Digital Making 2017

I can’t believe that it is so close to the end of the semester now! BADM 395 Digital Making is such an interesting and explorative course that I learnt so much from it. I used a lot of skills I studied at the first half of the semester for my final project and I believe that I will benefit more from the skills in the future.



3D printing

Here, I want to not only talk about how I study the 3D printing technique, but also emphasize the idea behind the 3D printing. At the second class of the semester, the director of CUC Fablab, Jeff Ginger, said, “Instead of doing it yourself(DIY), we need to do it with others(DIWO)”. I think 3D printing catch the essence of the Internet and leverage the synergy among different designers. The first 3D printing object I chose was a batman model. The model was quite complicated and would take 10 hours to print, so I had to print partly for the sake of time.


Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is one of the most user-friendly design software I have ever used. Fusion360 is a computer-aided design application for creating 3D digital prototypes. Similar to Cura, Fusion360 enables users to design prototypes or edit other’s projects. Under the guidance of Jeff Smith, an industrial designer at Autodesk, I quickly learnt how to create simple 2D patterns such as line, curve, square, and circle. Then, I knew how to use the more advanced tools to create symmetric objects. I designed a speaker by using Fusion 360.



Design with Empathy

This is not a certain skill I could use directly but it is much more meaningful for each designer than the 3D printing or the skill to use Fusion 360. Design with empathy focuses on the importance to resonate or experience others as if from within their own skin so that we could have a broad perspective about the whole issue. Then, we could generate proposals that cater to different stakeholders.


Circuit Board Design

Circuit board design allows me to create something more interesting and interactive with the 3D printing. The first study session of circuit board design is pure electric-related. I need to make a system that can automatically turn on the LED lights when the light sensor can’t detect light. The main challenge I met was to solder 3 wires together without the help of the holding tool. As you can see from the video below, the system works properly as demanded:


Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is another important and useful skills. I learnt how to use Inkscape to design the patterns or pictures first. Then, we divided the wooden board into 6 different pieces. Because I am a big fan of comic, I chose Batman, Naruto, Pokemon and Onepiece for the cutting.



Coding is the key to control the circuit/ Arduino. At first, we learnt how to control one single LED light on/ off. Then, we were required to use the single LED light to send SOS signal. The second challenge was to make two LED lights flash alternatively. The last problem was to integrate the photo sensor into the circuit and use the sensor to control the LED lights. By solving all these problems, I studied the syntax and logic to code. More importantly, I knew how to ask the Arduino to do the things I mean.


Project/ H2GO

The capstone project we did was a dehydration band. Basically, the band could measure the hydration level of the users and flash lights to remind users to drink water. The band consisted of two parts, the frame and the Arduino controller. We used the 3D printer with the semi-flex material to make the frame. To minimize the size, we made the humidity sensor by ourselves and integrated the sensor with the Arduino controller. Below are the pictures of our deliverable:




I can’t say that I will use 3D printer a lot or I will be a designer in the future, but the experience of learning all the knowledge helps me to realize that I could do much more than I expected from myself. The idea of design with empathy will be useful to me no matter what kind of job I will do. I need to consider the actual demand from the perspective of the users. Meanwhile, I also see how amazing the teamwork could be in the final project. By sharing the different skill-set, we as a team turned in a wearable that I could never make by myself alone. I feel so lucky that I chose to take this course at the end of last semester.


Final Project Update

A quick recap of what we did during the past weeks: we are designing a dehydration band to remind the users to drink water. In the last week, we have successfully tested our customized sensor on the regular Arduino and we also generated a hand-made circuit.



This week, to improve the precision of our circuit, we made a silhouette-cut circuit. It looks very beautiful, right?


To make sure the mini-controller, a mini-Arduino, connect smoothly to the silhouette, I needed to solder the pin to its corresponding copper tape. I had to be extremely cautious because the signal for each pin was independent from others. If I soldered two pins or two copper tapes together, the system would malfunction. In other words, the dehydration detection band could not detect the humidity level of user’s skin properly. Then, I needed to place two mini-resistors on the side of the mini-controller. Once again, to ensure the connectivity, I needed to solder the resistors to the circuit. The picture below was the motherboard of our Dehydration Band. Next we would integrate the sensor to it.



