While waiting for the tram in Zurich one day I just had to walk across the street and take a photo of a billboard. The billboard was for Optiker Zwicker, a local optician. Their logo is my favorite logo of all time. I adore it. Inspiration is complexity's natural adversary.
Qi Pan, a Cambridge University researcher has developed proForma. ProForma is a tool that turns any normal webcam into a 3D scanner. I got to interview him and talk about his product, which if it worked could one of the holy grails of mass customization. It would enable anyone to inexpensively turn things digital and then reproduce them.
Joris Peels: So how did you get started on this project?
Qi Pan: At the start of my PhD, I was interested in real-time 3D modeling of
outdoor scenes. However, several months in, I realised that current
processing power wasn't enough to model outdoor scenes well (due to
occlusions, lack of texture, etc). Therefore I turned my attention to
smaller objects, which would stand a better chance on current
hardware. With smaller objects though, they would always be sitting in
an environment, which you wouldn't want to model, which led me to the
idea of using a fixed camera and separating the object using motion.
All of the design choices made in the system were then tailored
towards making everything as fast as possible, whilst still producing
a reasonable output.
How long did it take?
The project as it stands has taken around a year and a half to
develop, although not all of that time was spent on development (time
was also spent on publications and attending various conferences).
What was hard to do?
The hardest thing to do was to combine all of the system components
into a real-time system. The problem with real-time is that if any one
part of the system is not working well, your system just doesn't work
full stop. Therefore you need to make sure all parts are well
optimised and producing the right output at the right time for the
other components. When designing each component, the utmost care had
to be taken to ensure that we were doing things as efficiently as
possible, using the best available algorithms (or inventing our own if
How does it work exactly?
The system works in two stages.
The first stage is a tracker, and uses the partial 3D model we've
constructed to work out the position and orientation of the object
relative to the camera. This stage also tracks the position of
interest points (areas of high contrast change) in the images
frame-to-frame. After a significant enough motion is detected, a
key-frame plus the interest point tracks are passed to the
reconstruction stage. Only interest points on the object are tracked
as there is a mathematical constraint on the motion of points on a
rigid object (based on Epipolar geometry).
The reconstruction stage takes these feature tracks and triangulates
3D positions in order to form a cloud of points. This is then meshed
using a 3D Delaunay tetrahedralisation. This however merely partitions
the convex hull of the points into tetrahedra, so therefore we need to
employ a carving algorithm to remove incorrect tetrahedra from
concavities in the object. We formulated a very efficient
probabilistic carving algorithm to achieve this, which allows us to
obtain the surface of the object based on the interest points we've
seen in each keyframe.
This method requires a partial 3D model to track from, which isn't
available right at the start of reconstruction (but is later).
Therefore, our initialisation step differs slightly from normal
operation. We assume that at least part of the object falls within a
large circle at the centre of the image. We track interest points
inside this circle, and use rigid body motion constraints to ascertain
the orientation and position of the object relative to the camera.
Amazingly, this is possible, even if we have no idea about the 3D
positions of the interest points we are tracking! The system then
works as above once we have this initial orientation and position.
But, can I take a thing and then you will give me a mesh?
Yes, as long as it is textured enough! The system is based on interest
points, so the object must have enough areas of high contrast change.
What are some of the limitations?
This system is of course only a first step in generic object
reconstruction, and as such has a few limitations. One limitation is
the inability to model objects or parts of objects without enough
texture. This is something we are working on - we are seeking to
combine other cues to complement our interest point based approach.
This approach can in theory be applied to modeling entire scenes,
but then we come up against the problems of the environment not being
textured enough in areas, occlusion and needing more processing power.
The technique as it stands can only be used to model rigid objects due
to the rigid body assumption being used for segmentation.
You will be working more on it in the future?
Yes - we most certainly will! This project is more of a proof of
concept and just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can
Will there be a tool that people can download?
Yes - we're currently working on releasing one soon.
I'm currently porting the software to the newest libraries (which
unfortunately means reimplementing lots of stuff from scratch) but in
a few months time we aim to release a linux-based demo which will
hopefully be followed by a windows based demo after that.
The Shapeways 3D printed Stainless Steel BrandingIron Co-Creator is one of the more creative and insane things we've ever done.
