MakerLab: Putting It All Together

This has been one of the best classes I’ve decided to take throughout all four years of my college career. It fulfilled my expectations and provided me with even more, and I’ve already recommended this course to my underclassmen classmates. When I first heard about this class, I thought it was solely about how to create 3D printing designs and operate the 3D printers. Boy did I underestimate the things I’d learn! In this next section of this post, I will provide a list of the main things I’ve learned throughout the semester.


3D Printing

During the first few sessions of BADM 395, we learned how to use a 3D printing slicing software called Cura and the Ultimaker machine to print out 3D products. We were also exposed to many open communities and sources like Thingiverse to gather creative ideas. Here’s a link to my first blog post.


Autodesk Fusion 360

Learning how to use this 3D printing designing program was both challenging and fascinating. There were just so many functions available to make the perfect design that it definitely felt very overwhelming in the beginning. However, after following video instructions and watching guest speaker, Jeff Smith, demonstrate how to use Fusion 360, it became an amazing tool. Here’s my post about my first experience with this great program.

model 1


Later in the semester, we had the opportunity to learn about the Arduino, soldering, and laser cutting at the CU Fab Lab. The Arduino is a programmable microcontroller which contains pieces of codes that execute on demand. The Arduino is then connected to LEDs, motors, and motion sensors via IO pins. We first learned how to wire the board. Then, we moved on to connecting it to a computer software and inputting codes that control the Arduino. Read more about it here.



Also at the Fab Lab, I was exposed to soldering for the first time. It required steady hands and a lot of patience but was very well worth it in the end. I was able to solder wires together and connect them to the board and LED lights. Here’s more.


Laser Cutting with Inkscape

The last thing I learned at the Fab Lab was using Inkscape to create laser cutting designs. I learned the difference between cutting and rastering and how to safely operate the laser cutting machine. I had a lot of fun putting everything I’ve learned in the Fab Lab together and creating the final product shown in the picture below. Read more here.



I cannot express how impressed I am in this Digital Making seminar and really encourage anyone, no matter your major or year, to take this course. For me personally, I’ve never thought of myself to have much to do with the area of art/design/technology, though ironically I’m a daughter of an artist. This class, however, changed my point of view on the maker world. It taught me that ANYBODY can be a maker, as long as you have a curious mind and willingness to learn and solve problems. In the future, I’ll definitely be more aware about the maker world and maybe utilize some of the things I’ve learned described above in my future career.

I’m Printin’ Myself – 3D Scanning

“I’m with some Maker lab people looking back at it.”

This week in class, we had the pleasure of having former 3D printing student, Arielle Rausin, give us a presentation of 3D scanning technologies. The whole process looked very interesting but also pretty challenging. In order to get a good scan, the scanner has to be held steadily and the person (or object) being scanned has to rotate slowly on an axis to ensure that every part gets scanned. After performing the scanning, Meshmixer was used to clean up the 3D scan by smoothing out surfaces or filling in holes.

3D scanning is a really neat technology that allows us to scan anything in real life and reproduce the exact same model in 3D print. Beyond that, 3D scanning also allows us to enhance the virtual world. Below is a really interesting video of 3D scanning a person and then turning them into an avatar in a video game. Here’s an article that talks more about this technology.

After learning about 3D scanning, we continued to work on our final projects in our individual groups. During the last session, we printed out the 3D material that will hold the Arduino for our Maker bot. This time, we worked on the outer portion of the bot which includes the face and body. In the end, we will be using plywood and laser cutting for those parts but for the sake of prototyping, we just used cardboard to make a rough model. The prototype turned out to be slightly bigger than expected so we learned that we should readjust our scale and make it more suitable in size.

[Final Project: Maker Lab Bot] But First, Map it Out

This week in class we returned to the Maker Lab and continued to work on our final projects with our teammates. We, Team Zerott, have decided on creating a small, friendly-looking Maker Lab bot that records people’s ideas and stories or any feedback they have for the lab. The bot will also have the ability to sense when someone gets close to greet the person. The video/audio recorded by the Maker Lab bot will be saved to an SD card/USB which could help in keeping a record of the things that are going on in the lab as well as collecting data for future use.

To start the prototyping process, we first made a few sketches on how we wanted the bot to look like. The inspiration for our bot came from both the BlabDroid and TJBot.

