Jason Smith and Weston Downs knew each other in high school. They had to; there were only five people in their entire class. Both raised on farms in small-town Montana, they parted ways after graduation, with Smith attending Harvard to study engineering, while Downs attended Montana State U. to study aviation. But once their degrees were earned, the pair returned to their family farms, which is good news for the digital fabrication community: Because it is there, in Big Timber, Montana, that they developed the CowTech Ciclop, a $ 99 open source 3D scanner.
“Our scanner is a fully open source machine, strongly based off the BQ Ciclop, an open source scanner made by the Spanish tech company BQ,” write Smith. “[It’s also] the first 3D laser scanner on the market under $ 100, shattering every competing price-point.” Take a look:
At press time there were 27 days left to pledge, but Smith and Downs were already 600% funded; they’d sought just ten large, and to date have netted $ 60,000-plus.
It’s clever and practical to let users print their own components in order to keep the price down. We were also intrigued by Smith and Downs’ story; with a company name like CowTech, and an engineer pitching a digital fabrication add-on while wearing a T-shirt that says “Trust Me – I’m a Farmer,” you’ve got our attention.
We connected with Smith for a brief Q&A:
Core77: Is CowTech the name only of the scanner, or is it a company that you’ll be launching more products from in the future?
Jason Smith: Ciclop is the name of the Scanner, CowTech is the name of our company that we plan to launch further products from, as well as a prototyping and design service. Our short term plans for projects are not set, we will finish this campaign before deciding on another one.
We plan to pick products that are enjoyable to design that also have market potential, and eventually plan to create products that are very applicable to farming and ranching. We have a number of ideas in the pipeline, but we aren’t ready to release any of them yet.
What motivated you to return home after college?
A lot of things motivated my return to the family ranch. It was always my plan when I left home, to come back to it. Ranching is a way of life that is incredibly unique. It’s hard to explain to people who weren’t born and raised on a farm or ranch but you develop a connection to the land, the cattle, the lifestyle, that is hard to find anywhere else.
I wanted to go somewhere out of the state and away from home for college, just so I had a chance to see what else was out there. It’s easy to be a little sheltered coming from a rural Montana community, and there is a big world out there. Interestingly, the city and all its opportunities and offerings helped me develop a greater appreciation for the lifestyle that I grew up with. After 4 years in Boston, there was little doubt in my mind that my ranch back home in Montana was where I wanted to return to.
Can you describe the different types of satisfaction gained in successfully executing farmwork versus solving a technological/engineering problem?
There are many obvious surface differences between engineering and ranching, but at their core they have many of the same draws. You put in hours of labor and sweat equity, but at the end of the day there is such tangible proof of the job you have done as well as a feeling of meaning that doesn’t come with many jobs.
In many cases, ranching is engineering on a smaller scale. Miles from town, you can’t afford to drive to the parts store on a whim. You often have to design a way to keep things working, at least temporarily, to get the job done. This kind of on-the-job makeshift engineering is a lot of what made me want to be an engineer, and where Weston derives much of his engineering talent. Whether we are on the tractor or inside running the laser cutter, we are solving engineering problems every day.