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 R&D architectures for novel technologies at JHU APL’s REDD talks series

Jacob Alldredge invited me to speak at APL to speak with their research staff as part of their REDD Talks series. I presented a talk on the research process Kari Love and I developed at Super-Releaser for rapidly evaluating and developing novel technologies: The Physical Feedback Loop.

It was encouraging speaking with scientists and engineers working at the leading edge of their fields about how they picture their own research processes, and how they tackle problems in novel areas. I got some fantastic feedback from project leads at APL, and was sincerely impressed by their internal manufacturing processes which produce everything from novel 3d printed metal compounds to NASA satellites.

Think Before You Knoll

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. Continue reading

Soft Robots (Actually) in Space

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.

First to Blog

This is a response, more of a high five, to Zach Hoeken’s post up on MAKE: “First to File? Nah, First to Blog!” Basically his post was a series of ideas that have been hanging around in his notebooks, possibly eligible for patents, that he would rather see out there and made in the world than locked away between the pages of a personal sketchpad forever or exploited to the chagrin of mankind by some unruly technological entity, wrapped up in complex patent labyrinths, and never put to a more just use than in sole product from a sole company (see 3d Systems vs the Form 1, Patent Busting3d printing patent challenges, etc). Even worse is the possibility of an idea getting patented and never implemented, only used as a club to hit innovators over the wallet (see Intellectual Ventures). I’m in favor of this. Truth be told I’m pretty aggressively anti patent, which is why all of my recent robotics projects have been released into the open source. Although I realize there’s a difficult road ahead, finding ways to keep funding innovation and novel IP in the world patent abolitionists have been gunning for, I believe open access to information and the network effects it generates far far and away outweigh the small innovation boost you get from researchers confident they’ll be the only people able to profit from the particular idea they’re developing. Continue reading

National Robotics Week

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to show off the soft robots I’ve been developing at the National Robotics Week: Extending Human Reach event held at HUGE labs and facilitated by Honeybee Robotics. I was originally excited at the prospect of seeing the incredibly varied group, the police standing next to bomb sniffing drones, LittleBits showing off tiny circuit construction kits, Honeybee demonstrating the lab tools they designed that are currently roving around on Mars. It was a shame I didn’t have more time away from my booth to check out the tech everyone else brought, but the general crowd was so excited, so eager to chat about robots and what I was presenting, that the event was almost over before I caught my breath. Thankfully Numi was there, helping set up, answering questions, and generally being awesome.

So, now I’ve got a pile of business cards representing science minded folks to email, some new medical applications to push the next prototypes towards, and an urge to show this stuff off to the public more.

Four stars. Would present again.

Also, download some robots.

Please, don’t shop at Wildwood

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).

One sheet cut through at 40% power 10 speed. One did not.

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

Building a Better Bucket

Mold making and casting has been a huge part of my life for years. It started in the SFX industry, making molds and cleaning up parts for robotic snakes on Snakes on a Plane (really), and has become an even more significant factor with the recent soft robotics project. However, one thing has plagued me this whole time: buckets.

There are lots of elegant methods for prepping a mold, squaring away your shop space, keeping everything all clean and science-y, but no matter how you slice things (unless you’re dealing with 50 gallon drums), pouring out gooey slimy liquid rubber always ends up being a mess. I often end up going through several sets of stirring sticks and dipping disposable cups into my material in the hopes of keeping everything quarantined and safe from contamination. Still I end up feeling like a Dickensian orphan, dipping a ladle into what amounts to $200 of runny goo. Continue reading

I am Laser Endowed

A few months ago, something magical happened. Over the years, I have been building, bit by bit, a way to twist the world into a shape more to my liking. With little pokes here and there, I’ve managed to eek out a life that has me selling the things I build, make, design, and hack for a living. Sleek and Destroy is now the source of my entire income and I even have employees. This is absurd. I feel like the police should be on to me and haul me off for impersonating a successful adult who knows what they’re doing any second.

I was afraid I'd ordered something too big to fit in my house. Fortunately the box contained plenty of fluff.

In line with this trend, they should also haul me away for steadily becoming a supervillain, for I have a laser. An 18-wheeler arrived at my Bushwick studio carrying a pine box big enough to send Orson Welles six feet under in style and within a few short hours filled with grunting, swearing, and sweating, I had a functional robot helping me build things in my house. Continue reading