In the past few years, 3D printing has moved from the stuff of science fiction to the mainstream — showing up everywhere from space stations to hobbyists’ garages. But for someone making his or her first foray into the 3D printing world, the design and modeling process can seem pretty tricky and even intimidating.
Barbara Hanna, founder of the Berkeley-based Cyant, hopes to change all that.
Hanna developed Cyant’s first product to be a simple experience that starts with something everyone knows how to do: draw. The platform, which she is still developing, lets anyone draw whatever they choose on a tablet — a flower, a cursive word, an elephant with sunglasses— and a 3D printer then rapidly prints it out in filament, a special type of plastic used by 3D printers.
Hanna said it’s a much different experience from how most 3D printers are used today. Typically, experience with modeling software is needed to be able to design something and then see it printed. Drawing, on the other hand, serves as a relatable, gender-neutral entry point into the world of high-tech 3D printing, for kids and adults alike.
Hanna recently took the product, whose name has not been released yet, along with one of her 3D printers, to this year’s San Jose Mini Maker Faire, a showcase celebrating the growing DIY-ethos of the “maker movement.” Families walking by her booth collaborated on creating a large, attractive art piece with 3D-printed cherries that now adorns Hanna’s office. She also worked with attendees at the recent East Bay Mini Maker Faire to craft a Halloween-themed artwork.
Cyant was also one of three startup presenters at a recent NewCo gathering in Oakland on Oct. 8, a tech festival where attendees gather at diverse workplaces. During Cyant’s presentation, WeWork Community Manager Zoe Golz drew, and then 3D-printed, one of her favorite doodles using Cyant’s platform. Customized business cards with the 3D prints were then handed out to festival-goers.
Hanna also sees educational applications for the product because of its connections to STEAM learning. STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math, represents the idea that the arts shouldn’t be divorced from STEM subjects. She said encouraging creative thinking, fostered from the arts, is critical if today’s kids are going to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
“The more I thought about it, I thought, ‘Yes, this is important,’” she said, speaking about introducing young kids to 3D printing. “If we’re going to teach kids about 3D printing in school, let’s do it in a human way. Let’s try to engage them in things they do with their bodies, like drawing.”
Hanna said STEAM thinking comes naturally to her, which she attributes to growing up in a French school system that encouraged her to take electives in both STEM and non-STEM subjects. She later earned her Ph.D. in computer vision in the United Kingdom. At the time, computer vision was largely the domain to research and commercial applications were few and far between. Today, applications of computer vision are on every smartphone — panoramic photos, for example. Hanna sees some parallels in 3D printing and computer vision in that they both have the potential to impact our everyday lives in ways we haven’t necessarily anticipated yet.
“How I think 3D printing is becoming more interesting — and this goes for any technology, really — is how is it used on a practical basis?” Hanna says, speaking from her office at co-working space WeWork in downtown Berkeley. “How is it used in day-to-day life? It’s not like everyone wants to print a cup everyday.”
As someone who is part of shaping how that future will evolve, Hanna’s day-to-day activities run the gamut from technical to business development (which includes coding, product development, service and partnership development, and business modeling). She can code in several languages, regularly and organizes workshops. On a recent weekday Hanna was shooting a video for an upcoming crowdfunding campaign (visit Cyant’s website to find out more and get connected via newsletter or social media with the startup.)
Hanna has worked at WeWork Berkeley from its beginning — even checking out the space with a hard-hat when the seven-story building was being renovated prior to opening. She says that as an entrepreneur developing a new product, the co-working space provides the perfect place for her to think, problem-solve, and meet other like-minded technologists in a spot away from a coffee shop or her home.
“All creative people are actually highly structured, they have habits,” she said. “And same for people in tech. I like to come here, sit down, and get work done.”
Hanna and the WeWork Berkeley space (where Berkeleyside also has its office) are collaborating on a “Connecting with 3D printing” event series which was launched this month. The plan is to hold the event, which showcases the connections between 3D printing and art, and engages the community with the human side of the technology, monthly.
This story is written and sponsored by WeWork Berkeley, a community of professionals and entrepreneurs with beautifully designed office space at Shattuck and University. Interested in learning more about WeWork? Contact the Community Management team at email@example.com or 510-275-4235