Hands-On the Shaper Origin: A Tool That Changes How We Build

I bet the hand saw really changed some things. One day you’re hacking away at a log with an ax. It’s sweaty, awful work, and the results are never what you’d expect. The next day the clever new apprentice down at the blacksmith’s shop is demoing his beta of his new Saw invention and looking for testers, investors, and a girlfriend. From that day onward the work is never the same again. It’s not an incremental change, it’s a change. Pure and simple.

This is one of those moments. The world of tools is seeing a new change, and I think this is the first of many tools that will change the way we build.

Like most things that are a big change, the components to build them have been around for a while. In fact, most of the time, the actual object in question has existed in some form or another for years. Like a crack in a dam, eventually someone comes up with the variation on the idea that is just right. That actually does what everything else has been promising to do. It’s not new, but it’s the difference between crude and gasoline.

My poetic rasping aside, the Shaper Origin is the future of making things. It’s tempting to boil it down and say that it’s a CNC machine, or a router. It’s just, more than that. It makes us more. Suddenly complex cuts on any flat surface are easy. Really easy. There’s no endless hours with the bandsaw and sander. There’s no need for a 25,000 dollar gantry router to take up half a garage. No need for layout tools. No need to stress about alignment. There’s not even a real need to jump between the tool and a computer. It can be both the design tool and the production tool. It’s like a magic pencil that summons whatever it draws. But even I had to see it to believe it.

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Cardboard CNC Machine Boxes Up both a Tool and a Framework

Want to build up a desktop CNC machine without breaking your pocketbook? [James Coleman], [Nadya Peek], and [Ilan Moyer] of MIT Media Labs have cooked up a modular cardboard CNC that gives you the backbone from which you can design your own machine.

The CNC build comprises of design instructions for a single axis linear stage and single axis rotary stage with several ideas on how to combine multiple of these axes together to construct a particular machine. Whether your milling wood, laser-engraving your desk, or pipetting your bacteria samples, the designs [Dropbox] and physical components can be adopted for your end-application.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is that, at the high level, it is not just a cnc, but a framework known as Gestalt. This architecture enables users to develop their own machine configuration consisting of multiple software nodes linked together with high-level Python Code. Most of the high level computation is organized by a Python library that calls compiled C-code. This high-level framework processes instructions through the desired machine’s kinematics to output commands to the motor controllers. Finally, the top-level interface does away with the archaic GCode with two alternatives: a Python interface consisting of function calls to procedures and a remote interface to make procedure calls through http requests. While the downside of a motion control language is that commands have no standardization; they are, however, far more human-readable, a benefit that plays into the Gestalt Framework’s aim “to be accessible to individuals for personal use.”


In the paper [PDF], [Ilan] expresses the notion of a tool as an impedance-matching device, an instrument that extends the reach of our creativity to bend and morph a broader range of shapes into forms from our imagination. Where our hands fail in their imprecision and weakness, tools bridge this gap. Gestalt and the Cardboard CNC are first steps to creating a framework so that anyone can design and realize their own impedance-matching device, whether they’re weaving steel cables or carving wood.

The folks at MIT Media Labs a familiar heavy-hitters in this field of low-cost machinery, especially the kind that fit in a suitcase. We’re thrilled to see a build that reaches out directly to the community.

via [CreativeApplications.net]

2.5kW of Beverage-Cooling Awesomeness

We’ve covered many thermoelectric beverage coolers in the past, but none come close to the insane power of the AbsolutZero. [Ilan Moyer] set out to design a beverage cooler that chills a drink from room temperature to 5 degrees Celsius as quickly as possible, and it looks like he succeeded. The AbsolutZero consumes around 2.5kW of power and runs 8 water-cooled thermoelectric modules to quickly chill a drink.

[Ilan] put his machinist skills to work and fabricated many custom parts for this build. He machined water blocks for each thermoelectric cooler out of solid copper which draw heat away from each thermoelectric cooler. He also fabricated his own bus bars to handle the 200A+ of current the system draws. To transfer heat from the beverage to the thermoelectric modules, he turned and milled a heat spreader that perfectly fits a can of any beverage.

[Ilan]’s design uses a closed-loop water cooling system and 4 radiators to dissipate all of the heat the system produces, which is quite a lot: thermoelectric modules are typically only 10-15% efficient. The whole design is buttoned up in a custom polycarbonate enclosure with a carrying handle so you can conveniently lug the massive setup wherever quickly chilled beverages are needed. Be sure to check out [Ilan]’s build photos to see his excellent machining work.

Thanks for the tip, [Stefan].

Fitting a CNC machine, 3D printer, and vinyl cutter in a suitcase

Maker Faire NY is awash with new and interesting computer controlled tools, but the most unusual so far appears to be Popfab, a combination router, 3D printer, and vinyl cutter able to collapse down into a suitcase.

Popfab is the brainchild of [Nadya Peek] and [Ilan Moyer] of the MIT CADLAB. With interchangeable heads for routing PCBs, 3D printing, and vinyl cutting. A conventional machine of this capabilities would have motors all over the place, but [Ilan] used a CoreXY system to make the stepper motors stationary relative to the frame of the machine.

The electronics are standard Printrboard and Pronterface fare, but it’s still a remarkable build that also fits into a suitcase.

Pictures of the machine, the XY system (good luck wrapping your head around that, but I can tell you it relies on the differential movement of the two motors) and the lovely [Nadya] holding up the plastic extrusion head. We’ll get a video up tomorrow. after the break

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Shaper Tools Will Blow Your Mind

Have you ever wanted to own a full-sized ShopBot? What if some geniuses somewhere made a tool the size of a coffee maker that had the same capabilities? Does an augmented reality, real-time feedback, interactive, handheld CNC router that can make objects ranging in size from a pillbox to an entire conference room table sound like a thing that even exists? It didn’t to me at first, but then I visited the Shaper Tools office in San Francisco and they blew my mind with their flagship tool, Shaper Origin.

This table and the spool holder sitting on it was made with a machine the size of a coffee maker.
This table and the spool holder sitting on it was made with a machine the size of a coffee maker.

It’s impossible for me not to sound like a fan boy. Using Shaper Origin was one of those experiences where you just don’t know what to say afterwards. This is what the future looks like.

I’ve used a lot of CNC tools in my life, from my first home-built CNC conversion, to 1980s monstrosities that ran off the floppy kind of floppy disks, and all the way over to brand new state-of-the-art vertical machining centers. I had to shake a lot of that knowledge off when they demoed the device to me.

Origin is a CNC router built into the form factor of a normal wood router. The router knows where it is on the work piece. You tell it where on the piece you would like to cut out a shape, drill a hole, or make a pocket. It tells you where to go, but as you move it keeps the cutting bit precisely on the path with its three axes of control.

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