Beyond 3D printers and the coming of the home electronics factory
When I saw BotFactory's Squink in action at MakerCon in New York last month, it was one of those innovations that took a few minutes to sink in. It looks like a modified 3D printer, but it does much more. In essence, it is a home factory in a single package.
Unlike most 3D printers, Squink has a detachable head that can be swapped out to allow it to move around its workspace to perform different functions. When I first approached the machine, it was in the process of building a circuit board independent of any human assistance in between steps (besides physically switching out the detachable heads). The machine head was picking up components, then hovering the part over a small camera that identified it and then gave the order for it to be placed on a piece of paper where the Squink had already printed conductive ink and laid down conductive glue to ready it for components.
If a 3D printer puts the power of a CNC mill and a few other machines into the hands of even amateur makers, then Squink could essentially put the power of an entire factory into one small corner of a home office. Forget soldering, cutting, etching or simply waiting forever to get your prototype back from an actual factory. BotFactory, which is a startup that grew out of the relationship between a few NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering graduates and their professor, sees Squink as a way to take the lag out of the traditionally long and laborious process of prototyping electronics.
“We see ourselves as members of the Agile Electronics Development wave,” they said in a recent release leading up to MakerCon. “As such we walk uncharted routes, creating new horizons for this newborn concept. In the upcoming years we'll continue evolving our products to provide the best experience on the market for this kind of technology.”
Those new horizons are where my mind went right away as I watched the Squink place each component on the circuit it recently printed. The amount of people out there with ideas that are at least worthy of making it to a prototype, but who don't possess the fabrication skills or background to ever dream of making their notions a reality, is surely larger than just me.
"It allows very easy entry into the world of electronics," BotFactory Co-Founder Michael Knox confirmed in an interview.
The team claims that Squink is simple enough to operate that there's no reason even a child couldn't design and create a circuit with a little guidance. They imagine uses for their technology that might include integrating circuits into glass, wearables and even artwork, just for starters.
A crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter successfully raised US$100,000 to get Squink off the ground, and now the team is gearing up to begin selling the early units for somewhere around $3,500, which is what a few dozen backers pledged to be first in line for the fully-functional version of the system.
Check out the video below to see a quick demonstration of the alpha version of Squink in action.