Awesome Stuff: Electroplating At Home

from the metal-for-makers dept

As with last week's awesome stuff, we're trying out something slightly different. Instead of gathering three new crowdfunded products, we're focusing on just one and taking a slightly closer look at it. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

This week, we're looking at a potentially exciting new addition to the maker's toolkit: the Orbit1 tabletop electroplater.

The Good

The Orbit1 simplifies, streamlines and compacts the complex process of electroplating a wide variety of materials with various metal coatings, and could open up a whole new world of possibilities for all sorts of creators. 3D printers get so much focus in these discussions that it's easy to forget there are other pieces to the puzzle, and a tabletop electroplater fills in a big gap. There are many things you can't do with plastic, metal 3D printing is still expensive and not easily accessible, and electroplating typically means forking over cash to professionals with large machines — so the Orbit1 is enabling countless new avenues for prototyping, jewellerymaking, art and more. It even enables the creation of printed circuit boards with a standard 3D printer. That will make it a boon to future Kickstarter projects too: many creators go as far as they can doing home prototyping work with their 3D printers, and the Orbit1 pushes that limit considerably further for many projects.

The Bad

As with virtually all new devices these days, the Orbit1 is going to be unnecessarily shackled to its proprietary apps and cloud system. Thankfully, it appears they aren't going too far with this: the device can be controlled with the app via Bluetooth so it isn't online-only, and the "expert mode" (where all the various settings are under your control) is useable even without an account on the online service. But it sounds like many other features — including the ability to automatically determine settings and store various settings profiles — will be tied to the cloud. There's also no desktop app for controlling the Orbit1: it's limited to Android and iOS.

This approach to new devices is becoming a huge headache. Backing many things on Kickstarter now means not just betting that the creators will be able to produce the product successfully, but that they will also evolve into a sustainable company that keeps its servers running and properly manages your account. Using such devices means additional accounts and passwords (we all need more of those right?), putting your personal data on yet another distant server (best practice!), and having even more limited cloud storage (the Orbit1 comes with 5gb) scattered in fragments across the web. Mobile-only control means you're also relying on the apps to remain active and updated in proprietary app stores, with the potential for issues on that end of things to suddenly and randomly brick your new toy.

The Admirable, But Problematic

There is, however, some justification for the Orbit1's desire to tie users into an ongoing relationship: the creators appear to have a sincere commitment to environmental responsibility and safety (not to mention a genuine need to comply with various countries' regulations). Electroplating can be dangerous — the solutions used in some settings are highly poisonous, and all of them require proper disposal to avoid serious environmental damage. While the Orbit1 can work with any electroplating solution, and those with more knowledge of the process will surely make use of that, the creators are also focused on selling their own line of the safest possible solutions along with a free recycling service.

Here's the catch, though: the solutions are available to people with Orbit1 accounts, and those accounts can get cancelled if people fail to return their used solutions to be recycled. The details are slightly unclear, but it seems like this means a full account cancellation, which would also include all the additional cloud-tied features mentioned above. Now, while I understand and even approve of the desire to put real pressure on people to use the Orbit1 in a responsible way, I can't help but think this is going to screw some undeserving users.


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  1. identicon
    Jake, 25 Apr 2015 @ 12:37pm

    "There's also no desktop app for controlling the Orbit1: it's limited to Android and iOS."

    *sigh*

    Am I the only working-age adult in the Western Hemisphere who doesn't own a smartphone?

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