Somerville toy creators Peter Dilworth and Max Bogue struck Internet gold just two days after they posted a project on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to pay for their latest invention: a three-dimensional printer in the form of a hand-held pen.
Their gadget, known as the 3Doodler, attracted so many pledges — with many people offering the minimum of $75, or more, to eventually get their hands on one of the pens — that it quickly generated $2 million in funding. The project is on track to generate well over that amount on the site, which would easily make it one of the most successful campaigns in the short history of Kickstarter.
Dilworth and Bogue, who founded the toy and robotics company WobbleWorks LLC in 2010, set out last month to raise just $30,000 on Kickstarter, which provides an online platform for anyone to find willing donors for creative projects.
Creators often promise their backers something in return for the contributions, such as a sample of the product they are helping to develop.
In the case of WobbleWorks, it promised many donors their own 3Doodler. So far, it has about 22,000 eager customers.
“We never expected the rate at which it happened,” Bogue said. “That many orders, that quickly, is just astounding and amazing.”
But unlike the company’s other creations — a mechanical dinosaur and flapping bunny ears — the 3Doodler isn’t a toy. You can’t sell a pen with a hot metal tip for extruding plastic to young kids, said Bogue, a former project director for the Hong Kong toy maker WowWee Group Ltd.
So, what exactly is a 3-D pen?
The 3Doodler is about the size of a large marker and, like a 3-D printer that turns digital images into physical shapes, it spits out plastic that can be molded into forms. But unlike a 3-D printer, this device allows users to freely draw and make creations either in the air or on a flat surface.
“You can sculpt with it,” Bogue said.
But you don’t necessarily have to be an artist to use it. It can be used to fix most anything that’s made from plastic. And if you can use a pen, you can use the doodler, he said.
“It does feel like a giant permanent marker in your hand,” said Ecco Pierce, an artist who has a workshop at Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, the craft studio where WobbleWorks is also based. Pierce is one of the few people outside WobbleWorks who has experimented with a prototype of the pen.
She used it to create a tiny blue sculpture of an ostrich, which WobbleWorks uses to promote the possibilities of the 3Doodler. With the pen, she said, “the barrier between you and your idea is very thin.”
The success of the 3Doodler comes as 3-D printing is quickly gaining popularity and being embraced by many consumers and businesses.
The cost of 3-D printers has dropped — some of the less expensive models cost about $1,000 — and 3-D printing services are available to hobbyists online and in retail stores. The office supply giant Staples Inc. plans to offer 3-D printing services at some stores in Europe this year.
“There’s all this magic around 3-D printing that I really think is starting to get people’s attention,” said Janos Stone, a visiting art professor at Northeastern University who is leading a 3-D printing project.
Stone is also the founder of Mecube, which this week will launch an iPhone app for users to design and print their 3-D creations.
The app will enable users to design art objects and print them for a small fee at Shapeways Inc., a 3-D printing service and online marketplace for 3-D printed goods.
“I really think it’s your 3-D design-to-print tool,” he said.
The 3Doodler is also meant to further the spread of 3-D printing. The company is working with a factory in China and plans to ship pens to some of its earliest supporters in September.
While its eventual revenues on Kickstarter could top $3 million, according to calculations from Kicktraq LLC, a company that tracks Kickstarter projects, WobbleWork’s Bogue said it’s unlikely that they will be getting rich off their success on the site.
“This stuff costs money,” he said. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that.”
Michael B. Farrell
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