Anyone who thinks 3D printing is only good for teaching the sciences should meet 12-year-old Coco Kaleel.
The young lady from Northern Los Angeles got a number of life lessons when her dad set down a Deezmaker 3D printer kit in front of her last summer and said, "OK, put it together."
One of the most important things she learned was how to ask for help.
"That doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but it's more difficult than you might think," Coco said.
For instance, after putting the kit together, she had a couple of strips of mysterious blue tape left over.
They were the infamous "extra parts" included in all DIY kits.
"I said, 'Hm, these seem intentional,' but I had no idea what they were for," Coco said.
They were indeed "intentional." After going down to the Deezmaker store, Coco discovered the tape was supposed to go on the y-axis bar to help the extruder slide along it.
"It was kind of difficult as a parent because I couldn't offer any help," her father, Mosa Kaleel, who is a screenwriter with his wife, said. Though he got a pleasant surprise himself out of the project, watching Coco make connections with people in the 3D printer community who seemed to open up to her and welcome her in immediately.
She also learned about handling practical, unexpected problems as well as perseverance. After two days of hard work putting the printer together, the first thing she printed was warped.
"I originally designed it to be a cube, but (the corners) are not exactly 90 degree angles, are they?" Coco said.
She combed the Bukobot forum, but the only thing she really got out of that was that she wasn't the only one with the same problem. In the end, it was a simple fix. It turned out that the extruder wasn't attached tight enough, causing it to shift during the printing process.
Coco had a poster presentation on these and other lessons she has learned at the 3D Printer World Expo, but none of this was her first exposure to additive manufacturing or technology in general. She has been reading about this stuff in magazines like Popular Mechanics, Science and Make Magazine – oh yeah, and she makes robots. In fact, she even has her own Web site to go along with her business cards.
"I think what I like about robots and soldering is, it's a puzzle, but it comes to life, which, I realize, is a cliché, but…" she said.
A couple of years ago she even participated in a class through the LA Public Library to teach teenagers how to solder. But, if you're thinking she was very advanced to be taking a class for teenagers when she was 10, think again – she was the teacher.
This all comes naturally to Coco, who has always had an interest in technology and the spatial relationship of things.
"The joke around our house has always been that when we hand her the TV remote, we say, 'Please don't take apart our remote,'" Mosa said.
It was no accident Mosa got Coco a kit. "Part of the idea of getting her a kit, as opposed to just getting her a 3D printer, was that she could put it together and if something is broken, she could fix it," he said.
Coco is still a kid, though. She plays sports, although her sport of choice is fencing. And, like many kids, she has to practice playing music, except it's on the guitar, piano and drums.
There is a joy and purity to her world view that comes through when speaking to her. Behind it all seems to be that universal belief that all children share, that anything could happen.
"I want to be an engineer, but I'm not sure exactly what kind," she said.
That makes sense, considering she's fascinated by gears. In fact, some of her favorite 3D prints include a set of nautilus shaped gears and a bracelet made almost entirely of moving gears. She's interested in "transferring momentum, though I don't think that's the right phrase."
If there's anyone who could take over the world one day, it might be Coco.
She pursed her lips when the idea was posed to her and shot a sideways glance into an empty corner of the room while pondering the notion. "That would certainly be fun," she said.