Super adorable BlabDroid


One of the earlier sketches



Most recent sketch

After making these rough sketches, we discussed how each component of the bot should be made and who should be responsible for what. To run the code for the entire system, we’ve decided to use a program similar to Arduino called Raspberry Pi. Holding that would be a 3D printed body with plywood board covering the entire outer portion of the bot and finally, 3D printed arms and legs.

During this session, we were able to jumpstart on 3D printing the part that holds the Raspberry Pi. With the help of TJBot’s open downloadable files on Github and instructions on Instructables, we were able to successfully print out the inner portion of the bot.

Our next step will be to start on the laser cutting of the outside portion of the bot as well as the coding. I am happy about our progress so far and cannot wait to continue working on this project!

Want To Save the World? Try 3D Printing

What makes 3D printing even cooler than printing personalized accessories like keychains and useful tools like phone charging docks is its potential to save the environment. First, 3D printing is an additive technology, meaning that it’ll only print as much material as needed for a product layer by layer, so very little if any goes to waste. In addition, 3D printed products are usually lighter in weight than their traditional counterparts, which saves money and reduces fuel consumption during shipping. Also, according to Eric Masanet, associate professor in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University, using 3D printed metal parts can reduce the weight of an aircraft by up to 7%. This can help cut back carbon emission and save customers money.  Another set of statistics provided by the Department of Energy is that 3D printing uses up to 50% less energy when compared to conventional mass manufacturing. These are just some of the benefits of 3D printing technology. Taking a closer look, we can see that there are numerous groups out there in different parts of the world striving to use this technology to improve environmental sustainability, AKA saving the world. Below, I will share the two examples that I personally believe are the most interesting ideas pertaining to this subject.


Waste pollution like this often seen in cities struggling with poverty

Cities around the world, especially those that are becoming more urbanized, create a shocking amount of plastic waste every day. This waste not only affects the natural habitat on land, but oftentimes it also eventually become ocean plastic. To solve this problem, the Plastic Bank created a Blockchain digital currency & exchange platform to encourage the collection of plastic waste. It’s the world’s first process to monetize plastic waste. The company launched 3D printing plastic repurposing centers, especially in areas where there is an abundant of waste and poverty, which can take any mixed plastic and make them available for reuse. When citizens bring collected plastic waste to these centers, they could exchange them for monetary rewards. Learn more about this cool “social plastic” movement by watching this short video below:

Turning our focus to the sea, there’s a growing amount of plastic wastes in the marine environment caused by pollution, microbeads from personal care products like soap and toothpaste, and even debris generated by the tsunami. A UK startup company called The Fishy Filaments aims to address this issue by providing one particular solution–turning old fishing nets into 3D printing filaments. This way, fewer nets will be going to landfills (which there aren’t a lot left) and it’ll prevent fishing nets from breaking down into microplastic which could be ingested by fish and birds. Founder of Fishy Filaments, Ian Falconer, believes that fishing nets are great for recycling into filament since they’re mostly made out of Nylon 6 which is used in 3D printing. This avoids extra processing which could harm the environment. The startup has proven the technology and process, and is now on its way to raise £5,000 ($6,178) through crowdfunding to purchase more advanced equipment to increase the efficiency, taking this project to the next level and making the business work.

Image result for fishy filaments

These are just some of the initiatives people have taken to improve our environment with the power of 3D printing. Hopefully these ideas will encourage each of us to take action, whether directly participating or indirectly supporting these movements. Or even better, coming up with cool ideas of our own!


Fishy Filaments:

New Data Shows That 3D Printed Components Could Cut Aircraft Weight By 7 Percent:

Department of Energy:

The Plastic Bank:

Laser Cutting-Patience is a Virtue

This week wraps up the third and final session at Fab Lab. It gave us a sense of achievement as we were able to put together everything we’ve learned in the past 3 weeks into our final product–a personalized LED lightbox.

In this session, my group experimented with laser cutting. It’s a manufacturing technique that utilizes a laser which creates a beam of light to cut or raster on a panel of material. Common material used includes wood, acrylic plastic, and paper. For this project, we used Russian birch plywood.

