CES: Fist bumping with will.i.am

LAS VEGAS — Pop-music fans, get ready to be jealous — yours truly got a fist bump from will.i.am.

I interviewed the Black Eyed Peas frontman this week after he was named the Chief Creative Officer of 3D Systems, a company that makes 3D printers. Following the announcement, made at the company’s booth at  the Consumer Electronics Show here, I sat down to talk with will.i.am and 3D Systems’ CEO Avi Reichental about 3D printing and the singer’s new role at the company.

Now, something you should know: I’m not a huge will.i.am or Black Eyed Peas fan. I like and own one or two Peas songs, but I’m not really into hip-hop music.

Still, you don’t get the chance to meet an international singing star every day. And that he was talking on behalf of a significant company in 3D printing — something I really am interested in — made the interview opportunity a no-brainer.

As will.i.am himself noted, there’s been a long and dubious history of companies naming celebrities to “creative” and other positions. Just last week, BlackBerry ousted Alicia Keys as its creative director. During her year in her position, the company’s market share cratered as consumers largely avoided or ignored phones running its new operating system.

By contrast, will.i.am insisted that his is a real and authentic position at the company, not one just for show. Reichental said that he offered the position to the singer after having a series of informal conversations and brainstorming sessions in which they bandied about ideas. One mentioned on stage was the possibility that 3D Systems could take the soda and water bottles that consumers regularly toss in the garbage — or onto the ground — and turn them into the plastic “ink” used in 3D printers.

(As a side note, our discussion of this idea caused some consternation. When asking will.i.am about the idea, I called them “Coke” bottles, not realizing or remember that the singer and his group have been spokespeople for Pepsi.)

But even after hearing the announcement and talking with Reichental and will.i.am in person, I’m still a little fuzzy about what exactly the singer will be doing for the company. Suffice it to say, that his role won’t be to come into the office on a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday basis. Instead, he’s supposed to be, as he goes around the world on his travels, looking for fresh ideas for 3D printing, with some notions of sustainability and inspiring kids thrown in also.

It was when we started talking about that latter idea — the part about inspiring kids — that prompted the fist bump. Whatever his role will be in 3D Systems, will.i.am has had a years-long relationship with FIRST, the organization founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen that promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education through robotics programs for kids. Will.i.am has spoken at FIRST events and has been featured in some of the organization’s promotional videos.

It turns out that yours truly coached a team comprised of my son and some of his schoolmates in a FIRST sponsored competition last year — FIRST Lego League. When I mentioned that to will.i.am, his eyes lit up, and we talked about how inspiring FIRST and robotics can be for kids. Then — BOOM! — fist bump.

So, I don’t know how much 3D Systems will benefit from having will.i.am on board. But I’m happy that FIRST has such a well known — and passionate — advocate.

And the fist bump was definitely the highlight of my trip to Vegas this year.

 

Photo, of will.i.am and 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental, by Troy Wolverton

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (248 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.