How many of today’s adults got their first “all by myself” cooking experiences with an EasyBake Oven? I know I did. (I had the first version, which came in a sort of turquoise blue. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been painting my kitchens turquoise ever since.) EasyBake cakes and cookies didn’t taste all that great, but they were definitely identifiable as cakes and cookies, and I did it all by myself. It was a huge confidence builder for later experiments in the kitchen.
XYZprinting thinks the same path is possible for generating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) abilities. Start kids off making things on a 3D printer that requires only minimal adult supervision, and they’ll build the confidence needed to move on to bigger tools and more complicated projects later on. This week, the company launched what it hopes is going to be the EasyBake Oven of STEAM: the da Vinci MiniMaker. The compact $250 3D printer can create objects as large as 15 centimeters in each dimension out of nontoxic filament.
That $250 sounds a bit pricey for something in the EasyBake Oven category, but consider that the original EasyBake Oven, which sold for $16 in 1963, would cost about $125 in today’s dollars. Or that XYZ is trying to pull shoppers away from $300-plus video-game systems. Or that it hopes a big market will be classroom teachers.
XYZ spokesman Ash Marin says that this gadget, the company’s cheapest model, calibrates itself. Software available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers lets users test different orientations for objects they plan to print, scale them, and virtually slice them up; it will then calculate a print time before starting. Other provided software offers simple CAD tools, along with drop-in letters and numbers. An online gallery offers 4,500 free downloadable projects; more complicated projects that involve ancillary components, like motors, will be sold as kits, priced about the same as a video game. (I’m crazy about the merry-go-round kit, shown above.)
The company, Marin said, is also getting ready to release a handheld 3D scanner, based on Intel’s RealSense technology, that is a key step in letting people make prints of…themselves. Try that with an EasyBake Oven.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.