I sat down with Ann Marie Shillito, founder of Anarkik3D to talk 3D printing, design, haptics, and fundraising. Her company is doing exciting work and offers an innovative haptic 3D design solution for artists, designers, and creatives. Anarkiki3D’s is currently involved in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to fine tune the software and further develop the offering.
What is your background and how did you get into the 3D design and printing space?
I am a designer, maker and jeweler. My designs are very contemporary in nature and I work in non-precious metals and materials, such as titanium. I design for limited production and carried out six months research into laser cutting titanium as part of this more sustainable business model. I discovered I had to learn CAD as digital data was required for the process. This was in 1990 and I tried out a number of different CAD packages but had to settle for an industry standard compatible with processing for laser cutting.
During this time period I attended a master class in London at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths where I am a Freeman (by redemption!).
The presentation was by goldsmith Stuart Devlin and mainly about his use of 3D CAD. At the very end he had images of a ring that had been 3D printed in wax. He then presented a scenario of going into a high street jewelers, and using a computer application to select different units, elements such as stones, as well as the fittings and findings to construct a bespoke jewel. This is then 3D printed in wax and cast in silver or gold, and the piece is finished with the stones set. The customer returns the next day to collect their bespoke jewel. This process is used now, and will become more widespread especially with direct 3D printing in gold, bypassing the casting bit. Just last year I designed my daughter’s wedding and engagement rings. The diamond was set and attached to a hand-wrought gold ring in such a way that the metal of the 3D printed titanium wedding ring flows around the stone.
In laymen’s terms, what does Anarkik3D do?
Anarkik3D develops software applications using virtual 3D touch, with a haptic device taking the place of the standard mouse to provide more natural and familiar 3D interactions.
Haptics is a tactile feedback technology that provides a real sense of physical interaction with the virtual objects being created. Touch is fundamental for understanding our 3D world. Many of us find it difficult to cognitively adapt to working digitally and virtually in 3 dimensions without touch to signify what and where. The sensation of virtual 3D touch is very difficult to get across as it is impossible to describe and hard to imagine. Best is to try it, 2nd best is to watch a video!
In 2008 the company developed its own brand software product, a 3D sketch/modeling package Cloud9, which is targeted at creatives – the designer makers, applied artists and studio artists in particular, who want a more intuitive and easier-to-use system than the engineering-led CAD packages normally used for 3D modeling. For designers Cloud9 is great for ‘quick and dirty’, ‘fail fast’ concept generation, creation and prototyping.
Cloud9 is bundled with the low cost, off-the-shelf Falcon haptic device from Novint Technologies Inc. to provide a tool to easily and quickly get into learning, using and being creative from the word go. Despite its ease of use, Cloud9 and Falcon are both thoughtfully developed for professional use. Designs created in Cloud9 can then be turned into physical objects using 3D printing.
How has Anarkik3D’s Cloud9 evolved as an offering?
In 2007 Novint contracted Anarkik3D to build an entry-level freebie sketch/modeling app., ‘Cre8’ to complement their growing portfolio of hapticated games that use their Falcon device. We came to an arrangement whereby we could continue to build on the platforms established for Cre8 to develop greater functionality. Being able to export models in .stl format (supported by 3D printers) was one of the first to be added!
What have the biggest challenges been?
Two come immediately to mind! One is effectively communicating the concept of virtual 3D touch software, and the other is actually financing the software development. We have not been successful in raising any investment so Cloud9 has been boot-strapped with internal investment from the two founders (I am one and the other was the senior programmer who also worked with me in the Proof Of Concept stage), small Scottish Enterprise grants, a SMART Award to prototype the architectural frame, family loans, and the small crowdfunding initiative we set up in 2008. The crowdfunding project was called AnarkikAngels and had a dual purpose. Paying salaries of course, but also to establish a group of users, mainly within the creative arts and design sectors, who would use Cloud9 in a professional capacity and through their feedback inform its development.
Another big challenge is marketing a haptic application such as Cloud9. To grasp just how extraordinary virtual 3D touch is you have to try it. Demos, which are good in that they are one to one, are not an effective method to achieve the mass market. The difficulty in showcasing the software and interface makes is challenging to reach a mass market and keep the product at an inclusive affordable price. Videos are a low second best method for explaining the concept.
What sets Anarkik3D apart from other offerings on the market?
