Final Project: Shaper

by Karl DD @ 7:45 am 7 May 2010

‘Shaper’ is a prototype device that uses a three axis CNC machine to interactively dispense expanding polyurethane foam material. The device can be controlled directly via a translucent touch screen, allowing the user to look into the fabrication area and create physical artifacts with simple gestures.


This project tried to challenge the conventional process of ‘digital fabrication’, by prototyping fabrication devices that allowed for direct interactive control. The motivation behind this was a belief that the current digital fabrication process was too fragmented, and new creative possibilities could be uncovered by using new interfaces designed for ‘interactive fabrication’.


The question still remains: What does interactive control offer over conventional CAD-based digital fabrication processes or even manual fabrication processes? I don’t have a definitive answer but there are a handful of ideas I can suggest.

+ A better understanding of materials. By bringing the physical devices together the user automatically starts to design/create with consideration of the nature of the material.
Speed of production. We chose expanding polyurethane foam to enable physical objects to be fabricated quickly. Unlike other additive 3D printing processes, foam quickly expands to a substantial volume. The hope was to have the machine keep pace with the creative process of the user. Unfortunately the foam was quite difficult to tame (as you can see at the end of the video), and the speed of the machine itself proved to be a bottleneck.
+ Interpretability, repeatability, & precision. When compared with manual fabrication, interactive control offers the ability to interpret user gestures and map them to specific physical output, then furthermore repeat them again and again with precision.
+ Direct visual feedback. By situating the interface with the fabrication device the user can view the material directly to better understand the spatial relationships and structure of the form. While this feedback pales in comparison to the rich haptic feedback of manual fabrication, there are instances when safety concerns or issues of scale necessitate the use of a machine rather than a hands-on operator.

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