(Someone’s hand is holding the sensor)

Because we needed to place the integrated circuit into a 3D printing band in the end, we had to attach our customized sensor on the back of the motherboard, where the sensor could contact user’s skin. At first, I only used the slim copper tape to connect the sensor to the motherboard. However, resistance detector displayed that there was no connection at all. Then, I realized that I still needed to use solder to solder the sensor to the motherboard. Next, we chose a small button battery and soldered it to the mother board. As you can see from the picture below, this is the final version of our prototype. After the last four weeks’ multiple attempts and three experimental prototypes, now we are so close to the end of our project.


In the following week, we will import the tested code to the mini-controller and place the integrated motherboard into 3D printing band. Then, we will do the final prototype-testing and make trivial adjustments.

3D Scanning & Second Prototype

The topic for last week lecture was 3D scanning. We had Arielle Rausin, the founder of Ingenium Manufacturing, to give us a detailed demonstration of two different types of 3D scanning technologies. The first type of 3D scanning required the object to be placed on a round platform. As the platform rotated, the camera on the side would measure the dimension of the object on the platform. Due to the time limitation, Arielle shortened the time for the camera to gather enough data. Thus, unfortunately, we did not get a normal 3D image by utilizing this technology. The second technology was much more flexible comparing to the first one. We held a scanner in front of the person/ object we wanted to scan. Meanwhile, the computer would use the data transferred from the scanner to create instantaneous 3D image. Because we could see the temporary 3D image, we could focus more on the part that computer could not generate image properly.





The final deliverable for our group is a dehydration detection wrap and we would design the wrap by ourselves, so there was no need for us to use the 3D scanning technology in our project. Last time, we made a cardboard prototype and this time we would make a wrap that could actually detect the humidity of the skin.




It was time to go back Fab Lab and work with Brandon, our technical consultant who worked in Fab Lab. This time, we started to draw the circuit on paper to visualize our idea first. Then, we discussed the possible solutions minimize the circuit based on the blueprint we drew. After we finalized the blueprint, we used the copper coil as the motherboard. Then, we carved out the coil by following the circuit map we draw. Once the motherboard was ready, we placed the controller, mini-Arduino, on it and solder the controller to the board. I had to mention that it was extremely hard and time-consuming to solder the controller and copper coil together. Luckily, we made it in the end. In the following week, we would install the sensor and code the program for the controller. Hopefully, we could have a functional prototype by the end of this upcoming week!


Be Bold & Just Do It

The time flies so fast! We only have one month before ending this semester. Now, it is time for us to utilize what we have learnt in the first half of the semester and realize our ideas with the power of 3D printing. I am in the team XNihilo. We plan to design a fitbit wristband attachment that can detect hydration levels from the skin. When the user dehydrates too much, the wristband attachment could flash to remind the user to drink water.

Yes, it sounds complicated and none of us has much engineering background. However, with the support from the Fab lab, we want to do our best to see whether we can make it.


At the very beginning, we thought that we need to use a humidity sensor that is compatible with the Arduino platform. Thus, we did a substantial amount of online research and found some promising sensors. One of the sensors I found is DHT 11. DHT 11 is an ideal sensor for our project because it can precisely detect the hydration level of the skin and the size is small enough to be installed on a wristband. Then, we went to the Fab lab to check whether we could get DHT 11 or other similar hydration sensor directly from the lab.


We met Brandon at the Fab lab and explained our idea to him. To our surprise, Brandon mentioned that we might not need to use the humidity sensor if we only wanted to detect the hydration level of the skin. We could use a very simple circuit to test the resistance on the skin. If the skin was wet, then the resistance should be lower; if the skin was dry, the resistance should be higher. Comparing the size of a humidity sensor to a simple circuit, we decided to try the circuit first. If it did not work, we could still use the humidity sensor.


After we determined the solution of how to detect the humidity level of the skin, we needed to set up a proper distance between the positive and negative coil we placed on the skin. If the distance was too large, the sensor would not be precise enough; if the distance was too small, the resistance would always be low. Therefore, it was time to do a scientific experiment. We wrote down four distance that we wanted to test. As you can see from the picture below, the distance are 15, 10, 5, 2 mm. Then, we placed the coils based on the distance we set up on Ana’s arm. We connected the coil to the circuit one by one and we selected four most frequent numbers displayed on the screen.


Data Set
Skin 1 331 327 329 317 6.218253
Skin 2 295 288 277 286 7.416198
Skin 3 354 323 321 317 17.01715
Skin 4 318 315 317 310 3.559026




Because we want to select the distance that can work stably, we calculated the standard deviation of the data we collected. The SD of distance Four(2mm) was the smallest, so we chose 2 mm distance for our humidity sensor simulation circuit. To give our classmates and professor Vishal an idea of what we would make, we did a super simple prototype, a cardboard warp. In this upcoming week, we plan to use the 3D printer to make a solid wrap and improve our circuit.



