Andean innovation

Massive 3D printer in northern Chile to empower rural citizens

Partly funded by Start-Up Chile, re:3D brings 3D printing to Chile’s northern residents for practical, religious, and educational purposes.

Monday, May 06, 2013  
The Gigabot, a massive 3D printer, shows its stuff in Houston. Photo by re:3D / Facebook. The Gigabot, a massive 3D printer, shows its stuff in Houston. Photo by re:3D / Facebook.

 

Roaming northern Chile equipped with a Gigabot, a massive 3D printer, former Social Entrepreneur in Residence in NASA’s Open Innovation Program Samantha Snabes and her partner Matthew Fiedler are mingling science with social change.
 
Their company re:3D, funded in part by Kickstarter and Start-Up Chile, seeks to democratize the cutting edge technology of 3D printing by making it available to northern Chileans in rural communities.
 
While servicing communities of scarcity and space-age technology may seem like disparate fields, Snabes explained how they actually have quite a bit in common.
 
“You need technologies that require few user inputs, that are lightweight, that are affordable, that require little electricity, Snabes told Digital Trends. “You have to deal with access to clean water and clean air as well as living in hostile environments.”
 
Currently Snabes and her team of what she calls “cowboy scientists” field requests for 3D prints from all over the region. Chileans have ordered an array of prints ranging from the practical and symbolic, to educational ones.
 
One village requested a print of a flamingo, which Snabes explained, “represents water, and has a big spiritual component to them.” In addition, educators in the region are considering printing copies of the Chinchorro mummies.
 
“Potentially, they could use a scanner to scan this mummy and then print some of the bones they can’t look at up close, and then make things for children to understand it,” Snabes explained.
 
Re:3D’s first Chilean purchaser of an actual Gigabot did so in order to engineer his own children’s toys for the holiday season. The 3D printer will enable him to fiddle with his own designs without having to request assistance from foreign manufacturers.
 
While 3D printing is just beginning to reveal its budding potential, Snabes’ partner Fiedler is optimistic about the technology’s ability to one day empower regular people.
 
“It would be exciting to see them in libraries, in community centers, in every school, so that even if not everyone has one, everyone will have access to one,” Fiedler told Digital Trends. ”If we can actually democratize manufacturing and bring it to the common person, we’re enabling people to have so much more power over their daily lives.”
 
Start-Up Chile, which helped to fund re:3D, is an innovative program funded by the Chilean government that seeks to spur a healthy entrepreneurial culture in Chile. The program grants startups that qualify after a rigorous selection process US$ 40,000 to begin their ventures on Chilean soil.