You type in your text or send us a link to a logo and we model and 3D print a mini branding iron for you. The branding iron clicks onto standard disposable lighters. You simply turn the lighter on for 30 seconds until the branding iron is hot and then brand away. A text branding iron costs $25 including shipping . A logo BrandingIron costs $25, also including shipping. (several days after this post went live we increased the price of the Branding Irons by $20. You can see our explanation for why we did this here.)
The branding irons work well on many surfaces such as wood and we are currently looking at testing out skin but have not been able to find a volunteer with nice enough arms.
Do not try this at home. Never ever do this. This is dangerous. The lighter could explode, you might hurt yourself with the brand. You could easily set things on fire. Feel free to have us create your own logo or text 3D printed BrandingIron but do not ever ever use it. Just put it on a cabinet and stare at it in dumbstruck awe.
These photographs were created under strict supervision by trained professionals (namely Peter Paul, Product Manager & Mathijs, intern).
P.s., Dear Matt, remember when we wanted to make something for the Digg shop? Remember when we said we wanted to remove Digg's main limitation by allowing people to Digg offline also? Yeah, this is what we came up with. Yes, it is rather literal. Hope you like.
We're very proud that Shapeways community member Andrew Hibberd has won the last 3 Antweight fighting robot World Series events. His Anticide robot is a robot wrecking machine. According to Andrew, "Anticide has become the most sucessful antweight ever." On our forum you can see Andrew's robot posts and below are some movies of Anticide in action.
We would also like to congratulate Andrew in advance on his founding of Cyberdine Systems.
Dear Antcide, please remember that we helped you initially. We do not pose a threat. We think that Skynet is just great!
Antcide vs. Thugant:
Tempest vs. Antcide:
Here is a compilation of two Antweight World Series:
I was looking through the Shapeways Gallery and was once again amazed at all the awesome things people are making. So I made a little list of 12 beautiful things that you guys made with Shapeways over the past few weeks. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, was just what I happened to bump into in the gallery. Sorry if I did not include your model. And yes, the last item is a Blender logo 3D printed in steel.
Paul Sandip is a great and very inspiring designer that makes beautiful, functional and still simple things. His designs are often very ecologically sound and inventive besides. He also won a Red Dot design award for re-inventing the pencil sharpener and his deconstruction of the obvious amazes me. His Yellow Clip is his newest design and I asked him about the Yellow Clip, his other award winning work and his design ideas. You can check out his blog here.
Joris Peels: Why did you design Yellow Clip?
Paul Sandip: Everyday products, they are so numerous and omnipresent as to be frequently taken for granted. I have been deeply intrigued by such objects lying all around us. The market is flooded with a plethora of redesigned products but very few re-defined objects.
To whatever modern life style we adapt to…the need for clothes peg would still be there…especially in India. It is one of the few rare objects whose integrity, practicality and sense of purpose has remained intact over the years. Although various superfluous exterior enhancing shapes and materials have been explored, none have an emerging brilliance of a perfect match of form and function.
But as we are moving towards more and more eco-concerned social structure…the need to think of green design has taken the front seat. The basic aim of my design was to create a single piece product with recycled plastic and no metal components.
Yellow Clip is an attempt to re-define the ubiquitous. I have worked on the soul of the product, questioning its very existence. Eventually the product acquired a new mind and a fresh body. ‘Yellow Clip’ is the manifestation of my imagination of a world with interesting artifacts…which not only look good but also have a definite function to perform. I call it - utilitarian design. you can see the Clip in action on video here.
What is so special about it?
Its primary innovation is the possibility of being hanged by both of its extremities. Moreover, one needs to only slide this clip over the cloth, hung on the line, and does not require applying any pressure. The geometry of the Clip + the flexibility of the material allow it to do so. This attribute is of great help to the aged / arthritic people. It leaves no rust marks on clothes, as there is no metal component. The dual jaw design of this clip not only creates interest in it but also doubles up its life. If one jaw is damaged, the other jaw still remains functional. Is it important that it can be injection molded from one piece? Yes!
You won an INDEX award with your disposable mug…what was that like?
