Ten awesome tools + apps for making stuff

Best of the Blog 2011 – Tools + Apps

2011 was a big year for tools and apps that enable making. As the maker movement grows, people are creating more and more tools to enable creativity and collaboration across a number of disciplines.

3D printing-related tools dominated, including a huge spike in solutions for hobbyist 3D scanning. With the proliferation of low-cost 3D printers, it’s no surprise that people are hungry to replicate physical objects.

Here we take a look at ten great tools and apps from 2011:

1. Autodesk’s digital camera 3D scanner

Originally called Photofly, Autodesk’s 123D Catch is a Windows app that interfaces with the cloud to create 3D models based on a user’s photographs of an object. I had some trouble using my point & shoot camera with an old version of the software, but I’m looking forward to trying to latest version with my iPhone 4S and an Iron Man head that a friend has sculpted.

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Recreating dinosaurs with 3D printing

Cutting edge 3D scanning & printing are helping palaeontologists recreate prehistoric creatures

Apatosarus Skeleton

Very rarely are complete dinosaur skeletons uncovered. Recently, palaeontologists from Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History embarked upon a novel solution to this problem using 3D modelling techniques. The palaeontologists collaborated with engineers from the Center for Shape Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing (SEAM) who assisted with 3D scanning, 3D printing and 3D modelling technologies for recreating complete juvenile apatosaurus skeletons for display. (more…)

Brainwave manipulation, the open source house, 3D printed ceramic, and more — August top stories

the Blue Ribbon Roundup — our 10 most read stories of the month

The Ponoko blog was bumpin’ this month! Our #1 story this month comes from DIY electronics blogger Rich Decibles who wrote about one his projects that will blow your mind — literally.

Stories #2, #3, and #5 are all about everyone’s new favorite way to make stuff — 3D printing. Another popular topic was CNC Routing, the focus of 3 of our top 10. Get the top news in digital fabrication and take a look at this month’s Blue Ribbon Roundup.

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Artist uses haptic design tools and 3D printing to create otherworldly sculpture and jewelry

The Art & Science of Touch

Artist and jewelry designer Farah Bandookwala uses haptic devices to virtually shape her beautiful and bizarre sculptures.

Haptic technology allows for the simulation of touch in a digital environment. A haptic device essentially lets you virtually touch what is on screen and receive tactile feedback.

In this video, The Art & Science of Touch, Bandookwala demonstrates using Cloud 9, a 3D touch-modeling software, to design sculptures which she then has 3D printed.

“Both using your hands… and using a haptic interface allow for being able to understand the form of an object through touch,” explains the artist as she works with the Cloud 9 device.

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Ten 3D printed works of contemporary art

Selections from the RAPID 2011 art gallery


The Circle of Life by Mary Hale Visser
Artist Mary Hale Visser created the figure in this sculpture with a 3D modeling program. The figures were 3D printed in glass powder and resin and joined together. Visser is an art professor and Vice President of Ars Mathematica.

Six Servings by Brad Ford Smith
Brad Ford Smith is an artist and conservator trained in painting and printmaking. He began translating his abstract, fluid form imagery into 3D printed sculptures in 2009 when he participated in the SculptCAD Rapid Artists Project.

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Where 3D printing is mainstream, the world of B2B manufacturing. — overview of RAPID 2011 expo

Additive manufacturing throws down in Minneapolis

Yesterday, I found myself surrounded by nearly every commercially available 3D printer and some of the incredible things they can print, or “grow” as this industry seems to say.

I was on the exhibition floor of RAPID 2011, an annual conference and exposition on additive manufacturing organized by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

This year’s event was held in Minneapolis and just a mile from my house. But attendees, speakers, and exhibitors came from all over the world to discover, discuss and demonstrate how 3D printing is changing a wide range of fields — from medical devices to aerospace to fine art to motor vehicles and more.

In addition to checking out what the B2B world of 3D printing and 3D imaging had to offer, I was also honored to be a conference speaker.

This is the first of 3 posts on my experience at RAPID 2011. An overview of the exhibition is after the jump.

Check HERE for selection from the Contemporary Art Gallery of 3D printed art works on display during the expo.

And lastly, I’ll post a review of all the Consumer Products talks including a link to download my presentation, How Digital Fabrication is Democratizing Product Design.

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Gesture Controlled 3d Modeling

Kinect + Arduino powered gloves & Pure Data = DIY modeling tool

The motion-capturing abilities of Microsoft’s Kinect is taken into new realms with this modeling tool from Sebastian Pirch of 3rD-EYE.

Consisting of a Kinect sensor, power gloves hooked up to an Arduino board and the software interface Pure Data, this ensemble enables a virtual model to be fully manipulated in 3d space. It even includes the usual panning and zooming, just like we’re used to seeing on-screen.

The idea emerged after attempts at point ‘n click gestures became prohibitively cumbersome (and indeed tiring) while using the Kinect. A little programming and electronics know-how meant that Sebastian was able to achieve fine control over the 3d model by wiring switches (attached to an Arduino board) into a set of “fancy gloves”.

Click through for a video demonstration where Sebastian explains his process and thinking along the way.   (more…)

Is 3D Modeling a Craft or ‘Just’ Design

CAD jockey or Artiste?

A recent post by Amanda E. Stark on the crafthaus entitled Computerized Craft Arts? takes a look at whether 3D modeling of metal (or other materials), without ‘hands on’ craftsmanship, can still be defined as craft or should it then be defined as design?