To create our design for laser cutting, we used a program called Inkscape. It’s a free and open source vector graphics editor that’s similar to Adobe Illustrator. It was pretty simple and straightforward to use and we learned how to convert a bitmap image downloaded from the Internet into a vector image, so that no matter how you scale it, the edges will be just as sharp and not pixilated. In order for the lines to be cut later on with the laser, it has to have a thickness of 0.001”. As for raster engraving, the darker the shade of the image, the deeper the raster. After designing our images, we saved the file as PDF and brought it to the laser machine to start the cutting process.

Staring at the laser machine while it did its work was actually entertaining, as shown in the video. We had to keep an eye on it the whole time to ensure it doesn’t catch on fire (which they said usually doesn’t happen, but who knows).


It took about 10 minutes for the machine to cut the 6 pieces as well as rastering 3 sides of the box. Fortunately, mine came out quite well though I had to use sandpaper to smooth out some of the edges. The next step was the exciting part–putting everything together. It took a lot of time and patience to assemble all the parts of the Arduino, LED lights, and wooden box with a hot glue gun, but in the end it was well worth it.


Oh so magical.


Punny play on words 🙂 You go to U of I, you know it’s about the corn life.


My personal logo!

The major takeaways I’ve gotten after these 3 wonderful sessions at the Fab Lab:

  1. Technology is great and so much more than what we normally see. It’s not just about endless coding like what we usually imagine CS majors and software engineers do all day. The Fab Lab has taught me that it’s about combining different skills (coding, designing, soldering, fabricating, etc.) and sparking your inner creativity to make a variety of things, both for personal use and for the benefit of the society.
  2. Patience is a virtue. Yes, it’s triple cheesy but it’s true. I’m not kidding about the number of times I had to tell myself not to get too frustrated, whether it was soldering wires, assembling the LED, or gluing the final product together. This also applies to anything you want to achieve in life.
  3. Collaboration is key. You won’t go far trying to do something by yourself. Every person you meet knows something you don’t, so by sharing ideas with others you are able to accumulate a lot more knowledge which will help guide you in your creations.

Just to finish it up, I’m going to share a cool project that was done through Fab Lab: a 3D printed boombox. The board is written with Arduino language and can play music using an SD card and a 9V battery. I’m sure this bad boy will serve you well at a house party. 🙂


Soldering + LED Lights = LIT

My Fab Lab experience just keeps getting more and more fabulous each time I visit. This week, my group had the chance to get our hands on soldering, which by definition is the act of fusing together the joints of metal objects by melting a filler metal. This is different from welding, a term I was more familiar with, in that it doesn’t involve melting of the actual workpiece, but rather just the filler metal which connects the wires. Our goal was to use soldering techniques to fuse LED lights and sensor wires together with the use of Arduino board to make a cool LED product. It was quite an intimidating process at first and I faced some challenges listed below, but gradually I was able to overcome some struggles I had and successfully create the final product–a series of LED lights that respond to the light sensor.
Challenges I faced while soldering for the first time:

  1. Fear of getting burned (the soldering gun heats up to 350 degrees Celcius, which could cause a second degree burn with a single touch)
  2. Not having the wires stay connected although the filler metal has melted on them
  3. The smell. It wasn’t the best unfortunately.

This eye-opening experience certainly enhanced my interest in soldering and would definitely try again if I had the chance. Also, I looked up a few soldering products that look really neat. These are of course much more complicated projects than the one we did in class, but the basic technique is similar. Check them out!

LED Umbrella

LED Ice Cube Clock

Fab Lab: Intro to Arduino

Throughout the four years I’ve been at UIUC, I’ve probably walked past CU Fab Lab about 8 times (yes, I do realize that’s awfully specific) but never have I had the opportunity to check out what it was about. This week, our class took a trip to the Fab Lab and in my opinion, it was one of the most eye-opening things we’ve done so far. From the outside, it looks like a pretty insignificant, beaten down building. In fact, it is the second oldest building on campus and used to store horse carriages. But inside, it’s an entirely different world of its own.


As seen in the pictures, the lab consists of colorful wall decorations as well as computers and machines buzzing away while at work. Jeff Ginger, the director of the CU Fab Lab, first gave us a brief history of the organization, then a tour of the building itself.

