If there's been a single, unique area of consumer electronics that has done its fair share of exploding
over the past two or three years, it's 3D printing
. It's a field that was reserved for specialists just a handful of years ago, and now, start-ups far and wide are introducing newer, faster, and cheaper ways to print physical objects using remarkable plastic printers. Everything from forks to company logos to tools are now capable of being printed using a sub-$2000 machine, which was merely a pipe dream not long ago.
And now, the field is set to explode once more next year, as a number of key patents related to the industry expire. Duann Scott, design evangelist at 3D printing company Shapeways, suggests that patents surrounding "laser sintering" will expire in 2014. That process just so happens to be vital in the lowest-cost 3D printing world. And, once that's out of the way, many more hackers and start-ups will no longer be afraid to jump in feet first. Today, they're likely held back by a fear of getting sued, as we've seen throughout the tech community (Apple vs. Samsung, anyone?).
This could also spark the influx of dirt cheap, mass produced 3D printers from Asia. As with many consumer electronics, like the MP3 player of long ago, things tend to get wildly cheap once the Chinese manufacturing market grabs hold. That's likely to happen soon once these patents are out of the way. And once the printers are everywhere, it's just a matter of time before the masses come up with even cooler ways to use them. We're looking forward to the revolution, actually.