Can open source 3D printing be more than a hobby?

elusive money and burnout cartoon 280x300Back in the 1960s, when Gene Roddenberry was developing his ideas for the Star Trek series, one of his thoughts was that we would live in a society without money. His vision was that we would be more focused on self-actualization, which would drive our decisions on occupation, education, and contribution to humanity rather than on the accumulation of money for either its own sake or for power, security, or as a tool to accomplish tasks we thought necessary.

3D printers have often been compared to Star Trek replicators. Well, this week’s CES show introduces the U.S. consumer to Roddenberry’s possible future with the Makerbot’s new Replicator 3D printer and 3D Systems’ Cube 3D printer.

Bre Pettis, CEO of Makerbot, is a proponent of open source principles where any design uploaded to Makerbot’s community website, Thingiverse, must be shared for free. He has often been quoted about his idea of a “sharing world,” where you won’t need to sell things using money as the exchange.

I wonder if humanity can ever reach this utopian ideal of sharing everything. After all, someone expends time and energy to create or grow something—tomatoes, housing, clothes, etc. And we all need to obtain some of those creations in some way. Money is simply the medium we use to acknowledge the effort of time and energy someone else used to create that item. In today’s world, if you don’t charge for efforts, they are viewed as a non-income producing hobby.  Can humanity really get to the point where we expend time and energy on useful things without some measure of compensation?

Meanwhile, if you work with 3D Systems’ Cube™ and develop an original CAD file that you want to post on the Cubify website, you get to keep 60% of the proceeds from sales. Here, money is used as an incentive to get you involved.

What do you think—can humanity move to Roddenberry’s and Pettis’ idea of a sharing world? Email your comments to me at


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