Using Cloud9 to create work for InsideOut

I have this piece of work in the Inside Out exhibition (http://www.insideoutexhibition.com/) which is a compelling international touring exhibition which opened in Australia last June and features forty-six miniature sculptures produced in resin using 3D printing technologies. The Exhibition illustrates how developments in virtual computer visualisation and integrated digital technologies are giving contemporary makers new insight and opportunities to create objects and forms which were previously impossible to produce or difficult to envisage.

I used Cloud9 (version 1) to initially explore ideas and had 3 different streams/themes and not particularly struck by one enough to take it further. But on my bike going home something went ‘click’ – which was to bring two of these together as the basis on which to form my mini sculpture.

I have since recycled this idea/piece for a bookend competition and now re-working it for a piece of jewellery. This intensive time I have had using Cloud9 has highlighted a couple of very interesting advantages our combined soft/hardware has, re. haptics and 3 degrees of movement (as against 6 degrees of movement – x,y,z and rotation in x,y,z). The default material ‘feel’ is rubberyness so that not only do you have touch to let you know where you are in the 3D space, the fact that the form you touch flexes with contact with the cursor gives a strong visual cue to see your exact position- and 2 cues are always better than 1.

The other insight is more interesting for me and I hope generally! From our Tacitus Research Project it seemed that 6 degrees of Freedom (6DoF = x,y,z and rotation in x,y,z) is superior to 3DoF and for some interactions this is true. With having only 3DoF, using the more affordable Falcon haptic device, we focused on programming and adding shortcut keys to provide greater usability. What I experienced during designing and creating my sculpture is that the combination of dominant/non-dominant hand actions for 3 degrees of movement and 3 degrees of rotation was sufficiently intuitive for working fluidly AND brought just the right measure of control to the process. So for working intensively there is an excellent degree of immersion experienced as well as effective control for reflective and purposeful actions. So I am feeling very elated by the progress we have made with version2 of Cloud9. I hope you can try it sometime!

(The InsideOut exhibition is the result of collaboration between the Art Technology Coalition, the University of Technology Sydney and RMIT University in Australia along with De Montfort University, Manchester Metropolitan University and Dartington College of Arts at University College Falmouth in the United Kingdom.  The exhibition opens in the UK in Sept and opened in Australia on June 4th.)

Fabbing: what’s happening, what’s exciting

Any ‘blogging time’ has been diverted to keeping up with my big interest area as so much is happening around ‘fabbing’ with mega developments in this community: it is all very much about ‘making’, and the power of 3D printing, fabbing, for exploring, playing, inventing and creating. It’s about ‘ownership’ and democratisation of this whole way of doing and experiencing. I am reading Cory Doctorow’s book ‘Makers’ which I am thoroughly enjoying. His vision of how this could all pan out in the near future is fascinating as he begins with fabbing a few years down the line.
Right now, the developments in 3D printing are encouraging more non-professionals to engage in fabbing. The first is that companies like Shapeways (http://www.shapeways.com/) are making direct access as easy and as low cost as possible, catering for different groups: those who want to and can design their objects, others to customise existing designs to be printed in different materials, and those who just order a design they like from the online shop. Similarly UCODO (http://www.ucodo.com/), which is being launched by DigitalForming, will provide “an online platform for ‘Mass Customisation’ and Co-Design’ of lifestyle products”.
My long-standing favourite is Ponoko (http://www.ponoko.com/) in New Zealand who started by providing an online facility and shop for the digital making community for 2D designs and is now going global and moving into 3D. There is tantalising news about something for Europe.
Most encouraging of all is how ‘build-it-yourself’ 3D printers that are available at very affordable prices are ‘replicating’, spreading and developing. In the UK, there is Reprap (replicating rapid prototyping, http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome) as downloadable instructions, and the Rapman (www.rap-man.com) in both kit form and already built and ready for off. In the US, the equivalent is Fab-at-home and Makerbot. These BIY 3D printers are developing fast through open source protocols and collaborations and because these systems can replicate many of their component parts.
The aim of 100KGarages in North America is to offer a network that brings together those with a digital design with those who have the capability and capacity to manufacture 2D and 3D components. By directing the designer’s design to the nearest appropriately resourced ‘garage’ to the purchaser the carbon footprint is kept as small as possible.
There are sites such as Thingiverse where non copyright 3D digital objects and designs can be freely downloaded and/or re-modelled for printing and writing on 6th Jan 2010 The Product Bay states that “RepRap and other 3D printers are the future. There’s no question about it. With the proud tradition from The Pirate Bay, we want to take all of this to the next level. TPB will be TPB, but for real life objects. For now, visit Thingiverse who already understands this. We want you to download those new jeans. We want you to share those new shoes. It’s possible, let’s make it happen.”
This part about jeans and shoes is, I presume, a reference to the quote from the CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos: “Before long,”user-generated content” won’t refer only to media, but to just about anything: user-generated jeans, user-generated sports cars, user-generated breakfast meals. This is because setting up a company that designs, makes and globally sells physical products could become almost as easy as starting a blog – and the repercussions would be earthshaking.”

