In 2013, I was splitting my time between running Sleek and Destroy out of my apartment in Brooklyn, and getting absolutely covered in 3d printing dust at Dr. Jim Bredt’s lab while hacking on my first experiments in soft robotics. While one one of those journeys up to Somerville to print, Tess Aquarium pinged to see whether I’d be available to teach a class on digital fabrication and toys at NUVU. I was excited about the opportunity. Also, I was terrified that I’d be creating a summer’s worth of curriculum and teaching a group of eleven students ranging between age 11 and 16 in just a couple of weeks.
The plan I came up with was to start with deconstructing toys, teach some CAD tools, give the students the basics for prototyping with digital tools, and end up with a pretty well resolved final project that was a toy of their own creation. That plan broadly worked, but I also had to do a lot of learning and bootstrapping along the way.
My biggest challenge was the age spread. I had two students who were sincerely excited to learn Solidworks and 3d printing. I had two students who were frustrated by the pace of lectures and wanted to spend as much time as possible learning hands-on tools like the sewing machine. I addressed this by asking NUVU to bring in Tess to spend time with the students who needed the most individual attention, and break up the class into groups based on their interests.
Having everyone learn some basic prototyping and come up with their own take on a toy was a useful exercise to learn their interests and perspective. It helped me chunk them up into groups that could have a shared goal. One group chose to develop a toy airplane launcher. Another chose to build a spring-loaded blaster. One group chose to make a world of toys that could tell a story together. The remaining group chose to develop a 3d puzzle based on mechanisms they invented over the course of the class.
Another takeaway from the class was how much more approachable laser cutting was as a fabrication tool than 3d printing. I wasn’t able to get my students far enough in learning 3d CAD tools to design objects for the 3d printer at NUVU. However, within an hour of introducing them to Illustrator, my class was lining up to put their own projects on the laser. For the printed components that made it into their final projects, I had to oversee the design and printing process pretty diligently. Above, you can see a selection of experiments students made in understanding the laser and then prototyping their own toys.
I was especially excited about the progress Owen and Walker made on developing sophisticated prototypes with digital fabrication tools. Their small team built several different iterations of 3d puzzles using mechanisms they developed themselves. I feel that, although they didn’t produce a full prototype of their final design, they made the most progress throughout the class and demonstrated an understanding of core skills that will pay off throughout their life – problem solving, fabrication, iteration, and teamwork.
Years ago, I designed a series of Tardis and Dalek rings as an experiment in SolidWorks modeling. I wanted to have a ring design that would support a sculptural element with a shank that would change proportionally to feel natural in a wide variety of ring sizes. I was also way into Dr. Who at the time. Continue reading →
A few years back a couple of friends bought a house in SF (no small feat) and started making it their own. I thought they might like a family crest to adorn the walls of their new abode. I went for a Mignola kind of thing, and I think I’d like a print of this one day.
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.
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
You can find my slides here. If an audio/video copy becomes available I will update this post with a link.
Over the past six months Kari Love and 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.
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.