What chemistry occurs when an innovative means of urban mobility meets the latest digital fabrication? Road Kitchen provides a custom-order service that realizes just that sort of combination. The service allows consumers to fabricate their own unique i-ROAD parts by operating their personal computers or smartphones at home.
A partner in this service, Kabuku is a company that develops products and provides services by using 3D printing and other cutting-edge technologies. In an interview with Masahiko Inada, CEO of Kabuku, we asked him how Road Kitchen was born and the future beyond this unique service.
CEO of Kabuku, Inada was born in Osaka Prefecture. He acquired a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Tokyo Graduate School in 2009. At the graduate school he primarily engaged in research into artificial intelligence. He then became involved with new business development at Hakuhodo, during which time he received many awards at leading international advertising festivals including the Cannes Lions, Ad Fest, London International Awards and TIAA. Inada founded Kabuku in 2013. He is the author of “3D Printer Jitsuyo Guide” (Practical guide to 3D printer), among other books.
One-and-Only Parts May Be Made with a 3D Printer
Open Road (OR hereafter): The arrival of Road Kitchen, one of Toyota’s latest services that allows consumers to customize auto parts for i-ROAD at home, surprised me, even though the vehicle is designed for futuristic urban mobility.
Masahiko Inada (Inada hereafter): Well, the time has come for anyone to choose the designs they like and customize products as digital fabrication has evolved. In the near future, users will also be able to make things at home in breakthrough ways: for instance, they’ll be able to create 3D data by themselves and give the data a shape with a 3D printer. In anticipation of that sort of near future, Toyota, an automaker, engages in an initiative to create a platform in this area. It’s a truly epoch-making initiative and attracting keen attention among those concerned with digital fabrication worldwide.
Front cover choices that may be ordered from Road Kitchen.
Like cases for iPhone and other smartphones, you can fabricate your own custom parts.
Make Manufacturing More Open, and Society Will Be More Fun
OR: That’s a very exciting outlook. How did Kabuku become involved with this project to begin with?
Inada: We had a chance opportunity to make a presentation on digital fabrication services to the i-ROAD development team. During the presentation I said that, as a result of the spread of digital fabrication, individuals can now fabricate the sort of products that only large companies could before—and fabricate only one such a product at that, breaking away from mass production and mass consumption systems. I also said that Kabuku’s mission is to boost this new development.
The Toyota team took interest and serious discussions began.
A drink holder may be ordered by combining one of seven designs and nine colors. By using a picture-drawing program,
you can also imprint a design you like on the front of the holder.
OR: You are saying that, with the advent of 3D printers and other new technologies, it has become easy for anyone to take part in manufacturing.
Inada: The software and IT communities have grown in large part by making technical information open—by offering open sources, open architecture and so forth, bringing major changes to society in the process. Taking a cue from these examples, I believe that, in manufacturing, too, making things open will bring forth something entirely new. We call it the “democratization of fabrication.”
One of Kabuku’s websites called “rinkak” offers the “Ready-Made Hack” service. As part of the service, we offer open 3D data of PET bottle cap free of charge. We have seen some users customize a cap by adding a handle to it for easy carrying, making one a “watering can spout” so to speak, and creating maraca-like instruments. These examples show that, by combining open data and a 3D printer, what people wish there were in their day-to-day life may be easily realized. Soon these examples are then customized by other users, quickly improving upon the original ideas and designs. Many users’ opinions are readily reflected in products this way.
The top page of “rinkak,” Kabuku’s platform service to allow users to fabricate, market and ship their own products merely by uploading their 3D data. https://www.rinkak.com/us/openroad?hl=en
OR: In the past, industrial fabrication has been expensive and tough to initiate, but you are saying that digital fabrication is lowering the hurdles, and this leads to the gradual forming of collective intelligence and, in the end, encourages the “democratization of fabrication.”
Inada: Exactly. If you offer free, open data, there will emerge a current toward collective improvement, giving rise to “remixes” of things, if you like. It also allows individuals to market their own products worldwide without the need of any molds or inventory, but merely by uploading their data on their websites.
OR: I see. In the music world, the advent of voice synthesis programs such as Hatsune Miku enabled individuals to freely publish music with vocal parts. Such songs were then submitted to video sites and spread in many directions including not just music but video and graphics involving aficionados. What is happening with digital fabrication is similar to this music example. When I think of that, it seems as if the “democratization of fabrication” is just around the corner.
Inada: I think you’re right. Since at the moment only experts can design 3D data, we are still doing things like launching a service to allow those with no design knowledge to create data or developing a service for factories and other corporate entities to manufacture more efficiently, thereby gradually expanding entryways. But we get a strong feeling that people who have a good command of the technology involved are increasing at an amazing speed.
Era when It’s Common for Users Themselves to Customize Products
OR: What were your thoughts when you first knew of the new mobility idea called i-ROAD and were asked if something interesting could be done by combining that idea with digital fabrication?
Inada: I thought that it was an excellent opportunity for open innovation and digital fabrication. That’s because, today, the target for manufacturers has become so finely segmented that the conventional mass production model no longer works. While it has become common for consumers to customize what they use, manufacturers have no tools to respond to that reality. One solution to that is digital fabrication and open innovation. So I thought that it was a great opportunity for us.
OR: You just said that “it has become common for consumers to customize what they use.” What examples are there?
Inada: For example, there are a huge number of iPhone and other smartphone cases and consumers enjoy them, though this may not exactly be a case of customization per se. Another example is that marketplaces for personal crafts are popular—such as minne in Japan and Etsy overseas. They already constitute a market worth over 200 billion yen. We no longer live in an era when people bought mass-produced products and were satisfied.
ISSUED : 4 July 2015
TEXT BY Eizaburo Tomiyama (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Masahiro Kato,Tomoyuki Kato