Week 8: Coding Session & Integration

I have to say the third session of the three-week workshop is the best and most intensive one. This workshop breaks into two parts. At first, we learnt how to code the program for the most of workshop; then we combined the wooden shell, Arduino, LED lights, and light sensor together to get an integrated and functional unit.


At the very beginning, we used one single LED lights and one extra circuit board to test simple program we made. As you can see from the picture below, I connected the 5V power source to the positive side of the LED light. There was a resistor placed along with the negative side of the LED light.


The first challenge for us was to send SOS signal in the form of Morse code. SOS in Morse code is a continuous string of three dots, three dashes, and three dots. To express the SOS signal with LED lights, I adjusted the time of LED flashed. I coded the program that required LED lights to flash quickly three times, slowly for another three times, and then quickly for three times. From the eye of an observer, he/she could easily discover the form of “…—…” and interpret the signal as “SOS”.


The second challenge for us was to make two LED lights flash alternatively. Although I knew that I should make one LED flash quickly and another one slowly, I could not transform my idea into actual code. Fortunately, after I thought for about 5minutes, the instructor reminded me to create two objects so that I could input different commands for each LED lights. This picture below displayed the moment that I successfully made the two LED lights flash alternatively.


The third challenge was to integrate the photo sensor into the circuit and use the sensor to control the LED lights. This challenge should be tough. However, instructor gave us the blueprint of the final circuit because most of us did not have solid background in electric engineering. Following the blueprint, I quickly connected these components. The short video showed the functionality of my circuits.


Now, it was time to combine all the work we had done in the past three weeks. It was supposed to be easy since all we needed to do was to place the circuit in the shell and use the glue to solidify the box. Well, unexpected things happened. The board with one hole and the one with six holes should be attached together so that the photo sensor could work properly. Somehow, the shapes of these two boards I had were identical, which meant that these two board had to be placed parallel to each other.


Thus, I had to put the photo sensor and other four LED lights on the same plane. Though a little bit frustrated with the final result, I did learn how to solder the circuit, design the pattern, and code the program for Arduino in the last three weeks. I believe that I will use the knowledge a lot from these workshops for the final project.

Laser Cutting

After soldering Arduino circuit last week, we came to the Fablab the second time this week for the next stage of our project. Arduino circuit is an internal function unit of our project and we successfully made it last week. This week, our goal was to design an exterior shell for the project. First thing first, we needed to design the patterns or pictures with the help of the open-source software Inkscape. Inkscape was quite user-friendly and we were able to use the basic functionalities to design our own work after listening the short demonstration shown by the instructors at the FabLab. Basically, we would import our favorable pictures from the Internet to Inkscape and then trace the picture so that the picture would have been transformed into the vectors. The transformed pictures could allow the users to precisely adjust the pictures points by points.


The container consisted of 6 pieces of wooden board. Thus, we designed the size and shape of each wooden board on Internet. After importing the board outline into the Inkscape, we would place our customized imagines into each board. By default, we set color in RBG mode with 255 for Red and 0.001 m for the size of cut. We had to ensure that these parameters were definitely correct so that the laser cutter could precisely conduct the objects we designed. As you can tell from the picture below, I am a big fan of comic. The images I chose were Batman, Naruto, Pokemon, and Onepiece.


Although the laser printer was efficient at producing customized artwork, we only had two laser printers while 8 objects needed to be printed. Thus, I waited for almost 15 minutes before the printer started to print my own object. I was so excited when seeing my design printed into physical objects. Now, I had the internal circuits and external containers. Next Monday, I would learn how to code and import a program into the circuits. I can’t wait to see my final project when I finished all of the three different but inter-related parts.


Week 5 Summary: Brainstorming with Empathy & Structure

We had studied how to use Cura and Autodesk Fusion360 in the past several weeks. We explored the functionalities of these two software and printed the words designed by other users from the third-party. It was interesting and exciting to see the design being printed by the 3D printer layer by layer, while we still needed to move forward and started to develop our own designs.