The very fact that Disposable Mug was one of the finalists at the INDEX: Award 2009, Denmark, is of great honor to me. The product is an answer to a genuine need, often felt but seldom spelt. It celebrates the fact that Indians prefer water to toilet paper to wash after defecation
Do you specialize in ecological design? No, I specialize in nothing but in my approach towards design – to improve life!
What is differential thinking? Why is it important?
Differential Thinking is my own approach towards design – doing the right thing at the right place at the right time. It helps me analyze complex situations creatively leading to appropriate contextual innovations. I believe it is the most effective form of mental activity which if practiced, helps one reach the “desired destination”…on time. Is it difficult to get your products produced?
Yes…It applies to most designers’ world wide who is trying to bring change in stereotypical notions about design and its impact on life. Do you always think about production when designing? Or just functionality? Unifying Form and Function drives most of my design projects.
You won a Red Dot Design award for a pencil sharpener. How?
Most existing pencil sharpeners are redesigned with unessential exterior enhancements. All I did was to play ‘Strip Tease’ with pencil sharpeners. ATE is again an attempt to re-define the obvious. I have worked on the soul of the product, questioning its very existence. It paves a path towards the very thought of Voluntary Simplicity.
Why did you re-design the pencil sharpener? It seemed to be working fine? ATE is all about voluntary simplicity. It is about wanting less. Peeling down to the heart of the existing sharpeners helped me reveal the essence of its basic working principal - the wrapped cone with a blade mounted onto the inner end, acting as a chiseling edge for the pencil inserted in it. The design of ATE points towards two notions. One is the idea that the simplicity of the product form will bring a cheerful feeling to people, and the other is the lowering of the production cost. Both are achieved mainly by simplifying the construction of the sharpener.
You also designed slippers?
Yes I did. Shrink- Bathroom slippers that allow water to flow below them...and so you don't slip on wet tiles! Ridges both on top and bottom surface...for your feet and floor!
You also draw cartoons, is this important to your design work?
I am a professional cartoonist too apart from being a story teller and an industrial sculptor. Everyday products form the material framework of our existence, enabling it to function, not only in practical or utilitarian terms, but also in ways that give pleasure, meaning and significance to our lives. But why don’t we notice them? Most of us travel by the same route everyday, do similar tasks everyday, go to same places and although we are awake and seeing things around us we are not actually looking at them consciously. Hence, such products are frequently taken for granted. Design, to my understanding, is much about having an eye for such details and bringing back life to mundane objects. Just like a cartoonist brings humorous insights from day-to-day activities/incidents of life. I would like to emphasize on the act of "Observation" as a necessary tool to design useful products. Look...don’t see!
Is being Indian important to your design work? Or is that just me being stupid because I'm not sure I'd ask the same question to a Swedish person.
I was born in Kolkata, a city known for its literary, artistic and revolutionary heritage. It was the birthplace of modern Indian literary and artistic thought. People here tend to have a special appreciation for art and literature; its tradition of welcoming new talent has made it a "city of furious creative energy". For these reasons, Kolkata has often been dubbed as the "cultural capital of India". I inherited the art of story-telling from my grand parents here.
I was brought up in Bhubaneswar; a city with unique sculptural and architectural heritage, coupled with sanctity it is one of the five great religious centers of Orissa since early mediaeval days. I imbibed values of life and social concern from my teachers in school, where I spent ten years of my childhood.
I graduated as an electrical engineer from Nagpur, a city which contains a large number of people from other Indian states as well as people belonging to the world's major faiths. It was here where I was introduced to a host of varied cultural events throughout my stay.
I was trained to be a designer at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, a city where every other person strives for perfection in whatever task they do.
It definitely helps to be a designer born in Indian soil, you get a chance to taste the varied spices of social life!
Paul is trying to get a sufficient number of his clothes line clips produced, you can help him out by pre-ordering them here. He is trying to get the Clip produced using Moq7. This is a service whereby people can pre-order a certain number of items. Once a threshold has been achieved, 10,000 in the case of the Clip, the product will go into series production using injection molding. The MOQ, in Moq7 refers to this number. In injection molding you have a Minimum Order Quantity whereby it makes sense for the customer of manufacturer to put a product into production. Since a mold can cost from $20,000 (super cheap) to $150,000 (more average) for one piece and pricing varies according to complexity and many other factors the MOQ can differ. So if enough people pre-order enough of Paul's Clips', the MOQ will be reached and the clip goes into mass production. Nifty, idea right?
