Week 6: First Visit to the Fab Lab

This week, we paid a visit to the surprisingly out-in-the-open Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab; a free community center-like makerspace open for anyone. The Fab Lab is aptly named as the inner workings of the building are almost like a laboratory filled with fabulous creations by the volunteers and others who happen to stop by. Unlike our Digital Making Lab, it contains not only 3D printers, but other varieties of technology designed for the specific purpose of creation. These include sewing machines, paper cutters, laser engravers, and soldering stations. The lab contains a plethora of methods for people to express their creativity; it’s a shame that it is not very well known.  < Outside view of the Fab Lab

For the first week here in our 3 part saga in this lab, one person from each of our groups was assigned to a station in the lab where we would participate in a different workshop to make something out of nothing. For my personal station, we worked in electronics. I chose this because as an electrical engineering major it was definitely in my all you expertise and I knew that I would be able to learn something to improve upon. Our project was creating a type of light-sensing electronic circuit using LEDs, a photocell resistor, and an Arduino. Depending on the amount of light sensed by the resistor, a different color LED would light up. If no light was sensed, then all the LEDs would turn on. The project involved looking at some schematics and quite a bit of soldering, and the end result as it currently stands (an Arduino board with a bunch of wires and LEDs branching everywhere) did not look so appealing, but the functionality was the true beauty of it. Plus, we should be able to improve upon and make the design “prettier” in our next workshop. The other two groups were split into those working with laser cutters and coding in the computer lab portion of the Fab Lab. Laser cutting is another type of 3D printing in a sense, but in a way opposite to the norm. Instead of starting with nothing, your starting material is already there. You just need to decide upon a design and what portions you wish to cut out rather than add on. The results are stunningly precise. And while coding might not seem as glamorous as the other two activities, it is the basis of modern day electronics. Virtually every device for use by citizens requires some programming: phones, computers, televisions, and the 3D printers we use in our lab. It may not inherently make some visually stunning object, but without it we wouldn’t be able to use the machines that make those objects in the first place. All in all, these activities were extremely enjoyable to spectate and participate in, and in doing so we’ve gained knowledge of more methods for our use in not just our final project, but Making as a whole.

 Arduino Circuit

Laser Cut Tiger Puzzle


More Ways to Make

Last week, we had class in a different setting. A similar, but different setting. Just east of the BIF is the Fab Lab. Here is were we were introduced to more opportunities of making. I feel that the introduction to this lab will broaden our thinking.

Jeff Ginger, who had previously visited the MakerLab, showed us around the Fab Lab. We started in the front left side of the lab that contained computers. They seemed similar to the computers in the MakerLab with the tapes of software. Also in the front of the lab were 3D printers. Some were less sophisticated than the printers in the MakersLab, some were more sophisticated. They also had a section in the lab dedicated dedicated to playing with different types of materials. They had backpacks and plush toys that they had designed. As you move further through the space they are messing with many other things such as other electronics and teaching others how to make!

The Digital Making class is going to be having class at the Fab Lab over the span of three weeks. Our project teams are split up into three different activities. Last week I was in the laser cutting wood activity. I had zero experience with the software we used to prepare our wood with our designs. The software we used was Inkscape. This software was tricky to use at first, but I was able to get the hang of it. We were going to make a box with our own designs on the side. Once we completed our designs we could start laser cutting. One thing to watch for when the laser is cutting the wood is if the wood catches fire!

Laser cutting wood has many advantages. One advantage to laser cutting wood is that you can make a prototype of an idea you have at a very low cost. I had laser cut before at an engineering camp(GAMES Camp) when I was in high school. When I attended GAMES camp at UIUC in the Summer of 2014, I was on the GBAM track. GBAM was the Mechanical Engineering track at the camp. We were given a task of designing an new innovative design of a wind turbine. We laser cut our wind turbine panels and then created curved panels out of purple duct tape. Then the base of the turbine was made out of PVC pipe. This was my first experience using this type of making. Even in 2014 I was making!

Wind turbine design from GAMES camp 2014

Creating With Fusion 360 and DIY Biology

Jeffrey Smith from Autodesk held a workshop in class teaching us about the company and the Fusion 360 software. Autodesk’s Pier 9 is located in San Francisco Bay and is a facility that houses collaborations between artists, engineers, and technologists. One of their latest projects is a 3D-printed model of downtown San Francisco.

During the workshop session, we learned about the different tools on Fusion 360. I found the workshop to be incredibly helpful since I have never used Fusion 360 previously. Using the software, I tried creating a pipe that connected with a rectangular body. Other tools we experimented with were the sketch, modify, and assemble functions. Saving the best for last, we learned about the purple create tool. The tool allows us to deal with multiple faces and build complex, organic shapes. Jeffrey Smith create an aircraft design out of a rounded cube in a matter of minutes. I definitely want to practice using Fusion 360 more and utilize it in semester projects.

Dorothy Silverman presented on Biohacking, which manipulates the genes of organisms to usually create a product. Biohacking can also be thought of as DIY biology, where people of all backgrounds work together in small labs. Projects worth mentioning include using chitin to create biodegradable cups and plates and using fungi spores to grow furniture. I believe that the Biohacking movement is similar to the Maker Movement in that all sorts of people work together to create; however, Biohacking incorporates more sustainability in creating their products.

Merging Biohacking and fashion together, Suzanne Lee created BioCouture, a process in which clothes are grown using microbes. Biohacking is an exciting way to learn about biology and create things at the same time. I definitely want to experiment with the various processes involved to create sustainable products.

No Boundary for Innovation and Design

There are a million and one ways to make something. So far in the Digital Making course I have used TinkerCad to make a logo for my team. In the last class we were introduced to Fusion 360 by Jeff Smith, and instructor for Autodesk. We were instructed on how to go from the basics of Fusion 360 to creating more complex things. You could use that software to make everyday things very easily. I tried making a cake spatula. It has two components to it, a scoop part and a handle. After some more practice i should improve my skills with Fusion!

Fusion is used in many areas of life today. For things in our world and even out of our world! Autodesk had a “Space Challenge” where students competed in to design a 3D model of a cube satellite. This software can help solve real world problems.

Another speaker we had was Dot Silverman. She spoke to us about Biohacking. Biohacking by definition is the activity of exploiting genetic material experimentally without regard to accepted ethical standards, or for chemical purposes. Biohacking has changed the way of life for some people. The vegan lifestyle involves not eating any animal products. It is mostly a plant based diet. So just think of never eating ice cream, having a steak, or enjoying cheese on your pizza. Except biohackers have made a breakthrough that allow vegans to enjoy cheese. They have created a vegan cheese. They are essentially “writing” genes for plant proteins that are mimicking milk proteins and putting them in yeast. Once it is put into the yeast it does something similar to when people make beer. When people make beer it is developed by the yeast excreting alcohol. Except with the modified plant proteins the yeast excretes milk. This is how the “Real Vegan Cheese” is made. This has changed the diet of a vegan and opened many doors for further exploration. Now that there is a vegan cheese, can there be a vegan chocolate or butter. This restrictive diet has become less restrictive. Many people believe the vegan lifestyle is the way to go, but do not think they could make it work with their current lifestyle.

There is no boundary for innovation and design. Today we have the software like Fusion 360 and TinkerCad to let us explore the “what ifs” in life. Today we have found ways to create a 3D modeled satellite cube for space and a way for vegans to enjoy cheese. Who knows what the future has to hold for innovation.