waste, and possible.
Imagine a more flattering pic of Janne and I, can't do it can you?
What would you like to know about the project?
Write to me at Paul (at) 3dbear.fi with suggestions, questions, etc.
And don't forget to check out the recycler page and our open source files!
Some time ago I was speaking at StartUp school fire side chat event for startup CEOs here in the capital region of Finland and their opening question was: ”Why did you become an entrepreneur? What was your vision when you started your business?”
That is a brilliant question. The answer is quite simple.
I wanted to become an entrepreneur, together with the incredible team at 3DBear, so that in the future children of the world can design and make their own toys.
I have been buying toys for my own children and as gifts for other children for years. Whether you are a parent or not, we have all been children once. Think of the toys from your childhood that you recall to this day. The ones you recall are most likely not the rather expensive plastic toys that someone bought to you. For most people – I have noticed – that is not the answer. Those are rather easy to forget.
Did you ever make that little toy ship out of bark as a child? Or the wooden horse? Chances are that you still have it somewhere on the shelf of your parents’ home or the like.
Chances are that such a simple toy you made yourself is much dearer to you than the multitude of expensive plastic toys that you got for your birthday. Most of them were a temporary pleasure, soon forgotten at the back of the drawer. The toys you invented or participated in making with your own hands, those are the once you remember and cherish to this day. At least that is the typical answer.
What we would really want to achieve at 3DBear is that one day toys are designed and 3D-printed, not just consumed. In addition, all of us should be able to recycle used toys, too. 3DBear is working hard to that end. We are going to publish an open source plastic recycler soon. This recycler will transform used 3D-prints into new raw material (filament) for 3D printers.
Make no mistake about it, 3D printers, creative children and recycling of plastic will mean a huge disruption for toy industry.
What is holding back this vision? Well first and foremost the forces of the established order.
Think about it this way: we have multibillion companies out there making their money from selling toys (and other such objects) made out of plastic. And the plastic is made out of oil, even when renewal sources for plastic would be available. It turns out that these establishment toys are made out of the same type of plastic that can be 3D printed with the most popular 3D printers.
These establishment companies will not even consider those options as they are selling the toys at huge margin and dislike anything that would reduce their margins. In addition, the financial incentive of these gigantic companies is to sell huge volumes of these injection molded plastic objects. If you or your children were able to create your own toys, that would mean you would not need their designs. And they certainly do not want you to recycle your toys, as that would prevent them from selling you more.
And let me be clear, I do not mean 3D-printing something that violates someone else's IPR rights. I mean sparking the curiosity and creativity of our children, so that they can create themselves whatever they want, 3D-print it and when done playing with it, recycle the plastic.
As Sir Ken Robinson has noted, human life is inherently creative and curios. It is the common currency of being a human being.
Today's toys are too polished, too pre-assembled, too clinical. As a result, our children are passive consumers. These toys do not spark curiosity or creativity.
The established order cannot stand.
Our children should be able to live in a creative and sustainable society, not just at the receiving end of a passive, wasteful and expensive consumer model.
This would pave the way for a transformation: away from consumption of disposable objects towards enjoyment of experiences.
In essence this is the next step of digitalization: the digitalization of objects. That is, you can create (= model in 3D), print and enjoy your toys when you want.
The creative process itself is as important as the result. And when you are done with using the object, you should be able to recycle it.
This vision starts with us equipping our children with the 21st century skills for 3D thinking.
That is why I wanted to become an entrepreneur.
Author is CEO of 3DBear
3DBear is operating at the cross section of 3D-printing, pedagogy and gamification. Sometimes I have been asked that which of the three is foremost.
The answer is pedagogy. Period.
Why is that? Well, because we create value for teachers. The fundamental need we are fulfilling is teaching the skills of the future. Our nice is 3D printing. We make it so easy that any teacher or student can 3D-print. We make it into child's play.
It all starts with teachers. Yes, we want to have brilliant and engaging games, too. Yes, 3D printing is our "thing", but not at any cost. Only if it adds value.
It all starts with teachers.
This week we had a great session with Pekka Peura,
a forerunner teacher in new teaching methods in Finland
such as individualized learning (yksilöllinen oppiminen).
We are constantly learning from all the schools we are in. We release weekly. We aim to maximize the speed of learning. Check e.g. our Twitter feed to see more action at the place where the magic happens: at the schools.
Finnish teachers are the best in the world and they have some great ideas. And students too.
Kristo Lehtonen, CEO, 3DBear.