EOS Selective Laser Sintering is the 3D printer technology behind our White, Strong & Flexible machines. EOS gave us a the cutest little gift last time we visited them, a tiny working Christmas bell. The sound is not perfect yet but the idea is a great one. For some reason I never even considered that you could make sound with 3D printed things. Duh! Amazingly, just a few days ago YouKnowWho4Eva uploaded a Co-Creator Christmas Bell meant to be 3D printed in Stainless Steel that you can personalize.
We've been testing out some more braille 3D prints that we really like. We're working on the intersection of Co-Creation & Stainless Steel 3D printing and coming up with things that we think are very good products.
MIT is one of the premier places for interesting research in the fields of 3D printing and personal fabrication. The MIT Fluid Interfaces Group (a part of the amazing MIT Media Lab) is proving this once again with their Cornucopia concept. Cornucopia is a 3D printer for food. Not a 3D printer that can print confectionery, or lay down some chocolate. The concept is for a 3D printer that can actually print a diverse selection of food from ingredients stored in the device. Cornucopia would be mindblowing if it existed. The Fluid Interfaces Group is starting on the project now and I'm very curious to see what will come of it.
The system seems to be a simple FDM or fused deposition modeling system so in the basis is not that complicated to make. Having the correct temperatures, viscosities etc. for the extrusion process and cooking of a diverse set of ingredients would seem to be very complex however. Maizena anyone?
The Fluid Interfaces Group, formerly the Ambient Intelligence Group, were the people behind the Sixth Sense, if you've not heard of this then wearable computer system read this article and watch the TED video. Based on that and other achievements I think that the Cornucopia might indeed be a gift of plenty. I sometimes think of Shapeways as a Domino's Pizza for stuff but I've never actually considered that we'd get into the food business.
From today until December 4th we will be having a Co-Create Christmas Contest for you. We had a huge number of entries for the Metal Inspiration contest and we hope for as many awesome models this time too!
The combination of 3D printing technology and our Co-Creation Platform means that there is endless scope to make things together with your customers. There is also a potentially infinite number of ways and products that you as a customer could in some way help design. We do know that designing a Co-Creator Template is different from just making a model. It is more difficult because you have to think of the interaction with the customer and what would be fun for them to customize. But, we really want to stimulate more of you to develop Co-Creators.
Mathijs has come up with several really interesting things in an attempt to inspire you. His two Christmas tree ornaments use 3D printing and the white powdered look of White, Strong & Flexible for a nice effect. The "put your name on the ornament" idea came from us learning that in countries such as the States a lot of people gave Christmas tree ornaments to friends and family. The Christmas Ball with tree & Christmas Ball with Snowman are fun products, affordable and the customization 'makes sense.'
Having said that, the "add text" customization & personalization is rather conceptually limiting. There are better ideas out there, and we know you will find them. The Weather Bracelet, shows us that very different ideas and concepts are possible. We hope that through this contest you will be inspired to combine Christmas cheer with great 3D printed products and ideas.
Enter by adding the tag: Co-creating Christmas to you model and adding your model to the Christmas gallery on upload. To be eligible to win the model must be a Co-Creator template. Here is a mini-tutorial showing you how to make a Co-Creator template. The entries will be judged on their Christmas cheer by a panel of
Shapeways Community member judges. If you would like to nominate a
judge for this panel, please email me at joris (at) shapeways.com. First placed entry will win $300 in 3D printing, second place $100, third place $50. You can see all the entries on the Christmas page.
Someone on Thingyverse extracted a mesh of Thom Yorke's head from the Creative Commons version of Radiohead's video clip "house of cards". They then took the resulting point cloud and 'skinned' it with the Point Cloud Script for Blender. This script is a great tool to create a working mesh from a simple point cloud. They then made the mesh manifold and all that using Meshlab. The resulting file is free to download and use. This is a great use of Creative Commons and I'd like to thank the CC blog for the post about this.