Afterward, I had the chance to work with Arduino for the first time. Arduino is a programmable microcontroller. It contains pieces of codes in which it executes on demand. The Arduino is then connected to LEDs, motors, and motion sensors via IO pins. We first learned how to wire the board. Then, we moved on to connecting it to a computer software and inputting codes that control the Arduino.
17175848_1526496060702045_1425635065_oIt was quite challenging for me at first because of the complexity of the wiring process and the constant feeling that my fingers were way too fat to properly place the wires in the right spots. But with the help of the instructors and peers, ultimately I was able to create an Arduino circuit board in which the LED lights will blink when it can no longer detect light with its light sensor.

Me hovering my hand over the light to make the LED blink.

As someone who hasn’t previously worked with electronics and doesn’t have much experience with coding, I am fascinated by Arduino and its functions. Moving forward, I would like to explore more of this small but powerful machine and its capabilities. Meanwhile, I found quite a few online resources such as this tutorial of basically what we did in this lab as well as a cool video of a fire breathing pony made with Arduino.

3D Printing Ideating

This week, we shift from learning about the basic operation of 3D printing machines, familiarizing ourselves with use Autodesk Fusion 360, and looking at potential 3D printing ideas, to crafting ideas of our own for our semester project. During this session, we split off into our designated groups to brainstorm ideas. For my group, we started from defining a target audience–high school/college students, and to generating ideas on the problems they face from broader terms like stress and time management to more specific parts that make up the bigger issue such as distraction from social media and peers. Later on, we brainstorm potential solutions to the problem. Along the way, we jotted down our ideas on a blank sheet of paper to keep track of our progress.
17036058_1519060224778962_1809638719_oOur whole ideating process was pretty effective, as in one hand it contains a structured framework but on the other hand, it is also free of stringent restrictions and criticism, as described as the optimal path of generating ideas in the article “Creative Sparks.” This article brings up an important point that sometimes we become too involved in the notion that creative ideas must come from randomness. However, that’s not the case, as total freedom could cause inefficiency and incompleteness.

A crucial part of the whole process was peer evaluation by a member from another group. This fresh perspective prevents us from falling into the trap of groupthink, as described in the article “Get a New Perspective to Prevent Workplace Groupthink” as a dangerous zone. Something I find interesting in the article is that during the hiring process of the company The Motley Fool (also unsurprisingly the author of this article) they would bring in someone from a department different from the one the candidate is applying for to see if that person is a unique contribution to the group and not just one that fits right in. On a related note, an article from Forbes titled “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work — Do This Instead” also brought up the idea of social loafing and groupthink. Brainstorming tends to be less effective when people either try to agree with each other and not speaking up or being too tolerant of total nonsensical ideas. This article promotes a better way to cultivate ideas in which people engage in healthy debates as well as reducing the amount of simply blurting out ideas. This is definitely something out group can look into moving forward.

An important takeaway from this session was that in order to come up with a solid idea, we must first think of problems we observe and then build solutions to solve those problems. More often than not, we have the tendency to quickly jump to a solution rather than thinking through the whole process. As the article “10 Ways to Evaluate a New Business Idea” states, people spend money on things that can fulfill their needs. If a business idea doesn’t address a solution to a specific issue, or in other words, help solve a certain problem, it is hardly sustainable and is likely bound to fail. Something else we noticed during our group discussion was that a lot of the solutions we thought of for our problem already exists in some shape or form. That exactly resonates with another point the article makes in that there’s really nothing new under the sun. New business ideas mostly form as a combination of existing products.

During the second half of class, we had guest speaker, Mike Bohlmann share his experience as a Maker. Currently the Assistant Dean of Technology in the College of Media at UIUC, he started out as an independent Maker before discovering Makerspace Urbana where he was able to connect with many others who enjoy creating in areas of art, humanities, and science. An inspiring project Bohlmann shared with us was a smart map for a board game Star Wars Armada Corellian Sector (currently on display at Titan Games in Champaign, IL). With the use of 3D printing and arduino, he was able to transform the traditional game using stickers that weren’t reusable into programmable LED neo pixels. Bohlmann convinced us that making can be a great hobby outside of work and family obligations.

