Remember Spark? The Autodesk software and fund born to seamlessly integrate 3D printing into AM processes and CAD software? While the overall structure has now been absorbed into other projects like Netfabb and Fusion 360, the experience and vision live on in many other ways. One is Bots101, an online platform, now open for beta access, created by former Autodesk Spark exects and developers. I caught up with Eyal Nir, co-founder of BOTS101, who showed me exactly how far bots and artificial intelligence could go in helping more people create 3D content for AR, VR and – of course – 3D printing.
Bots enjoyed quite a bit of notoriety – even beyond the developers’ community – as they began to be integrated into chat software like Messenger and Telegram. A bot is basically an internet-based software robot which can be tasked to perform certain tasks. Combined with AI capabilities, bots can learn from those tasks and become better at what they do. More so than other programs, Bots are able to use AI to understand commands which are more similar to human language and speech.
Nir developed BOTS101 as a 2D graphics editor. The software was able to import multiple images, combine them and add text or perform a wide range of other automated tasks. As the team decided to integrate 3D modeling capabilities a huge new range of possibilities emerged, as did the challenges. The software would enable designers to automate repetitive tasks, and engineers to eliminate the need to use complex CAD systems for a wide range of basic design applications. AR and VR developers could use it to rapidly create thousands of models for their programs. In the future – as 3D printing technologies become more accessible, even the larger consumer public could use it to create anything from decorations to actual furniture. It seems quite clear to me that one day – probably still somewhat far in the future – a lot of 3D modeling will be bot-based.
The challenges still remain with the biggest one knowing what to create and exactly communicating to the bot what one has in mind. That is if one wants to create their own bot and product from scratch. However, BOTS101 also works as a community and 3D modeling bot marketplace, meaning that many of the basic Bot models are already available and would only need to be further customized. Nir showed me that doing this is actually quite easy. “You can think of it as a much more accessible OpenSCAD – he said. We could integrate it in databases like Thingiverse or offer it to companies as a tool to make their 3D models more customizable for specific applications. For example, we worked with a company that needed to 3D print hundred of different custom name tags. It would have taken them hundreds of hours but with our system, they can do it in minutes at a cost of just 10 cents per model.” Downloading the STL only takes one click, as it would sending it through to major online service bureaus like Shapeways, Sculpteo or 3D Hubs.
The BOTS101 business model remains a big question. The team has been building the infrastructure and is now ready to go to market. They have turned down previous investments as they first wanted to be able to provide a complete product. While further evolution possibilities are infinite, BOTS101 can already provide a number of practical solutions to 3D model creation. Beta access is free and includes the creation of 10 free models. Eyal said that a $100 yearly plan could help finance the costs of online processing power. Like many ventures in 3D printing the long-term potential is enormous however in the short term, it seems that AR and VR might benefit more directly with Google and Amazon looking for 3D models to populate their latest 3D apps.