First look at 3D printed map of Yosemite Valley

Thursday, 9.30am

So… today is a big day for me.

Today I should receive a package in the mail containing my first full color 3D printed map of Yosemite Valley, which is a pretty crucial proof of concept as to whether this whole business idea is viable. On the one hand, I may discover that the quality of the product is too low to really appeal to anyone, or that the model is too fragile (which can be fixed, but at increased cost of production)… on the other hand, if everything looks good then I have something tangible to show to people that will allow me to test out my business idea more fully.

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should read my previous post.)

I’m going to write this article in a couple of phases over the course of the day so you can share my first impressions with me as we go.

Thursday, 1pm

About 30 minutes ago Erica called up and said there was a package at the door. She brought me scissors and watched as I impatiently (but carefully) cut through 6 layers of packaging (the box and then 5 separate layers of bubble wrap!) to get my first glimpse of my 3D map.

And… ta da, here it is.

Yosemite Valley — 3D map

If you’re interested, here are a few basic stats:

  • It weighs 400g / 14oz.
  • It’s 20cm x 10cm x 4cm (or 7.9" x 4" x 1.6")
  • The maximum size possible with the printer used on this model is 38cm in length (so about “twice” the current size — by which I mean a doubling of each of the three dimensions, so really an 8x increase in volume…).

So… what are my first impressions?

First the good:

  • When my daughter Esther saw it she said “Wow, this is amazing Daddy”. :-)
  • It feels pretty solid. I know it’s hollow (to save costs), and I’m sure if I dropped it onto a hard floor it could break, but it feels nice and solid in my hand.
  • I like the feel of the material. It’s really cool to think that I had something built out of stone.
  • Even though I would have thought that I knew Yosemite Valley really well, having a physical model shows me that really I don’t — I can recognize El Capitan and Half Dome easily enough, but identifying the other peaks, and the waterfalls and the various hiking trails is much harder — it really gives you a new perspective
  • There’s a good level of detail in terms of the shape of the map — the elevation data worked well and you can see all the different little peaks and crags clearly.
Yosemite Valley color 3D elevation map

The less good:

  • I screwed up the height on the model. The elevation is stretched to an extent that looks a little ridiculous in places (mostly Half Dome). This is partly because it’s complicated to actually get the elevation scale accurate, and so I just eye-balled it based on what I thought looked cool. This can easily be fixed.
  • The colors on the model could be better. The colors give a good approximate feel for what the terrain looks like, but the resolution doesn’t come close to the original image file that I provided as a texture. I should also have done more to ensure key features (like waterfalls) stand out in the texture.

Obviously the first of these is easily fixable, but I suspect the second one is a limitation of the technology as it currently stands (although presumably over time things will only get better).

Rough approximation of Tunnel View using 3D model of Yosemite Valley

What now?

This is a big milestone — I have a prototype of the product, and the next big goal is to see whether anyone will actually pay for it.

Over the next few weeks therefore, I’m going to be working towards testing that. At a high level, I plan to work on the following actions.

  • Make the Yosemite model (or, ideally a scaled down version of it) available for sale online. If anyone reading this would be interested in buying one please write in and let me know! I suspect Etsy would probably the best place to start out, but I’ll see how that goes.
  • Create an equivalent model of the Lake Tahoe region. I should really have started with Tahoe, because Tahoe is a much more commercialized place, with more potential customers, but by the time I realized this I’d already started working on Yosemite, so I figured I’d finish that first.
  • Create some printed marketing materials focused around the Tahoe model (that I can use in the next bullet).
  • Plan a trip to Lake Tahoe to visit the various touristy businesses in that region with a sample Tahoe model and see whether any of them will buy it for themselves or think they could resell it to their customers (e.g. in gift shops).

Feedback request!

Every time I send out an update I’m always pleasantly surprised by how many people take the time to write to me with their thoughts. I’m especially keen to hear any comments (positive or negative) from you guys today. Also, for those of you in the Bay Area, if you’d like to drop by one evening and see the model in person then just drop me a line (I’m in Alameda, in case you didn’t know).