Prototyping Tangible Input Devices with Digital Fabrication

Valkyrie Savage, UC Berkeley
Björn Hartmann, UC Berkeley

Tangible user interfaces (TUIs) are, according to Hiroshi Ishii, about “mak[ing] digital information directly manipulatable with our hands and perceptible through our peripheral senses through its physical embodiment”. Although touch screen-based interactions are increasingly popular as smartphones continue to sell, there are still strong arguments for maintaining the tangibility of interfaces: these arguments range from speed and accuracy (a gamer using a gaming console) to visibility (ability of others to learn and interact with one’s data in a shared space) to safety and accessibility (including eyes-free interfaces for driving). We have previously investigated the benefits of tangibility in How Bodies Matter.

3D printing holds obvious promise for the physical design and fabrication of tangible interfaces. However, becasue such interfaces are interactive, they require an integration of physical form and electronics. Few of the early users of 3D printing can currently create such objects. For example, we surveyed the the online community Thingiverse; presently it and sites similar to it show a definite tilt towards objects like 3D scans of artwork at the Art Institute of Chicago. These things are immobile, captured rather than designed, and intended to be used as jewelry or art pieces. A smaller set of things on the site have mechanical movement of some kind, like toy cars and moon rovers. A third, yet smaller, class are things that are both mechanically and electronically functional, like Atari joystick replacements. The users who dabble in this last sector are typically experts in PCB design and design for 3D printing.

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Cultural Machines

Hiroya Tanaka, Keio University

Two years have passed since I set up the very first FabLab in Japan. FabLab Kamakura is located in Kamakura City, the old capital and one of historical areas in Japan. There are still lots of temples and shrines, craftsmen and artisans, small workshops of local fab. In collaboration with them, FabLab Kamakura is trying to explore alternative future(s) of Digital Fabrication, especially about Machines with cultural contexts.

Through our field research (especially interviews), we reconfirmed that craftsmen and artisans have great skills on controlling tools as a part of their body, and they often say “there is no boundary between hands and tools”. Through our surveys on recent Digital Fabrication technologies, “Robot Arm” have great potentials to be the next versatile fabrication tool. On the verge where those two contexts crossed, we kicked off our first project called “THE HAND” and set up the “cultural machines group” in Social Fabriction Center, Keio University SFC. Continue reading