It is the inclusion of the sense of touch through force feedback and of movement in 3 dimensions that mainly sets Anarkik3D’s product apart from most of the other offerings on the market. There is FreeForm and Claytools from Sensable which use their OMNI haptic device which has 6 degrees of freedom (DoF), ie. X, Y and Z plus rotation in 3 axes. The Falcon has 3DoF (no rotation) and we get over this through clever programming and the resulting interactions do have advantages for modeling and navigating the 3D user space. The main differentiation between Sensable’s products and Cloud9 is the price entry point. Our focus is on accessibility which means a good balance between quality of interaction and affordability, plus a very robust device. Maintaining a non-complex interface means that with Cloud9 you can be creating from the word go as it is easy to learn, use and retain. Cloud9 is designed for those artists and designers who work at things other than a computer! We have deliberately focused on non-CAD people who want a digital design tool and access to 3D printing for the advantages technology can bring to their practice.
What do you see as the most exciting aspects of Anarkik3D, and the industry in general?
Personally, I am excited by the convergence of affordable 3D printing and Cloud9 at a level of development where the solution has been thoroughly tested for usability by persons for 5 to 80, and from amateurs to professional artists and designer makers. Making the tools accessible to as wide a customer base as possible opens up the technologies to people with abundant talent and multiple skills capable of creating the most wonderful objects for all of us to enjoy. I am writing a book on this subject and I am overwhelmed by the speed that technologies such as laser cutting and 3D printing are being taken up by designer makers and studio artists and by the gobsmackingly beautiful things being designed and made. I would like Cloud9 to become a well loved and used tool in the creatives’ tool box – just as my jewelers’ piercing saw has been for me since student days.
For the 3D printing industry more generally the growing options for materials (titanium and chocolate are and will be my all time favorites) and lowering of printing costs will have a huge impact on designers’ pipelines, with more ‘quick and dirty’ concept modeling at the earliest stages (back of envelope stage). Designers will increasingly be able to use DIY/desktop/home 3D printers and software such as Cloud9, Sketchup, etc. to rough out ideas and print many variations and iterations to market test.
My greater interest is in how designer makers will use whichever type or material best fits the objects in mind, as well as customize, iterate and add high value to lowly materials through design, construction using other components, and beautiful hand finishing.
How do you see products like Anarkik3D playing a role in the education market?
One interesting area in which Cloud9 can and is already playing an important role is enabling artists and craftspeople to achieve a better balance between the advantages that technologies offer and the satisfaction that hand working gives. CAD requires an inordinate amount of time learning the program to become competent enough to be able to start being creative. This is the opposite of the qualities of a pencil – as a supreme example of elegant simplicity. Anyone can pick it up and make marks without any training. Ok, the initial results will be rough and unformed but usable and serviceable. Practice will yield huge improvements quickly leading to mastery. As a lecturer in jewelry and metalwork at degree level I see students, in the applied arts particularly, who have to choose one or the other as time-wise at college it is not possible to reach a professional level in both their craft and in digital design competency. The situation is even more difficult out of college and away from the technical support. With products such as Rhino and Cloud9 it is possible to get a good balance.
Cloud9 is also ideal in schools as the Falcon is pretty tough and kids can get into designing and constructing straight away with very little tutoring as the methods of interaction and the functions are straight forward and familiar. There is little adaption needed. Cloud9 is ideal for introducing digital creativity to kids in the arts and crafts as it does not have an engineering bias and is great for creating more organic forms. These can then be used as an introduction to designing for technology such as 3D printing.
Besides all of this, virtual touch has WOW factor making it very cool and appealing to most kids.
Where do you see Anarkik3D in five years? The industry in general?
I am loath to make predictions as far into the future as five years because the whole 3D industry is changing and morphing so rapidly, who knows what we will be developing and what will be possible. To be specific, who would have predicted five years ago the state of consumer 3D printing as the reality it is now. And 3D printing titanium as a commercially viable venture for an individual designer to use would have seemed to be very fanciful. Yet last year I did just that. And now 3D printing gold is here.
What keeps you up at night?
All the concerns that any small business owner and manager has, such as cash flow, holding onto employees, etc. As a micro-business a major concern is about being left on the sidelines, or pushed there by not just competitors but by being too small to have research and development continue at a high enough level to retain our cutting edge and on the other side never having enough resources to do sufficient marketing.
Our current IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign is what is keeping me up at night. We see it as an amazing opportunity and way of introducing our product to a global market and for building the community of users to continue informing the development of Cloud9. We have a finite number of days to raise $120K, which is quite a modest sum for software development. I stay up late keeping on top of the tight schedule we have to raise awareness through different means to make the connections we need to attract contributions. If we succeed, IndieGoGo takes just 4% of what we raise. If we don’t succeed they take 9%. That is pressure enough to keep working into the night!
And thank you for this opportunity to tell Anarkik3D’s story and flag up our IndieGoGo campaign.
Special thanks to Ann Marie for taking the time to share her thoughts and experiences with me. Contribute to her crowdfunding campaign here. I look forward to seeing Anarkik3D grow and develop.