What Matter Labs means for the future of product customization

matterexampleToday, the tools to edit and share text, video, and audio are nearly free. Most are pretty simple to use. And enabling companies like Tumblr (text), YouTube (video), and SoundCloud (audio) have created billions of dollars in value over the past eight years.

But designing or modifying an object made of bits and atoms — like an iPhone case or a belt buckle — still requires that you learn how to use sophisticated and expensive CAD modeling software.

A Cambridge startup called Matter Labs doesn’t think that ought to be the case. Matter has created a browser-based tool that lets anyone modify or tweak an existing 3D object, and then have it produced on a 3D printer by a service provider like Shapeways. Matter lets you do things like add engraved text or images onto an existing object in its library, simply by uploading a two-dimensional image file from your computer that can be layered onto the 3D object. You can also add components to an existing 3D object, turning it into a magnet or a lapel pin, for instance, or adding the right connector node so that it can be clicked onto a Lego piece. (The example above shows Matter-designed heads clicked onto standard Legos.) And other users can take what you’ve made and use that as a jumping off point.

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