The above screencast demonstrates a possible way for programs like Blender to integrated with Switchprint to add 3D printing capabilities. Switchprint is a 3D printing subsystem I wrote for the Voxelpress project. The software shown is real, and does exactly what it the video suggests its doing.
The funny thing about this video to me is the responses I've recieved from it, ranging from "omg, awesome", to "is that real???" (surprise that 3D printing software could actually be made this simple), to "I don't get" (person didn't realize that 3D printing software isn't normally this... concise).
I hurried to throw this together in time for my Blender Conference talk. Once the talk is over, I will be making a more official announcement of the Voxelpress project to the Reprap community, and focusing on developing the project further.
I've been predominately reaching out to the greater free software community first instead of the libre hardware community for a variety of reasons. The main one is intersectionality - I'm looking for people who have an interest or need in 3D printing, but who's specialty and interest is also in writing software - I'd like to write software that is easy for them to hack on. I'm also very interested in the perspective of individuals who are interested in using 3D printing as a tool, not an end, and what sort of software would best empower them to realize their dreams with free software and libre hardware.
Understandably, hardware people tend to be less interested in software beyond its necessity to breathe life into their creations. The current state of software for CNC tend to be feature complete, but with very aclecticly designed user interfaces aimed at exposing all of those features at once. What is surprising to me, however, is the number of people in the libre hardware community who are more than ok with using proprietary software to drive their hardware. The rational for using proprietary software is a familiar one - I hear it all the time from people who do any design work when asked on their choice of artistic software. Free software sounds good on paper, but the bottom line for a lot of people is how well it performs, and how pleasant it is to interact with.
To belly ache just a little further, when I first started out with the Voxelpress project, announcing it to the Reprap community ended up being an uproductive affair. I now know that it is a somewhat regular occurance for people to pop into #reprap on freenode and be like "wtf are you doing" and post some cost prohibitive "superior" approach to something we've already solved, or otherwise completley disregards the punky DIY sensibilities of the people that make up this community. But when I first popped into #reprap to announce that I was working on a project to improve the state of 3D printing software, it felt as though they were all being mean just for me.
About two years later, I've written a substantial amount of code in this project, and I am very proud of it. My employer has expressed great interest in the Voxelpress project as the future of our 3D printing software infrastructure, both used internally for production as well as for something really solid we can recommend to our customers. This year, if I don't sign up for any more talks, I will have given three talks (one of them a keynote!) about free software and 3D printing at conferences, in which I was able to mention Voxelpress, and talk about the project at great length to a good number of other people durring the conference.
The future of this project looks very bright, however I am embarassed to say despite all of the above, the fact remains that I have not yet managed to attract any contributors (though two individuals have expressed interest in helping out). I am not sure what (or if) I am doing wrong in this regard.