Think Before You Knoll

survival

Knolling is a super popular aesthetic conceit masquerading as an organizational tool. Adam Savage has encouraged hundreds of fans to knoll. Whole Instagram empires are devoted to knolling everything from survival gear to charcuterie. Knolling is simply putting like objects together on flat surfaces and squaring them relative to each other and their nearby environment. The technique has come to be seen as a habit of a highly efficient and organized maker of things, but it is important to consider its utility before ordering those custom screened “Make America Knoll Again” tees.

A page from Tom Sachs' Ten Bullets Zine describing knolling
A page from Tom Sachs’ Ten Bullets Zine describing knolling

The term knolling was coined by a janitor, Andrew Kromelow, while he was working in the Eames furniture studio. At the end of each day he would organize tools and materials so they looked nice and neat. This was done for the appearance of organization, and not organization itself. This was not the action of someone intending to make tomorrow’s work more efficient, this was the action of someone whose job it was to make things appear tidy.

Organization is not any arbitrary low entropy state; it’s contextual. Organization is not a monolithic process that can be applied to any system thereby improving it. Imagine knolling a deck of cards before parsing them out to play poker.

Organization, especially for the physical manufacture of objects, needs to be done holistically with the intention of solving problems relevant to the overall goal of getting a task accomplished. This comment from the Lego Stackexchange sums it up:

Knolling is organization taken to extremes. It’s based on aesthetic principles and not efficiency.

My advice for keeping organized while building a project is to plan out your organizational system in the same way you plan out the method of fabrication. Break the large task of organizing all of your materials and fasteners into discrete steps and create an action plan for each. Gather resources that can help collect things like tiny screws on the fly and keep them around the shop. I like having a wide variety of 3mil zip top bags, nesting bins, and jewelry trays on hand to gather my necessary components and lay them out before a build. I like having separate bins for things that are waiting to be added on to an item (like screws and wing nuts for bolting a mold together) and ones that have just come off that may need some post-processing before they’re back in a known good state.

I’m not anti-knolling, despite appearances. I like it when things look pretty. I’m glad people are interested in organization. However, knolling is not a universal solution that improves efficiency wherever it goes. It has a context. It’s good for visually confirming the state of a project. It is a method for getting estimates on the proportions of different numbers of components relative to each other. It’s fine for counting up numbers of components to confirm they’re all there, though I’d advise keeping a count on paper and arranging the parts into piles or buckets to save space.

I’ve found that lean manufacturing evangelists are great at diving down deep to explore contextually appropriate organizational systems. This one is so simple and so effective it could have come right out of a time and motion studies handbook:

 

So, friends, knoll if you must. Knoll to your heart’s content, but recognize that looking tidy and having purpose may not be the same thing. The extra time you spend squaring up your Pentax Smcp-fa 31mm F/1.8 to your Cartoni L100 Lambda Nodal Swing Head might be better used taking photographs.

Leader photograph by Dwight Eschliman

Interview on the Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show About SFX and Soft Robots

2349283746_7ed48c9423_b

A couple of months ago Kari Love connected me up with Jeff Rubin to do an interview on his podcast. I highly recommend listening to the episode that I’m on, as well as every other episode of the show. Seriously, he finds amazing guests like Matt Chapman (the voice of Strong Bad and Homestar Runner), A professional pizza tour guide, and a professor who’s subject of expertise is the board game Monopoly.

In this interview we discuss how I got my start in movie SFX, some workshop shenanigans, and where my current track of soft robotics research is headed.

Requiem for Rhinos at the MIT Media Lab

Rhino_CU_AEB_1995

A few months back I reprised my role as robotics mercenary and general fixer, spending a week working on David Nunez’s Requiem for Rhinos installation at Illuminus Boston. David is a researcher with Todd Machover’s Opera of the Future group at the MIT Media Lab. The idea at the core of the sculpture is the passing of Nabire, one of the last northern white rhinos in existence. Only four remain and they are so closely related that rekindling the species is impossible. The sculpture was conceived as a grand send-off, with Nabire’s kin descending from the ceiling to wish her on her way.

Requiem for Rhinocerous @ ILLUMINUS from Illuminus Boston on Vimeo.

Continue reading

Tessellating Box

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.12.08 PM

Last night at Resistor Trammell and I poked around with a project to put on the space’s brand spanking new Shopbot. I like tessellating things. Trammell likes putting computationally generated patterns on things.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.10.31 PM

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.09.09 PM

The plan is to take the box I designed, which will be built from six identical routed panels with hidden finger joints, and apply patterns to the outer faces. I’m excited to see this thing get cut.

“My Robot Will Crush You With its Soft Delicate Hands!” talk at 32C3

23746342049_b397b9225a_k

I’ve been going to CCC for years, but this is the first time I’ve gotten a talk accepted in one of the main venues. It was thrilling to share my research with such a wide audience. I spoke about the kinematics of soft bodied organisms, designing soft robots, and future applications for compliant mechanisms. Below is a complete video of the talk and the Q&A session afterwards.

You can view my slides directly here.

