Published 25/09/2014 | 02:30
Love And Robots co-founders Kate O’Daly, Aoibheann O’Daly, Miguel Alonso and Emer O’Daly
MANY talk about 3D printing as a technology ‘of the future’. But three Irish sisters are making it a reality for everyday online shopping.
Emer, Aoibheann and Kate O’Daly have combined their respective expertise in architecture, design, computer science and project management to create a unique online shopping service.
Together with co-founder Miguel Alonso, the O’Dalys created FabAllThings, now rebranded as LoveAndRobots.com. The service is an online shop that allows ordinary people to pick out everyday items such as clocks or smartphone cases. But, in a twist, they can choose to either order the fully made product via the post or simply to download the ‘3D design’. If the latter, they can simply send it to their nearest 3D printing shop (and there is a growing number of them about) to expedite the whole thing. It’s a novel idea, but is it working?
“We’re growing very fast,” says Emer O’Daly. “We’re also going to be one of the first European businesses to be part of Amazon’s [3D printing] store. That will happen in the next couple of weeks.”
There are some limits to what customers of Love And Robots can do. For example, Ireland does not have any 3D printers that can apply a metal finish. This means that the startup has had to partner with 3D printing outfits in Holland and the US to fulfil some orders.
The service is also currently limited to a relatively small number of artefacts, probably due to the early stage of both the company and the a consumer-facing commercial 3D printing industry. But O’Daly says that this is changing with the ballooning number of designs they are attracting.
“While some of the designs are our own, we also put out design calls and challenges around the world,” she says. “For our last design challenge, we had 226 design entries from everywhere. We have thousands of designers from 48 countries around the world and this is growing fast.”
O’Daly says that designs that are selected by customers attract a revenue split between the startup and the designer.
Why 3D printing for the O’Dalys?
“I trained as an architect and graduated from UCD in 2004,” she says. “I then worked for five years on large buildings before going off to do a two-year masters degree in architecture at Yale, where I specialised in digital design and 3D printing. So when I came back, I teamed up with the others and it made sense.”
There is no lack of investor interest in Love And Robots. The company, she says, is currently raising funding from a combination of investment angels and an unspecified venture capital firm.
It has also been targeted as a high potential startup by Enterprise Ireland, qualifying for its Competitive Startup Fund. Most recently, it was accepted into Seedcamp in London, which promises a “founder sponsor pack” worth €200,000.
It is also one of three startups to win the ESB Spark Of Genius Awards last week at Dublin’s National Digital Research Centre.
As such, it enters the final round of Europe’s largest startup competition, Pitch, at the 2014 Web Summit in Dublin in early November.
Next, the startup is relaunching its website and introducing some new tools, including the ability to customise products more. But people needn’t require an over-abundance of creativity, says O’Daly.
“Most people don’t want to design anything from scratch,” she says. “It’s too hard. They really want something that’s 95pc designed already, but can possibly be tweaked. Our job now is to make it really easy for people to interact with the products.”