I now look at all the schools who are adding CAD to their curriculum and I am starting to wonder what is going to happen to the future of the craft arts? I wonder this because of the concern that a friend brought to me when shemet recently graduated students who received their BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing but who had never touched metal. I am not necessarily against CAD but I am a little worried about whether or not we are losing the idea of the handcrafted and I am curious about how other craft artists feel about CAD being brought into the field of Fine Art Craft. Does it belong or not? Should it be left in the design department? Do we need to see it as an additional new tool for us to use? If it is a new tool how do we incorporate it as just another tool and not something that we become dependent on?

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Behind the scenes with Jim Watt: multi-faceted maker

Last week I went to visit a maker local to Glasgow: Jim Watt, paper engineer, theremin fancier, 3D photographer and proprietor of clockworkrobot.com.

I discovered Jim’s site when his Solar Powered Theremin project was posted to Make (which has subsequently been added it to Maker Shed). Always intrigued by simple musical instruments, I got in contact, discovered we share a city, and Jim very generously let me pop by to chew the fat of making and hacking.

Jim Watt's Kinetic Horse

Jim Watt’s Kinetic Horse – in solar powered version

Jim has a background in jewellery making and metalwork, and a passion for sci-fi: a combination which led him first into building fantastic robotic sculptures, and on to kinetic engineered paper sculptures inspired by the revived Doctor Who series, which were then picked up and marketed by the Doctor Who people themselves. Meanwhile, a solar powered horse automaton led Jim on to create the solar powered theremin, which has now led to a modular system of synths and sequencers in Altoid tins. Quite a prolific chap, Jim admits to the affliction of being rather fickle, turning his attention to each project that he thinks up with focus and immediacy. Thus I caught him in the excitement of developing his Pocket Synths, though I felt that he could have been ensconced in any other of his many interests if the wind were blowing differently that day.

Jim sells kits through his website and has had a lot of interest in the solar theremins, but is beginning to lament the time and effort that he must put into building the kits – a bit of a mundane chore for such an active mind! A problem that many makers must face, he would like to employ someone to do the legwork of making up kits but is loath to entrust quality control of his very personal projects to another. He feels that he can’t put as much time into development, publicity and marketing as he would like for all the production he has to do. I suggest that this is why I find collaboration and open sourcing so exciting: generally all developers are equally passionate about their subject, one can share out the necessary tasks more effectively – however this poses the problem of the ‘non-commercial’ clause: ultimately the creator has to make their money from production, and in an open model this can’t be done without restricting commercialisation in some way. At the end of day, it seems one must be willing to give up some hold over one’s creations if one is to share the burden the demand for a successful product.

As it is, Jim’s departure into open hardware was a result of disillusionment with the system of patenting and copyrighting. He notes that one can spend much time and money protecting one’s IP, yet this still will not protect you from another person plagiarisation unless one can afford to prosecute them: not a situation independent makers generally want to get in to. So Jim makes his schematics and source available for free, and charges for the kits, a model which is working well for him and many others. Amusingly, Jim sells more solar theremin kits with Altoids tins included than without – highlighting makers’ desire for convenience (or maybe dislike of Altoids) over economy – but irritating as Altoids aren’t really native to the UK, so are a bit weird to be exporting, and meaning Jim always has a steady supply of mints!

Jim Watt's Pocket Synth

A feature of Jim’s Pocket Synth system that I enjoyed greatly was the tactility and elegance of the tins as a ‘building brick’ system – one can arrange one tin in the lid of another, thus making the act of building your synth/sequencer that much more satisfying. This kind of joyful coincidence is only achieved by ‘hacking’, modding, playing with ideas physically and resourcefully, and thus in danger of being lost in that haptic gap. Additionally, the whole system is executed through the joining of simple electronic elements using patch cables, making the logic of synthesisers much clearer to me than any diagram or standalone synth ever has.

It was great to observe the backstage workings of a modern day maker and kit distributor – many thanks to Jim for having me!

The Haptic Gap

Today I visited the Haptic exhibition at The Lighthouse, Glasgow’s museum for design and architecture. This is a touring exhibition for which Japanese designer Kenya Hara, Chief Executive of the Nippon Design Centre and MUJI, commisioned 21 international architects and designers to “create objects that focus on the sense of touch, instead of colour and form“.

The result is a beautifully varied and engaging exhibition, each piece presented lucidly with a short synopsis and material sample so that the audience can appreciate the tactility of the objects. I highly recommend popping along if you’re in Scotland.

Haptic logo

A couple of pieces address customisation through tactility: Reiko Sudo’s Gazelles table uses textile inspired by animal fur as a tool for users to adapt the table – a collaboration itself with product designer Ricca Tezuchi; each of Keiko Hirano’s Paper Wastebaskets is completely unique, being formed by crumpling a paper sachet when wet, a material which dries to form a harder ‘can’, a strangely resilient feeling paper object. It is worth noting themes of paper, hair, and jelly like materials in this exhibition! Notable exceptions and thus my favourites were Juice Skin by Naoto Fukasawa, packaging that feels like fruit, and Shishiodoshi by Kenya Hara, a kind of ethereal perpetual water installation from defiantly dry paper (there’s that stuff again!).

The Hara Design Institute Nippon Design Centre website has a comprehensive collection of images that illustrate what I’m on about!

This all got me thinking about the inherent lack of tactility in digital fabrication, or should I say ’slow’ tactility: we can design products entirely on paper and CAD and have no idea how they will feel until the prototype or finished product is made. This is surely greatly inferior to a process where one is designing through touch, with the material in hand from the beginning. That might not be the case when our fabricators are very local, but until then we are seriously impaired by this gap between concept and fruition. I think this is why papercraft holds such interest for me – its immediacy and accessibility with current tools makes it so much more fathomable than, say, 3D printing.

I long for the day when we can have the best of both worlds: a completely haptic and digital system for design and fabrication, whether through enhanced simulation, or preferably through immediate and cheap fabrication.