Back in November, we hoped that it wouldn't be too long before 3D printing vending machines broke out of university and made their way into the public domain. That day is getting closer, with the arrival of the Dreambox. Currently being readied for its first installation ahead of a wider rollout, users will be able to choose an existing design from an online catalog or upload their own via an online interface, set the machine in motion and then receive a text message when the object is ready for pickup. Upon arrival at the vending machine, a unique unlock code is entered and the 3D-printed object retrieved from a drawer.

Dreambox founding members David Pastewka, Richard Berwick and Will Drevno all met at a mobile application development class at UC Berkeley in 2011. Finding it difficult to get quick delivery of 3D-printed creations from online vendors, they came up with the idea of creating a network of local, accessible, automated 3D-printing vending machines. After being accepted into a Berkeley-based Skydeck incubator/accelerator program in the autumn of 2012, the team has been working on its first prototype vending machine ever since – and is currently getting ready for release.

The system will have three simple stages. First, items to be 3D-printed can be chosen from a catalog of existing models or users can choose to upload their own designs (currently limited to STL/ASCII files of 5 MB or less) to Dreambox via the web.

Next, the print command is given and the order is sent to a cloud-based print queue before being directed to the vending machine. Once the item has been created, it's removed from the build surface and directed to a private locker, then an SMS message that includes an unlock code is sent to the user.

Lastly, keying in the code unlocks the appropriate locker and the 3D-printed object can be retrieved.

Custom or catalog objects can also be ordered at the machine itself via a touchscreen (tablet) interface. Any custom creation is then deleted after printing to prevent IP from being used without permission, but this may change to allow customers to store designs for later recall.

The first Dreambox is headed for the UC Berkeley campus at the end of this month. Maintenance will be undertaken by the Dreambox team.

"In a university setting, the average print will cost around US$15, but can be as little as $2," Berwick told us. "Pricing will vary based on the printer type and location. Payments will be required prior to picking up the print; however, we will likely take payments/orders both on the website and on the tablet mounted to the Dreambox itself."

Once the initial machine is up and running, the development team intends to build Dreamboxes to order, varying the number of internal 3D printers and lockers based on customer needs. A version that can be run on an intranet (installations that require IP protection) will also be offered.

While the current prototype makes use of a MakerBot Replicator 1, the company is hardware agnostic and is seeking vendor relationships to ensure the latest technology is used in Dreambox machines.

There's a video overview of the Dreambox 3D printing vending machine below.

Source: Dreambox via PSFK