Growing 3D print conglomerate 3DPrintler is working on a strange chatbot interface to their 3D print service pricing comparison engine.
There’s a few of these meta-services available, where you upload a 3D model and the meta-service seeks instant quotes from several participating 3D print services. You’re then able to quickly compare pricing between them and choose the best option.
3DPrintler has such a service. They say:
Compare 3D-printing prices for 254 materials across today's biggest 3D-printing services and order instantly!
Currently their meta-service compares pricing from Shapeways, MakeXYZ, Sculpteo and Materialise, all of which offer an API through which 3DPrintler accesses their pricing engines. As more 3D print services participate, they’ll provide even more pricing options.
Normally you’d simply hit their website and do the usual things, but 3DPrintler is exploring a new way to interface with their comparison engine: Chatbots!
Chatbots are text-based agents that respond to messages, and are often used for fun, education and criminal activity. It’s just another tool through which to perform transactions, and that’s what 3DPrintler is doing here.
The company has (or soon will) develop chatbot tech for various messaging environments, currently including:
- Facebook messenger
- SMS, the original text messaging service
How does it work? Well, I have to say that they’re still developing the technology, so the text interface is a bit simple at this point. Here you can see a hearty welcome from 3DPrintler’s chat bot in Slack.
When you upload a 3D STL file, the chatbot gets busy and prepares instant quotes for you from a variety of participating 3D print services, as shown here:
All you need to do at this point is hit one of the links to “choose” that option, and they’ll engage the vendor to produce the 3D object. I presume that 3DPrintler gets a small cut of the revenue from this transaction, and that’s what funds the comparison engine.
At this point the service is pretty basic, but there’s lots of potential here. If you can upload a 3D model, theoretically 3DPrintler could do other things for you besides just printing it, like repairing the 3D model, resizing, applying colors, etc. The sky is the limit. They explain some of their ideas:
- Repair CAD files and make them 3D-printable
- Store files in the cloud
- B2C and B2B versions
- Voice command integration
- IBM’s Watson integration
It’s a very interesting idea, one that I think could go one of two ways: for those who don’t use such services, this is not going to work. For those that do, it’s another option that just might be convenient. However, everyone is very particular about how they like to use interfaces and time will tell if the chatbot idea catches on.