The authors of the article from Science magazine argue that creativity is more efficient when there is a structure laid out or a framework to follow. More specifically, the structure is clearly defined and may have constraints imposed. Professor Vishal gave us a “How can we…” or “How may we…” question structure. These question structures provided us a form of discovering an ignored user demand, improving an already existing product, or changing the status quo. By keeping asking ourselves these similar questions, we could inspire each other and find great ideas as a part of the semester project. Many group came up with excellent HCW statements:


  • How can we get busy individuals who are working or in college to drink more water?
  • How can we create a laptop case which can fit all laptops and keep them from breaking?
  • How can we get households around the world to save energy?
  • How can we get bikers in college to wear helmets and keep their bikes safe?
  • How can we get people in working areas such as college or the workplace to keep their whiteboards clean?

From Bakliwa


  1. How can we conserve water when doing dishes and washing our hands?
  2. How can we make smart home products less expensive?
  3. How can we stop hot air from escaping through window cracks?

From Jorge Castro


Once these statements had been listed, we began to rely on our innovations to find ways to solve these problems. But, how could we solve the problems effectively and creatively? Michael Carroll, a researcher at Fast Company magazine, used to work with C-level leaders who have difficulty to support their ideas as an executive coach. Based on his experience, Michael found that the people who can successfully bring new ideas to maneuver have a common characteristic, empathy. It is important to resonate or experience others as if from within their own skin so that agents could have a broad perspective about the whole issue. Most of us chose the college students as our target customers. Following the empathy methodology, we began self-reflecting about what we needed most while the current service or objects could not satisfy us. Many students generated interesting ideas such as:


1.How can we save water when cleaning dishes?

First problem we identified is that too much water was wasted when we wash dishes by hands. A considerable amount of water was not utilized effectively when we rinse the dishes. As we all agreed, our concern in this issue is to save resource and energy instead of water bill.

When we moved forward to think about possible solutions, we were inspired by a product design on, which pulverizes water stream. Our team thinks we could build on that idea and design a product that works with different types of home-use or commercial faucets. We will be continue working on brainstorming solutions in the following meetings.

From Xinlu


2. Fitbit wristband attachment – solves issue of dehydration



Universal laptop case – solves the issue of lack of non-Apple laptop cases

universal laptopcase

From Ana


3.Comprehensive: HCW & Solution


FullSizeRender (1)

From Taofik


As emphasized by the David Kelly, the CEO of a global firm IDEO, he highly values the benefits brought by empathetic design or user-centric. Empathetic design requires the designers to think about the feeling of the client he/she is making the product for. This design methodology brought unparalleled competitive advantage for the IDEO. All in all, the HCW structure helps us to focus on improvement process and empathy reminds us the significance of user-centric. It is amazing to see that all of us can generate so many great ideas within 20 minutes timeframe. Moreover, these ideas will become part of our final design and the will be printed at the end of this semester.


Fab Lab & Circuit Board



It had been two weeks since Jeff Ginger, the director at the Illinois Informatics Institute, gave us a detailed introduction about 3D printing and talked about interesting stories happened in the Fab Lab. This week, we made our first visit to the Fab lab, an open and collaborative workshop space for computer-driven innovation on U of I campus. At the very beginning, Jeff led us to see the main functional areas in the lab. Basically, the lab had four main areas. Adjacent to the front door, 3D printing and scanning area allowed users to actually make their designs. On the same floor, there was a small room for making small electronics fabrication. Now, the room had been used for exploring bio-3D printing. Soldering and diagnostics room was on the second floor, and laser cutting room was on the third floor.


After a brief overview of the Fab Lab, we were divided into three groups, one for laser cutting, one for soldering, and one for coding. This week, I voluntarily joined into the soldering group because I had soldered circuit board in my high school. Though I have some experience, it had been 4 years since the last time I soldered circuit board and the project is much easier back in high school.




The main purpose of our assignments was to connect the LED lights, light sensor to a circuit board so that the system can automatically turn on the LED lights when the light sensor can’t detect light. Initially, we had Arduino circuit board, 5 LED lights, resistors, light sensors, wires, and soldiering iron in front of us. Under the instructions of Duncan and Andrea, I could solder the LED lights and wires correctly. I had to mention that the “helping hand” was a tool to hold wires for users to solder. However, we had more users than the holding tools and I did not have one. It was quite challenging to solder 3 wires together without the help of the holding tool. As a result, I failed much more times than my friends in the group. Despite of the unfavorable circumstances, I successfully soldered the wires and lights together. As you can see from the video below, the light will be turned on/off depending on the light detection of the sensor.




