Metal Parts from 3D Prints

After testing the Flat-Pack Camera Arm I built, I was pretty happy with the results. Happy, except for one detail: the joint at the base of the arm would creep down over time. This wasn’t a problem while taking shots of projects at the bench, given how often I’d have to reposition it anywhere. The big breakdown was trying to capture time lapses. The creep was just too noticeable, and it would never stay in place long enough to keep the action of a day’s hacking in frame.

So, I set out to make some locking plates for the arm, and I think people could find some interesting uses for the process I came up with. The broad strokes of the method are that you design the part you’d like at the end in CAD, design a floor under your part with walls around it (I call this a bathtub), print the bathtub mold you designed, cast the mold using 2-part silicone (making sure it’s nice and level), and cast your final material into that mold. Once you’ve got the knack of replicating parts using 1-part molds, you can get fancier: adding vent holes for letting air escape or labels for your parts or building multiple parts for your molds for even more precise geometry.

Below you can find more information on the whole project:

Printed Tensegrity Toy

I’ve been experimenting with printed flexures, and wanted to make a simple tensegrity toy to explore the concept. This design (which you can download on Thingiverse) features both printed tension and compression elements that all build together into a slightly bouncy tensegrity sculpture.

I also optimized the design to allow everything to print at once on my Ultimaker 2+ buildplate. The sculpture assembles with a handful of self-threading torx screws to make it easy for anyone to replicate.

The Adaptiv Robotic Shoe wins a Red Dot design award

The Adaptiv is a futuristic sneaker design that features soft robotic elements to maximize performance while running, jumping, and breaking ankles on the court. The design was spearheaded by Jordan Diatlo of Leadoff Studio for the athletic data company SOLS. The project also featured research and development work by biomechanical engineer Richard Ranky. Super-Releaser contributed to the overall project, building a physical prototype that displayed the soft robotic mechanisms that dynamically adjusted the shoe’s fit and springiness intended to maximize performance during a game.

Leadoff deserves a ton of praise for designing the digital and physical elements in time to premiere at the NBA All-Star Week. I’d like to congratulate everyone who contributed to the project for their hard work and adventurous thinking, bringing such an unusual futuristic design to life. Also, I have to thank Jordan for bringing me in on the process and directing the show.

In the Maker Spotlight

Makezine (and author Caleb Kraft) were kind enough to do a Maker Spotlight interview with me. In it, I was able to talk about my perspective on problem solving, mechanical design, and multidisciplinary research.

From the article:

I’m also really proud of the microscopic tardigrade aquarium I made for Midnight Commercial and Google ATAP. It was this microlens-array powered microscope that looked into a tiny self-contained biome of waterbears, algae, and other microscopic critters we mixed up as an artificial biome – all designed to live in your phone and let you watch this little world through your screen. I got to do everything from design biological research experiments, to diving into whitepapers on micro-optics and tardigrade lifecycles, to simulating EDM cut sheet metal flexures, to figuring out how to cheaply duplicate micro-machined lenses using silicone casting.

The Little Spaceman Lamp I sculpted as a personal art project (featured in the article).

Speaking about Soft Robots at NASA Ames

Official Visitor

Mark Micire (research scientist at the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames) and Yun Kyung Kim (human-robot​ iInteraction​ ​designer at NASA Ames) were incredibly generous in offering me an opportunity to speak with the AstroBee and Super Ball Bot groups at NASA Ames. We’ve been keeping an eye on Super Ball Bot over at Super-Releaser, particularly because of the way the teams working on it are bringing simulation and iterative prototyping together to solve the open-ended problems involved in designing a robust control system for bots that can configure themselves into nearly infinite shapes.

The talk focused on the opportunities to use compliant materials to replicate organic mechanisms, the ways Super-Releaser solves problems in soft robotics, and the way we integrate multiple disciplines into our research. Afterwards I was able to see the work of the Super Ball Bot team – developing novel compliant actuators in addition to refining the systems that power their current Ball Bot prototypes.

I was also able to see the AstroBee, which was being evaluated on the biggest granite surface plate I’ve ever seen. I got to talk with Yun about her experience as a designer integrating into a team of engineers, which is its own challenge in itself, and the goals of the AstroBee project. It’s going to serve as a platform to develop behaviors for human/machine interaction in 0g, which is a problem I’ve never even considered.

“Iterating on Soft Robots” talk at Maker Faire

Kari Love and I gave a talk at Maker Faire last year detailing how the maker mindset (tinkering to get an intuitive sense of the rules governing the system, hands-on learning, fast frugal iteration, and sharing) can be transformative for research into fundamental technologies and chronically intractable problems.

The key factor is going from zero to a working understanding of the ground truths underlying the problem you’re trying to solve as quickly as possible. From historical surveys of how transformative technologies have been developed in the past (like TRIZ), deeply focused research is no match for playful learning and interdisciplinary exploration.

These are the techniques we use at Super-Releaser to get things done given how new the field is and how much it relies on an intuitive understanding of the mechanics of soft systems. When there isn’t a robust framework to simulate before experimentation, you need to rely on experience and spot tests.

Aidan wowing the Maker Faire audience with his soft robot designs

We were also very proud to have our intern, Aidan Leitch, give his own talk on his soft robotics research. It was very well attended and people seemed excited to see live demos of his soft robot designs.

Super-Releaser has signed a book deal with Maker Media

Super-Releaser has begun work on a book on soft robotics for Maker Media. Kari Love and I are writing a book that provides a history of the field of soft robotics, tutorials demonstrating its basic principles, more sophisticated projects like a control system and entire soft robots, and the potential of applied soft robotics from medical devices to human spaceflight to interplanetary exploration. As far as we can tell this will be the first book published demonstrating practical soft robotics.

The Kestrel – an open source soft robotic gripper we’ve designed for the book which you’ll be able to replicate at home

We are working with Roger Stewart to complete the text before the end of this year. Fingers crossed it will be available in bookstores in early 2018.

Super-Releaser Graduates from NYCEDC’s ELAB Program

Super-Releaser was selected to participate in NYCEDC’s 2016 Elab mentorship program with our Neucuff medical device concept.

Elab is a six month program organized by Mary Howard that supports early-career researchers in the medical field, providing them with classes, business development expertise, mentorship, and access to resources like venture funding, legal experts, and research databases. Super-Releaser was selected to continue the development of our Neucuff and explore options for developing it into a fully realized medical device.

Kari Love and I graduated from the program following a well received final summation of our research on the Neucuff and its transformative potential for children suffering from Cerebral Palsy.

You can learn more about the Elab program here.

Speaking about physical prototyping and soft robotics research at Construct3d at Duke University

Matt Griffin of Ultimaker invited me to speak at Construct3d, an event they organized with Duke University.

Construct3D was a conference bringing together engineers, designers, coders, and educators all advancing research and physical fabrication on the cutting edge of their fields. I used the platform to speak about our research process at Super-Releaser, and how it can be applied to problem solving and R&D for emerging technologies.

I was also invited to speak on a panel moderated by Matt Griffin that included Sean Charlesworth, Michael Curry, Darlene Farris-LaBar, Eric Schimelpfenig, and Laura Taalman. I had the opportunity to speak about my history in special effects animatronics, the role of 3d printing in my research at Super-Releaser, lessons learned in working with research clients, and what’s next for Super-Releaser.

The physical fabrication panel

You can learn more about the event in Ultimaker’s wrap up post here.