Header photo by Sascha Ludwig.

Talking Compliant Mechanisms at NYU

12141786_10103433966450622_6885271281850619040_n

Yesterday I gave a talk about incorporating soft robotics, compliant mechanisms, and biomimetic structures into your engineering toolbox at NYU. I’ve been interested in how compliant mechanisms can reduce the computational complexity of tasks like manipulation and locomotion and this talk was a good opportunity to share some of my ideas on the subject.

The general thesis is that biology presents a huge trove of solutions to problems in robotics especially directed at optimizing the amount of sensing you’re devoting to understanding an environment and the amount of computation you’re devoting to navigating that environment. Compliance is an essential tool for creating systems that reduce a wide range of potential inputs into a simplified space of positive outputs.

Case in point:
robotfall VS jTEGGMJ

You can find my slides here. If an audio/video copy becomes available I will update this post with a link.

Header image by Andrew Conklin.

The Neucuff – A Soft Robotic Exoskeleton

DSC_7911_f

Over the past six months I have been developing a soft robotic elbow orthotic for Cerebral Palsy therapy. It’s still in the early stages of prototyping and testing, but it’s making rapid progress. If all goes as planned, it should be in the hands of a team of CP doctors specializing in robotic orthotics in the near future.

Here’s a bit more background from the Hackaday page:

The Neucuff is an extension of the soft robotics development I’ve been doing for the past three years as lead scientist at Super-Releaser. After creating manufacturing techniques for a few different flavors of soft robot, I felt it was time to find some practical applications for the technology.

I approached a ton of people about where soft robotics could be best applied. I talked with civil engineers about exploratory robots for mapping pipes in construction sites. I talked with NASA scientists about soft robots in space. The most promising ideas came from my father, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in arthroscopy and shoulder reconstruction, and my robotics mentor, who has spent the last ten years in the medical device field.

They both described problems with therapeutic robots that a soft robotics approach could solve. Soft robots are good at spreading force evenly across a large area. Soft robots are conformal so they can fit a wide variety of applications and environments by design. This makes them an ideal candidate for Cerebral Palsy therapy.

 

You can find out more detail along with downloads, video, and schematics here.

Soft Robots (Actually) in Space

8146867828_8594b30596_k

When I spoke at the SpaceApps conference, I hadn’t realized how close I was to working with NASA in a much more official capacity. A few months earlier I developed some prototypes for Final Frontier Design, a company devoted to the design and engineering of spacesuits. This was in my role as lead scientist at Super-Releaser and the end goal was proving to NASA that mechanical counterpressure garments (like I described in my talk) could be a practical reality with some time and development. I’m pleased to announce that they approved our proposal and we will be working on a new generation of EVA gloves over the next six months.

What I’m most excited about is the opportunity to bring all of the elements of engineering, prototyping, and digital manufacture for compliant materials to create and test all of the iterations of the glove we’ll be going through. There are thrilling mechanisms and intricate problems that I believe are only workable with compliance in mind. After all, we’re interfacing with the most mechanically complex manipulator the body has to offer.

Hopefully I’ll be able to update as progress is made. I will still continue my development work at Super-Releaser and research on the Neucuff, though the frequency of updates may drop off.

Title image by Lisandro Sanchez.

The Glaucus

thumbnail

The Glaucus is a soft robotic quadruped composed of a single seamless silicone part. It has a complex network of interior channels, created via a lost wax process, that turn into actuators when pressurized with air. It’s able to walk with a diagonal gait, similar to a gecko or Glaucus Atlanticus sea slug, using only two input channels.

quad_03The Glaucus was created to demonstrate a method for fabricating soft robots of nearly any geometry with arbitrary interior structures. It’s been my goal, since beginning my research into soft robotics, to simplify the process of prototyping and refining designs. Often the barrier between an interesting bench prototype and practical application is how it scales into production. If methods for experimenting with the core concepts, evaluating them in a context that represents their final manufactured state, and refining them for mass production don’t exist, the idea is very likely to languish on the bench. Continue reading

Fridge Clip

IMG_5497_f

I have an uneasy relationship with my miniature refrigerator. This chilly bastard decided to get clever and fall open over the weekend. I stepped in to the lab to find it iced up and dripping all over the floor. It was running so hard the housing climbed up to something like 90 degrees. Now, maybe I didn’t shut it properly over the weekend, but I’ve seen this fridge swing open when a gnat coughed. It was time for a change.

IMG_5483_f
Defrosting all over my floor. The trash can is there for dumping the icy slush once the drip tray filled up.

I designed a clip to solve this problem. I modeled it in a half hour and it took my Ultimaker a bit more than two to print it. I’m very happy with how it turned out. This clip has an integrated spring and a central rib to optimize the stiffness without adding tons of thickness (i.e. more print time). It attaches to the fridge body with three rivets. For the rivet holes I wrapped my drill in some electrical tape to make sure it didn’t plunge too far into the insulation and damage anything. It was installed in a snap and hopefully will prove a permanent solution to an annoying problem. Continue reading