Finally, this is a 3D print of our team logo. 🙂17015195_1519060218112296_819772687_o

First Attempt at Autodesk Fusion 360

Autodesk Fusion 360TM, a phenomenal tool for designing, engineering, and simulating 3D models, turned out to be more challenging but at the same time simpler than I had imagined. As self-contradictory as that statement sounds, that was exactly how I felt after playing around with the program for hours and following Lars Christensen’s video tutorials to create the model shown below.
model 1
There were times when I felt excited that with a simple click, I could quickly mirror a specific part of the model to the opposite side. While other times, I would sit in frustration, cracking my head trying to figure out how to do something as simple as changing the view of the model. Overall, I felt pretty happy with what I was able to do with the program on my first attempt and know that through practice, I’ll be able to familiarize myself with Fusion 360 and create even more advanced models down the road. Of course, it’s not easy just watching videos and trying things out myself. This past week, our class was fortunate to have guest speaker, Jeff Smith, come in to share with us not only his life experience as an industrial designer at Autodesk and working overseas, but also an extensive introduction on how to use the Fusion 360 program. We first started out sketching simple 2D shapes such as lines, squares, and circles. Then, we created 3D objects such as cylinders and boxes and learned how to join them together.

Here is a very simple model of a prescription vial that I created, something I get to handle a lot at my job (I work at a retail pharmacy).
Just like how Jeff said that back in his college years Photoshop was barely in beta version and how I personally experienced the disappearance of Dreamweaver, a program I was taught to use back in high school, something that got me thinking was that due to the rapid development of technology, would a program that we learn today be quickly replaced by other more advanced software by the time we get into the workplace?

Human-Centric Design-The Way to Innovation

design-for-america-logoThis week we were fortunate to have members of Design for America from the UIUC Chapter present a workshop. It was a fantastic presentation in which we not only learned more about the RSO and their projects, but also participated in a series of interactive activities in groups in which eventually each group designed a prototype to solve a specific problem. As a class, we were given the prompt to come up with a system that could make daily lives easier for senior citizens. My group narrowed the topic down to specifically help the elderly when they are by themselves, especially in situations like falling. This idea stemmed from the fact that some of our team members have personal experiences of older relatives falling but weren’t able to get immediate help because they were home alone. Eventually, we designed a Fitbit-like bracelet which could sense emergency situations such as sudden drops or irregularities in the wearer’s heart rate and alert the person’s family members. This will ensure people get the help they need during accidents. 


This workshop allowed us to create something using a very systematic approach. It was interesting because rather than chaotic free-thinking, we were purposely forced to break down the problem and go through individual steps (“Inspiration, Ideation, Implementation” as Tim Brown mentioned in his article Design Thinking) that eventually led to a solution. However, this type of approach did not hinder our creativity. Instead, it allowed us to utilize low-fidelity prototyping in which we openly generated ideas without discarding any right away. At the same time, this process made us think through each of their feasibilities. It also made me realize that by brainstorming problems in our lives, discussing with others, and using simple, supposedly “childish” tools such as markers, Play-Doh, and pipe cleaners, we were able to develop ideas that could potentially become a powerful contribution to the society.

As said in the article Design Thinking and videos from the Coursera Online Course, in today’s society, professional designers aren’t the only ones that design. Big corporations, companies, organization, and people like you and me should be involved in the design process. Innovation is not just limited to producing aesthetically pleasing physical products, but rather it expands into the realm of IT processes and collaboration. This leads to the idea, which was also mentioned during DFA’s presentation, of human-centric design. It’s very important to factor in human needs when designing. In addition, it’s essential to not shy away from complexity or ambiguity and be willing to fail, as mentioned in the videos. The famous IDEO shopping cart design documentary is a great example of how people (and not just designers) with all sorts of backgrounds come together and create something using the human-centric design. The shopping trolleys with multiple handles for bags make it easy for shoppers who are only picking up a few items. These trolleys can also hold baskets for those who need more space. Also, an article I found to be interesting is How to use human centric knowledge to your advantage by Robert Leeming, which explains how learning about the interactions between lighting and the human circadian rhythm could help us increase efficiency in the workplace and improve patients’ health in hospitals. And think about how neat it would be if lighting itself could fix jet lags!

To sum it up, when we look at problems today like unaffordable healthcare, poor education system, and poverty, it’s clear that these issues require creative, human-centered solutions, which can be developed through inspiration, ideation, and implementation, because ultimately, people are the ones the system serves.