You know it's hard out there for an artist. Fabricators know what we're talking about. So does Toolbotics, the Brisbane-based company, so it's seeking just under $50,000 on Kickstarter to bring its new creative desktop maker to market: Tooli. It's modular desktop tool that can plot a design, airbrush a T-shirt, laser engrave or cut tough material, or dispense the medium of your choice.
Traditional fabricators range in size from something as small as your coffee table to giant monstrosities bigger than a family kitchen. Tooli goes in a direction other multi-application fabricators haven't quite found their way to -- it went desktop size. So no, you don't need an empty room in your apartment to use it.
Tooli is a frame with a smart robot arm that you can order around; think Tony Stark's DUM-E, but mounted in place. It has basic touch screen controls, but to get the most out of it you link it to a computer running Art2Gcode, Tooli's program, where you can, well, turn art into code that the printer head (like a robotic arm's finger) can understand. Artists (or manufacturers, or DIYers) can import artwork in SVG format, and Art2Gcode automatically assigns the values and sets up the work. Hook it up to Tooli's touchscreen via USB and you're good go. The touchscreen itself lets users override some functions, set defined park positions, move the tool with just a tap, and see relevant job info.
The technology offers four tools that can be changed as you need: a plotter, a laser, an airbrush and a dispenser with multiple needles. The plotter will hold the usual -- pens, pencils, markers -- to sketch or draw your design, or attach the included knife for stencils or decals. Set it to stamp, and it'll return the arm to an ink pad when its starts to run dry.
Artists that want to speed up their engravings need a laser. The 2.5 watt laser that fits Tooli can cut though thin wood and most fabrics, or turn down the power output and just engrave an image. Tooli monitors the temp and shuts off automatically if the diode gets too hot.
The airbrush uses a stepper motor to control paint flow, and keeps multi-color jobs affordable by simply pausing when it's time to swap colors. The dispenser can pump out pretty much any liquid with precision. Paint is the first obvious thing, but how about cake icing? How about chocolate? The dispenser also handles the pick and place feature (logical to use that after you've dispensed glue). For both the airbrush and the dispenser you need a regulated compressed air supply. One can cost anywhere from $120 to $400 and isn't included with Tooli. Worse, the entry reward tier doesn't include an airbrush or dispenser; those only come with the full kit.
Check out the video to get a better idea of Tooli's range. If that's really the founder Troy Cundy's voice, he should do voice-overs in his spare time.
The frame is aluminum and easy to scale up if you need a larger size. It uses the Core-XY drive system to maneuver the arm. It's light, and easier to assemble than some other systems -- an important note considering there will be some assembly required. Most the hard stuff is done already, but Toolbotics' video says putting Tooli together can take up to two hours.
Backers can pick which arm or arms they really need. A Tooli in any size with the laser only costs $1,070, but if you want all four tools, tack on another $400. Tack on another $25 -- $90 for shipping within Australia, or $150 -$200 for international shipping of the average 26lbs Tooli.
The Tooli team has already been at this for a year -- they've had a prototype for 10 months. The $50,000 will be used to order components, design and fund packaging, refine assembly, and give the product final tests. If the campaign ends successfully, the units are set to ship in March 2016.
The video makes it seem like Tooli is the kind of thing the any DIYer would grab, but this writer seriously doubts it; the price is a little too prohibitive for the average person with no grand plans to buy. For now, Toolie is likely attractive to die-hard crafters, artists, and artisans that intend to sell their wares. But hey, the rest of us can dream.
Toolbotics preaches the benefits of open source tech, and sites the 3D printer as a prime example. Its Kickstarter page says "as things are signed off, we will be releasing everything about Tooli to the open source community." Let's hope Toolbotics is right, and the new ease of fabrication fuels a continued boom in creativity worldwide, along with a decrease in price for tech like this.