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.
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.
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.
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.
This project involves AC power, high amperage, and high temperatures. Although this project is simple in principle replicating it on your own offers a lot of opportunities to hurt yourself. Proceed with caution.
Microwaves are treasure troves of useful electronic components. They’ve usually got some nice microswitches, a big transformer, a magnetron, and some smaller transformers and rectifiers to drive the display. I found a decent sized microwave hanging out on the street and transformed it into a shop tool I’d been wanting for a while – a spot welder.
Why Spot Welders are Useful
Spot welders are handy to have around the shop. They can tack together wire for quick brazing, and permanently weld sheet metal for durable enclosures. If you want a thorough guide on what you can do with a spot welder, Dan Gelbart has all the answers. I’ve been looking to up my prototyping game and have more freedom to build custom components when off the shelf parts won’t suit. Unfortunately my workshop is in Brooklyn and space is at a premium. I spent a lot of time fabricating structures out of steel wire in school and have found that it’s a good replacement for bent sheet metal and structural framing if you play your cards right. Wire is easy to store in a small shop, doesn’t take much equipment to manipulate, and can hold good tolerances in various dimensions as its behavior is very predictable. You can still find the manual I follow for a lot of my techniques on Amazon. Continue reading →
I’m fond of giving people gifts, but often shy away from just giving people stuff. There’s a complex dance of figuring out if it’ll be useful, if the quality’s any good, if they’ve already got one around, that muddies the water. I prefer to make something that doesn’t take up much space and has the chance of getting used up rather than living out the rest of its existence in storage. I’ve found that infusions work pretty perfectly for this job.
I’ve gone through a lot of recipes and variations over the years (they’ll likely show up on this blog eventually) but I was especially fond of this batch made in 2013. I made 5 infusions as christmas gifts to send to friends and family. The mixes were black pepper vodka, pumpkin vodka, lady grey tea gin, raw honey vodka, and red pepper tequila. Continue reading →
I’m trying to get more people playing with soft robots. I’m releasing open source design files, tutorials, and now teaching classes. They’re a useful tool to add to any roboticist’s engineering toolbox, and if they were more widely known I think we’d see them outside the research lab and applied to practical problems.
I’ve been going to CCC for a while. I’ve given some talks (mostly on the lightning talk track) and have generally had a good time. More and more, though, I’ve gotten interested in gatherings that orbit big events like CCC, Maker Faire, and HOPE. Unconferences, Bsides, and nether-conferences like BarCamp are less formal than a traditional conference, and often have the kind of wiggle room for instant breakout sessions and long Q&A.
I don’t tend to use this space for out of channel stuff. I’m all about making and building and doing and all that, and don’t want to cloud things up with all kinds of other dross. But, this feels like a special case for all you makers out there, especially ones with laser cutters. DON’T SHOP AT WILDWOOD DESIGNS (aka Cherry Tree Toys).
Wildwood Designs (site, Facebook, Twitter) sold me a bulk order of custom cut plywood. It was 100 sheets of the 1/4″ veneer core birch plywood. I’ve bought a half dozen sheets of it before at the recommendation of some folks from Artisan’s Asylum, and thought it was a good consistent material. That notion took a sharp turn as I opened up the box containing my purchase (a solid three feet of stacked sheets of wood) and found two different products inside. One was the wood I was used to, a plywood that cuts well and leaves a nice soot-free edge. The other had the same veneer jacket, but was a completely different beast. I haven’t given everything a final count, but it looks like about 70% of all my wood is the very, very bad kind. Continue reading →
I really like candle making. Despite the mess, the cost of materials, the burns, and the constant fear of spilling hot wax over everything I hold dear, it’s completely worth it. If you remember, a long time ago I made a set of candles cast from impala horns. I’ve wanted to do more projects like this, especially as I ramp up to doing an absurd huge candle project based on much larger and more elaborate horns.
The process started with taking an antique apothecary bottle, cleaning it up, and cutting up some cardboard to form a mold box. I waxed the cardboard, made some clips to hold everything together, and marked out where I should build up the clay to form the first half of the mold. Continue reading →