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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Modibot, love child of Stikfas and Xevoz

If you've never heard of Stikfas, bad news, you're a bit late to the party. Stikfas were a super cool set of modular posable robot toys that sold for about $20 a set. But like all semi-great toys they had their run and now they're gone.

Reminds me of Scud
Only they're not all gone. Toy designer Wayne Losey is selling his own toys based on the idea. Only this time instead of traditional manufacture he's selling them through shapeways print-on-demand. They're called Modibot and they sell for about $20 a set. They don't come with fancy packaging or come on a store shelf, but they also don't come in batches of a thousand requiring significant investments with high risk. He can keep Modibots "active" for as long as there's the slightest demand because there's no "stock" except for a few electrons on a hard drive.

As much as I want to be in total support of this project, I have to temper my excitement with a bit of harsh reality. The reason, I feel, that Stikfas died is because, cool as they were, $20 is a lot to pay for a generic looking plastic toy. Take away the corporate sponsorship and fancy packaging but make the toy print-on-demand and $20 is still a lot to pay. In fact this new toy only manages that price point because it's full of holes. Literally. From a consumer perspective you're paying the same and getting less in many ways. Shapeways still needs their bank of cool but expensive reliable high-resolution 3D printers and someone is going to have to pay for it. So even little toy made of thin plastic walls or a novelty ring becomes a big expense.

The plus side of this new toy, however, is that more profits go to the creator, so there is that. Marx can be happy.

I myself experimented with putting the chessbot on Shapeways only to be told I'd need to charge $60 per side. Per side. That's not even a whole set. If I redesigned it so the pieces were hollow I might be able to bring that cost down, but it would still be way more than I'm charging. Then again, one little snafu and I'm out of production for a while. And snafus are not uncommon with cheap printers. This is why I don't offer sales on things that I haven't already printed. This is why no one has bought 20 Makerbots or Mojos and made a cheaper low-resolution Shapeways knockoff.

There's hope for the future. The tech is becoming more accessible and more reliable. Remember we're still on the cutting edge here.

Modibots aren't available for download on your personal 3D printer, Scratch that, you can buy them on 3DBurrito. And there's always Beco Blocks.

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