One of our proposal for our final projects is to make a light & noise detection lamp. After soldering this circuit board, I believe the lamp is much more doable than I previously thought. We will talk our ideas with the staff at Fab Lab to gather more information before deciding the final design.

Innovation with Empathy

Michael Carroll, a researcher at Fast Company magazine, used to work with C-level leaders who have difficulty to support their ideas as an executive coach. Based on his experience helping the top management to solve the problem, Michael found that the people who can successfully bring new ideas to maneuver have a common characteristic, resonance. It is important to resonate or experience others as if from within their own skin so that agents could have a broad perspective about the whole issue. Then, the agents could generate proposals that cater to different stakeholders.


Design Proposal:


Same reasons apply to the methodology we adopt for the semester project. After learning necessary skills of 3D designing software in the past weeks, we formally started to design for the semester-long project. Focusing on resonance or empathy, we began brainstorming.


First of all, personally I always want to get a case for my laptop, Razerblade. However, it is a very uncommon brand and only has a few users. Accessory suppliers do not have the interest for making the customized case for Razerblade. I do believe the users of other uncommon brand laptop must have the same problems as well. Thus, the first idea for the final project is to design an expandable laptop case. Because the size of the laptop case can be adjusted, it literally can fit any laptop regardless of their sizes or types.


One of my teammates cares a lot about her health condition. She would often dehydrate while she herself does not notice the situation at all. Although she has a fitbit to keep track of her health condition, she still would not drink water timely. Accordingly, we think a lightening wristband that can remind users to drink water would help dehydrated persons solve the problem easily.


Sometimes, we also notice that in our apartments, lights or lamps are on while no one is in the room. To make our apartment green, we want to design a solar panel noise detection lamp. The lamp will turn on automatically when it senses noise and will dim when the environment is quite. Users can place it under sunlight in the daytime to charge. We believe this lamp can not only make users lives convenient but also more green.


Bike is one of the most common transportation tools on campus. Every cyclist knows the importance of wearing a helmet, but at least half of them even do not have one. It is cumbersome to carry a helmet, especially when the user has to carry it from one classroom to another. To solve the problem, we plan to design a contractible bike helmet with a lock. The helmet can be contracted into a lock when the cyclist park the bike.


Honestly, I didn’t expect that we can generate so many ideas within 20 minutes. I have to say the positive atmosphere really boosts the innovation among us. As emphasized in the supplemental readings, belief in yourself and your colleagues will create a mutual positive influence.

3D Modeling with Fusion 360

We have Jeff Smith, the industrial designer at Autodesk, as our guest speaker this week. Although Jeff used his most of time explaining how to use Fusion360 and why it is superior to the other competitive products, Jeff’s self-introduction indeed contained a lot of wisdom. First of all, he called him a “dinosaur”, because Jeff was the in the last generation in his college that purely used “analogy design methodology” (not sure whether this is the terminology he said) and Photoshop was barely in beta version. It is crazy to see that what people learned in college might immediately be replaced by other advanced technologies nowadays. Does that mean we do not need to study hard anymore? Absolutely not, we still do need to master the subjects in our curriculum. On one hand, no one knows exactly when the new technology will replace the old one; on the other hand, the experience we accumulated by studying the old method will broaden our perspective when applying new technology. All in all, we need to keep an open mind to new tool/ technology all the time.


Jeff also emphasized the importance of network. Before working for Autodesk, Jeff worked for Autodesk’s competing company for decades. It would be a nightmare for anyone when he/she is informed to leave the company after he/she had worked for such a long time. Unfortunately, Jeff faced this kind of tough situation.  Though frustrated about his unemployment, Jeff found a new job with the help of his network in the following weeks. Jeff himself also said that he did not expect he would work for his original company’s competitor and his network would help him secure a new job when he needed most. These two episodes have nothing to do with 3D modeling, but I do believe we can learn a lot from these two events.


Fusion360 is a computer-aided design application for creating 3D digital prototypes. Similar to Cura, Fusion360 enables users to design prototypes or edit other’s projects. Under Jeff’s instruction, we have a quick overview of Fusion360’s user interface. Then, we start to sketch the basic 2D patterns such as line, curve, square, and circle. Then, Jeff introduced how to create 3D object like box and cylinder. Meanwhile, Jeff also demonstrated how to use extrude, revolve, and other functions to create new patterns based on these basic 3D objects. Finally, we learned how to use “Create Form” to create symmetric objects. The object I designed is my speaker. I used extrude function to create the control button on my speakers. It looks simple but it will work well. 😉