Automatic Origami

I’ve been playing with origami, lately. Specifically, I’ve been exploring how to simulate, model, and fold origami shapes in ways that could be automated to create useful mechanisms. The system I’ve come up with is designed to fold rip-stop nylon, which I’ve worked with a bit during my time at Makani Power and research at Super-Releaser.

After some experiments with programs designed specifically for generating origami patterns, I found I wasn’t able replicate the patterns I’d prototyped in paper. Since I wanted to start out with a paper prototype, do some bench tests, and move to CAD from there, I needed to consider other options. I also wasn’t able to convert the output into a format that would play with CAD for printing and prototyping the resulting forms. So, I fell back on my old standard: SolidWorks. If you’ve worked with me before or you’re a regular reader, you don’t get any bonus points for guessing I’d find a way to turn this into a SolidWorks project. This video was very helpful for understanding how to think about origami in a SW context.

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ShopBot Camera Arm – Handsfree Project Documentation

I’ve been wanting an extra set of hands to hold a camera while I document projects for a long time. Kari and I are writing a book for MAKE all about soft robotics, and I figure there’s probably not going to be a better time to have a serious documentation setup than when someone’s paying me to do a good job at it. Since NYC Resistor just got a ShopBot and I’ve been meaning to get back into plywood fab for years, it seemed like a pretty auspicious syzygy. If you’d like to replicate this design for yourself, you can find the source files and project notes here. You can also see my photos from the cutting and assembly of the project here. Continue reading

Tessellating Box

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.

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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.

Refurbishing NYC’s Historic JJ Hat Center

A few months ago I was commissioned to restore a storefront over on 5th and 32nd st, JJ Hat Center. They’re long time clients, partners of the good folks over at Pork Pie Hatters. I’ve done a lot of work for them over the years, building their website, designing custom hat blocks, making marketing materials, and creating the branding for their series of handmade hats. This was a whole other level of project, though.

To start, the building used to be an IBM adding machine factory and showroom. When JJ’s took it over, they installed a lovely wood exterior. So, on the plus side, there is a lot of old NYC richness both inside and out. On the downside, the wood exterior had fallen apart in the intervening years. Part of my job was to see through the decades of wear and tear and come up with a plan for refurbishing everything to resemble the original without spending thousands on custom parts. Fortunately my friend Clark put me in touch with a few very talented carpenters. So, with some meetings and design drawings, they were rolling on building the elements for the exterior. Continue reading

Bioshock Belt Buckle

Being both a fan of victoriana and Bioshock (related afflictions) I contrived to create for myself a belt buckle of the Bioshock logo. The prototype was milled out of machinst’s wax over on the Tormach 4-axis CNC at Techshop. After creating a mold in silicone I had some wax duplicates cast in bronze. You can see more of the prototype on Flickr and view a tutorial of the process on Instructables.

The first version informed some design and method changes which were applied to a 3d printed Objet version. This was then duplicated in wax and turned into a short series. The process of revising and refining an idea from its rough first iteration, fostering that kernel that inspired everything until it’s spun out into a successful design is incredibly rewarding. I’ve released the design on Thingiverse if you’d like to download it and print your own.


Bioshock buckles on SuperPunch, Technabob, CrunchGear, and Kyozokicks.

Digitally Fabricated Goggles

These digitally fabricated steampunk goggles took over a year of tinkering, procrastinating, and experimentation to build. I started with the metal pieces, designing them in Solidworks and cutting out waxes on a CNC milling machine over at Tech Shop SF. From there, parts were cast in bronze at a place called JR Casting. I designed all the leather parts in Illustrator, creating cut-out paper models to test the design as it became more refined. Then all the cut patterns were sent off to Ponoko  to get laser cut in leather. From there it was a couple evenings of dyeing, painting, stitching, and sweating to get everything together.

I really started seriously pursuing digital fabrication when, a couple of years ago, I was operating the laser cutter over at Instructables. A man named Robert Lang came through the door to work out some prototypes in paper. He was doing origami designs, etching the results of computer-based experiments on paper, and then folding them. It all came together for me when he explained how he could have a couple of crucial measurements and relationships drive an origami design that he could infinitely tweak before transferring it to the paper all ready to fold. From there, I began playing with ready-to-assemble designs, flat printed designs, and 3d printing.


Digitally fabricated goggles on Make, Ponoko, and Trial by Steam. Download the designs at Thingiverse, Ponoko (extra), and Shapeways.