April 25, 2012

Thingiverse, a treasure trove

In previous Synthetic Daisies posts, I have discussed the Maker movement and how you can engage in some pretty high-end technological innovation without too much overhead (see "Frontiers of Rapid Prototyping" and "Open Source Hardware" for more information). In the spirit of this theme, I am featuring a profile of Thingiverse, which is a repository of blueprints for objects and tools you can fabricate using a rapid prototyping machine.

Some of these objects are trivial, and others are quasi-useful. I will give a quick tour of different schematics available to download from Thingiverse, and then discuss how they can be used by the budding Maker.

Do you like your cookies the same size and shape every time? Do you also like to serve them in a recursive manner? This cookie press might help on both counts. 

Thing #2: Che3po Chess

Ah, this is more my speed. Chess with liberal references to a post-rise-of-Skynet world and leetspeak

If you indeed are interested in recreating a post-rise-of-Skynet world, here is a replica of a T800 terminator head (what lies beneath the skin, of course).

Thing #4: Hand robot InMoov

If you need to give a robot (or cyborg) a hand, here's your chance.

Ah, yes, another robot. This one is a whole-body model, and in fact is the most famous Bending unit from Futurama. 

You might be asking at this point: can we make anything else besides robot parts and cookie cutters? In fact, there are thousands of designs available for download (although there is a heavy skew towards mechanical structures and simple tools). 

Of course, all of the above designs were "printed" using a rapid prototyper and a variety of raw materials. But suppose you do not have access to a rapid prototyper. Is Thingiverse still useful? Yes, it can be. All of the models are actually exchanged between users as a series of objects written in .STL (standard tesselation language) format. An example from "Che3po Chess" is shown in the image below:

The .STL format is not only accessible by software drivers for rapid prototyping machines. The models are build in an open-source program called MeshLab, which is good for mesh editing. Below is an example of the crown bishop from the "Che3po Chess" project opened in MeshLab.

Thingiverse could become quite useful in the design of virtual worlds, especially in mixed reality environments where physical objects and virtual objects co-exist in the same context. I am of course editorializing here, but by all means you should check out and experiment with Thingiverse.

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