SPATA: shaving seconds and saving brainpower whilst 3D-modeling

If you’ve spent some late nights CADing your next model for the 3D printer, you might find yourself asking for a third hand: one for the part to-be-modeled, one for the tool to take measurements, and one to punch the numbers into the computer. Alas, medical technology just isn’t there yet. Luckily, [Christian] took a skeptical look at that third hand and managed to design it out of the workflow entirely. He’s developed a proof-of-concept tweak on conventional calipers that saves him time switching between tools while 3D modeling.

His build [PDF] is fairly straightforward: a high-resolution digital servo rests inside the bevel protractor while a motorized potentiometer, accelerometer, and µOLED display form the calipers. With these two augmented devices, [Christian] can do much more than take measurements. First, both tools are bidirectional; not only can they feed measurement data into the computer with the push of at button, both tools can also resize themselves to a dimension in the CAD program, giving the user a physical sense of how large or small their dimensions are. The calipers’ integrated accelerometer also permits the user to perform CAD model orientation adjustments for faster CAD work.

How much more efficient will these two tools make you? [Christian] performs the same modeling task twice: once with conventional calipers and once with his tools. When modeling with his augmented device, he performs a mere 6 context switches, whereas conventional calipers ratchet that number up to 23.

In a later clip, [Christian] demonstrates a design workflow that combines small rotations to the model while the model is sculpted on a tablet. This scenario may operate best for the “if-it-looks-right-it-is-right” sculpting mindset that we’d adopt while modeling with a program like Blender.

Of course, [Christian’s] calipers are just a demonstration model for a proof-of-concept, and the accuracy of these homemade calipers has a few more digits of precision before they can rival their cousin on your workbench. (But why let that stop you from modifying the real thing?) Nevertheless, his augmented workflow brings an elegance to 3D modeling that has a “clockwork-like” resonance of the seasoned musician performing their piece.

[via the Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction Conference]

20 thoughts on “SPATA: shaving seconds and saving brainpower whilst 3D-modeling

    1. It’s an incredibly well excecuted concept to be sure! One of the bigger issues I have with mice is that they don’t really give feedback. It takes a lot of skill and practice to convert an object into a 3d model, and a mouse is a poor tool to do that. A pen is better, but it’s still quite a disconnect.

      A pair of calipers/flippy lever thing that not only gives good data input, but physical feedback and information output is just brilliant. I want it.

  1. Cool! Most cheapo digital calipers have a digital out port. It would be pretty easy to hack together something like. The hard part is getting your CAD program to accept the data.

      1. HaD actually linked a project that did just that a couple weeks ago. I remember because I was upset because I had done the same thing a year ago and hadn’t gotten around to publishing.

    1. Here is my approach on what you described:

      I also have some DIP Switches for setting, that allow me to:
      – automessure (Delete the number of chars previously send (eg 5 chars at 12.02mm) and insert the new value)
      – setupable buttons (in the video I make a TAB-cmd after each value print for example)
      – 1/2 (In Cinema4D you define tubes and rings by radius, therefore you need to take 1/2 of the diameter to get the radius, duh)

      The Tutorial I used is in the video description

  2. It’s a cool idea and good execution, but I also see a lot of scripted workflow: first take the diameter, then the thickness, etc. So yes, it eliminates a lot of keystrokes, but only if you follow the steps exactly. Maybe there aren’t too many modes to contend with? Circle and rectangle + extrude handle a lot of cases. I remember back in the 90s I had AutoCAD R10 with a Calcomp digitizer with an overlay that gave one-click access to 100+ functions. Modern menu-based UIs don’t always feel like progress to me by comparison…

  3. 1. Spectacular job. This is really REALLY amazing.
    2. I agree with Flegmatoid – SPATA 2.0 should be freed of wires.
    3. On that note, SPATA 3.0 should be a stylus meant to trace around a shape like using a pen and tracing paper except for 3D.

  4. For inside hole measure the caliper needs points on the jaws and an offset programmed to get the right measurement. Or make the jaws bypass style like other calipers have for inside measure.

    Other than that it’s a very good demonstration.

    Harbor Freight has a new 6″ digital caliper that measures to 0.0005″, 0.01mm, and 1/128th fractional inch. Unlike the previous model it can’t be zeroed or mode changed with the display off. It also has auto-on when the jaw is moved. Like the previous model this one has a data port.

    http://www.harborfreight.com/6-in-digital-caliper-with-sae-and-metric-fractional-readings-68304.html

    1. That caused me a bit of a double-take “measures to 0.0005 and 1/128th” :-)

      Okay, it displays to either 1/128th or to 0.0005″ (effectively 1/2000th) but it’s accurate to +/- 0.001″ (1/1000th) so really, the fractional thing is more of a convenience to save converting the decimal fractions but they’ll be less accurate than just doing it oneself (you’ll only have resolution in 0.008″ steps).

      Yay for convenience (now if only they also had a setting that also read out distance as wire gauge measurements as well :-)

  5. Hmm kinda nice, but you can streamline your modeling workflow without those tools too.
    I usually build a basic model of the part I copy, just by eye, but including all features like extrusion-sections, holes, etc.
    And then I pop out my calipers and enter all the sizes to get the final model.

    Also: Whatever happened to this thing? Anyone using this or did someone buy it to never sell it?

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