Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Personal Fabrication Summit


This conference/ workshop/ meeting session included lots of key people in personal fabrication, Shopbot, Sketchup, FabLabs, Modkit, TechShop, Reprap, EvilMadScientist/CandyFab, Fab@Home and a bunch of O'Reilly editors and writers. A lot of the discussion centered around the possiblities of Personal Fabrication, some on the 'ideal file format' and a bit on the obstacles.

A big question that we discussed was "How do we grow personal fabrication?" Sketchup has a goal that they have of hooking people on the 3d design software within the first 15 minutes. At the Fab Labs, we are working on projects that will get people hooked on working in the lab with fabrication tools in under an hour. Bill Young from Shopbot is wondering how you make personal robotics tools available to people. Ted Hall of Shopbot noted that many tools for personal fabrication are inexpensive and available, but lots of people don't realize it yet. Fab Labs are free community centers and available on a drop in basis. In TechShop, they have a business model similar to that of a health club, where people pay a monthly fee for membership, and have access to the tools on a scheduled basis.

Some of the software that was discussed was: Sketchup, which can be used to model in 3d. Rob Bell has created a plug in to allow users to port their designs to the Shopbot. Inkscape is used in the Fab Labs, Blender is very hard to master, but has lots of open source power. Collada is xml, web based and works with 3D polygons, it was apparently designed for game geometry, but can make useful files for personal fab. Vectric comes from the Shopbot folks. Open Cascade and Maya were discussed. A bunch of people talked about Art of Illusion.

File formats included .stl and .dxf Nothing perfect exists, but people are working with the current situation. It would be easier to standardize some of the hardware if the file format question could be settled.

Some obstacles we identified were: fear - people can be afraid to try things. getting people access to the tools and process so they can try it out. Personal fabrication needs a public face to illustrate what can be done and how to do it. Just getting started can be a block for people. Usability is lacking, the software design tools are a problem, workflow issues block people from creating. Copyright issues are also a concern in an area where it is easy to clone/reverse engineer objects and devices.

Some project ideas that we discussed were Phil Torrone's Iphone stand, two pieces of acrylic that press fit together and hold the iphone at a nice angle for viewing movies. It is cut on the lasercutter, and the files are available online. A good entry level project. Shopbot has a parametric project system that allows users to cusomize known to be accurate designs and scale them up or down. In the Fab labs, we are creating a suite of quick projects to illustrate some of the power and process of each of the tools in the lab.

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