And finally, the 3D fax machine—but why would you want one?

Fax machines are about to be cool again.
Fax machines are about to be cool again.
Image: AIO Robotics
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The first all-in-one desktop 3D printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine is (supposedly, almost) upon us, hitting Kickstarter on September 4th. AIO Robotics hasn’t released anything more than a digital rendering, but from the company’s post on RepRap.org, a 3D printing enthusiasts’ site, here’s what we know about the proposed product:

1. It’s going to be cheap, or at least cheaper. “We have not finalized the pricing yet,” an AIO Robotics representative wrote on the forum, “but it will be significantly cheaper than the Makerbot Replicator + Digitizer,” a combo that would give you the same scanning and printing capabilities. For reference, the Makerbot Replicator (the 3D printer) costs $2799 and the Digitizer hasn’t been priced yet, though $500 is touted as a likely price tag.

2. It has an on-board computer that can handle 3D scanning data, so it doesn’t need to connect to a desktop PC.

3. All the scan data will be uploaded to the cloud, where they’ll be reassembled into a 3D rendering. When a RepRap user asked if local processing wasn’t better, someone from AIO wrote that using the cloud would make the device itself cheaper. But for anyone worried about privacy or a dodgy internet connection, AIO will offer a more expensive version that does the processing itself.

4. It will have a fax button, presumably so you can scan an object and send the scan directly to a friend’s 3D printer to print out automatically. This is already possible in principle if you have a 3D scanner and your friend has a 3D printer—but making it a built-in, instant feature of a single desktop device seems to have some people excited.

Still, would anyone want a 3D fax? Two obvious objections present themselves. First, you probably don’t want people randomly faxing you objects and using up your precious supply of printing filament. And second, if you want to see an object someone has 3D-scanned, she can just email you the scan, which would be cheaper, easier and better quality than a 3D printout. Remember, the only reason people had fax machines was they didn’t have scanners and computers yet.

So it may be that the chief use of AIO’s fax function is to answer the all-important question: How many times can you 3D-fax something back and forth before it turns into a shapeless blob?