OpenVSP: parametric aircraft modelling tool

NASA embraces the open-source philosophy

NASA kicked off this year by greatly expanding their commitment to open source, launching their new site

Ultimately, our goal is to create a highly visible community hub that will imbue open concepts into the formulation stages of new hardware and software projects, and help existing projects transition to open modes of development and operation

Some of the projects they’ve opened up are way over my head, but the one that caught my eye is OpenVSP:

OpenVSP is a parametric aircraft geometry tool. OpenVSP allows the user to create a 3D model of an aircraft defined by common engineering parameters. This model can be processed into formats suitable for engineering analysis.

How cool is that? Maybe you don’t have access to an aerospace facility, but with this tool you can invent your own far-out aircraft designs and print out the models in 3D from your Personal Factory.

[Someone should make an app for that...]

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A new OpenSCAD script for personalizing objects

Making custom text a cinch

One of the best parts of 3D printing is that everything you make can be a unique, personalized object. But it’s not always an easy thing to do, especially compared with how easy it is to download objects.

That’s where tools like Write.scad come in. Custom 3D text can be added to your OpenSCAD project with only a few lines of code, and it’s much faster and simpler than a similar project I covered last year. (more…)

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Making an intricate laser cut bowl from a 3D model

See the process from the initial 3D model to laser cutting the parts.

Instructables recently posted a step-by-step explanation of how they produced the digital files for their new Wooden Hand Bowl Kit. The explanation is not quite detailed enough to be a tutorial, but it does provide an excellent overview of how to use a combination of programs — including Poser, Blender, and Autodesk 123D Make — to make interlocking laser-cut parts based on a complex 3D model.

Autodesk 123D is powered by Ponoko Personal Factory and is the software that slices the 3D models into pieces for the laser-cutter.


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2011: a massive year for personal fabrication software

The Best of the Blog 2011: Software

2011 was a year of big developments in mobile apps, web apps and cloud computing. Again in no particular order, here are some of the highlights of 2011 in software…

1. Autodesk 123D


123D is notable here because of software giant Autodesk’s recognition of the maker community. Autodesk has developed software for use in industry and high volume production environments. The development and releases of 123D, 123D Make, 123D Create and 123D Sculpt show how serious major software publishers view the on-coming tide of personal fabrication and mass customisation. 123D Beta 8 is currently available for free download.

2. Ponoko API Version 2

app gateway

Created for developers to make Apps that use Personal Factory’s features. The API will allow people to customise products.

At the moment, the flagship app that utilises the API is as mentioned above – Autodesk 123D. I’m hoping 2012 will see many additions to the App Gateway!

3. Grasshopper for Rhino


It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Rhino. I’m also very pleased with the generative modeling plug-in for it – Grasshopper. Admittedly Grasshopper has been in development for about four years, but was recently badged as stable.  Taylor covered an article about how Nikolas Weinstein Studios were using Grasshopper in their practice.

4. EagleUp

EagleUp is a plugin that takes your PCB design files and converts them into SketchUp. This is a really important and useful link in the work flow for any product with electrical components, enabling people to visualise their projects’ components  accurately.

5. Tinkercad

The cloud and cloud based software is slowly making inroads into how we use the web. Tinkercad is one of the first solid modelers to really tackle how to do web based 3D modeling. Tinkercad is an excellent introduction for people who are interested in 3D modeling, but haven’t yet been able to learn other free modelers such as Blender or SketchUp.

David is an industrial designer from New Zealand. He contributes a weekly article on personal fabrication for Ponoko. Follow him on Twitter!

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Visualizing Gcode in Windows

No more rebooting into OSX!

Screenshot by Thingiverse user aubenc

If you do a lot of hobbyist 3D printing, you’ve probably run into this issue before: a cool new tool for generating 3D models comes out, but it only outputs Gcode and you’ve got no way to see what it looks like before printing. (For example, the Voice Extruder.) (more…)

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Upverter: online hardware design tool

‘Github for electronics’

Upverter is a new cloud-based electronics engineering design platform. It aims to make it easier for open hardware designers to collaborate and share their projects. It includes an HTML5-based schematic editor and crowd-sourced parts library. Integration with Github takes care of versioning, and their open-source schematic conversion tool hopes to standardise interoperability between all common file formats.

It is still in ‘beta’ status, so I will reserve judgement, but this platform looks very promising and could prove to be a real boon to the maker community.

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Grasshopper Geekery

A demonstration of some of the abilities of Grasshopper.

Grasshopper Geekery from Nikolas Weinstein Studios on Vimeo.

Nikolas Weinstein Studios made the short video above showing how they use Grasshopper. It is as geeky as the name implies, but if algorithmically-based CAD makes your mouth water, you’ll enjoy it.

For those who don’t know, Grasshopper is a popular and extremely powerful plugin to the CAD program Rhino. It allows the user to create algorithmic design using a graphical interface. As the name suggests, these are designs based on an algorithm or program. This allows the creation of extremely complex forms. Previously, algorithmic design was only possible by hand-coding a program for the computer to follow. Grasshopper provides a graphic interface.

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EagleUp: modelling tool for electronics

Eagle (free schematic and PCB editor) meets SketchUp (free 3D modelling tool)

Here’s an excellent tool for those of you using digital fabrication techniques to build enclosures for your DIY electronics projects. EagleUp takes your Eagle PCB design files and converts them into 3D SketchUp models.

Eagle and SketchUp are both popular choices in the DIY community, so this plugin is a welcome addition to the toolkit. For those of you who might want this functionality but prefer an open source software package, take a look at the 3D modelling capabilities of open source schematic editor KiCAD.

I’ll definitely be trying this tool out on my next project, and updating my project box tutorial with the results.

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Chrysalis – Mass customization for visual designers

The power of Processing in the hands of Grasshopper users

Fabripod's Chrysalis in action

Fabripod has just launched a Kickstarter project for Chrysalis, a tool for translating designs made in Grasshopper into Processing sketches that can be used as web apps for digital making.

Basically, if you’re a visual designer, Chrysalis will make it possible for you set up a web storefront that lets people customize a design and then export it to another service (like Ponoko) for making.

Also, because Processing is a free, open source tool, Chrysalis will enable the sharing of 3D sketches in a way that just isn’t practical via Grasshopper. For example, the deployment of an interactive art installation is a lot more practical when it can be used on any operating system without the need for additional software licenses.

Chris Chalmers explains in the video below: (more…)

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The making of Arduino: Five guys walk into a bar…

Discover how (and where) it all began

Arduino. It’s a catchy, funny little word… and the Arduino we have come to know and love has had a wide-ranging impact on the world of DIY electronics.

So where did it all begin?

The five handsome devils pictured above are the guys responsible for this little wonder. Hailing from the town of Ivrea in Northern Italy, Massimo Banzi (that’s him on the right) would relax after a long day teaching at Ivrea’s Interaction Design Institute by heading down to a local watering hole, the Bar di Re Arduino. You can imagine that an enthusiastic and forward-thinking electrical engineer and his buddies would have some pretty interesting conversations when they get together over a few drinks…

Since its launch in 2005, people have used Anduino to do some wonderful things. Reflecting on the past few years, Banzi says that the most important impact of Arduino is the democratization of engineering.

“Fifty years ago, to write software you needed people in white aprons who knew everything about vacuum tubes. We’ve enabled a lot of people to create products themselves.”

There is a fantastic article over at IEEE Spectrum that takes a deeper look into the story of Arduino. It’s interesting reading with many insights from Massimo and his collaborators David Cuartielles, Gianluca Martino, Tom Igoe and David Mellis.

IEEE via Engadget

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