My interest in this is both personal and commercial. As a designer I want to be able to earn a living from what I do well. So where do I stand on these ‘free everything’ developments and pressures? How might we achieve a balanced and equitable playing field? The music industry is one sector to take heed of for ways to advance. Others are all the many opensource projects such as Linux, OpenSim, applications for mobile phones. Some things can be free, ‘lost leaders’, samplers. Certain products and objects is fine and ‘just good enough’ and do not require complex design knowledge and skills to achieve.

My concerns are the damage caused by churning out ‘quantity’ that gets quickly dumped. Will BIY, by creating ‘ownership’, slow this down and change our materialistic attitude? As many more people become creators and makers I think respect and appreciation will continue for the expertise and talent that underlies well designed, well made, aesthetic and visionary objects that take flair and dedication to achieve. There will continue to be a demand for the know-how of designers, applied artists, craftsmen and artists particularly as they are pretty good at taking on new tools, technology, and processes and bending them to their own purposes.
As water finds it own level designers and creatives find their own states, make decisions about how they make a living, whether they charge for their work, whether they copyright all or some or none, whether they charge for providing services. We should learn from musicians and bands, how they have up-ended this issue, exploiting technologies on all levels, using freebies as a lost leader for attracting audiences and engaging with them in different lucrative ways.
Read Cory Doctorow’s book.

something just ‘clicks’

When people try Anarkik3D’s Cloud9 haptic software something just ‘clicks’. It is this gut reaction that is interesting as it validates the 4 years of research work (Tacitus Research Project) that formed our approach to development.  and is embedded with the values from designing and making.

 The main research site was Edinburgh College of Art and we had designer makers test the haptic software demonstrators in iterative user centred trials with their feedback informing all stages of development. Cloud9 is the result; haptic software which, combined now pragmatically, with affordable hardware, seems to be a distillation of designer maker ways of thinking.

I recommend this white paper by FemmeDen as so much in it articulates what we are about! Titled ‘Sex on the Brain’ it is by 4 women designers at SMART Design Company (New York/Barcelona) and is a call for a more ‘universal’ approach to designing and solidly references very interesting research findings. http://tinyurl.com/c9g35n

The Research team, and now the development team at Anarkik3D, is more or less balanced between the arts and science. There is a bias towards the arts, specifically designer makers and applied artists, and a bit towards women as a female designer maker (me) led the research project and is the companys’s CEO. Any overt influence is adjusted by a well balanced technology side!

The FemmeDen whitepaper explains why we have a more ‘unconventional’ approach to developing 3D modelling on computer when compared to that of conventional CAD and other 3D modelling packages which are very prescriptive and precision based. Yes it is more female biased but I prefer the terms non gender biased and ‘universal design’ as the Cloud9 haptic package appeals to designer makers of both genders. 

We are also serious about providing a useful professional level ‘tool’, one that enables designer makers of both genders to access all the benefits and advantages of digital 3D modelling and access to 3D printing. To slot in well to their pipeline of designing and making, it is crucial that a level of competence can be achieved swiftly, and retained, without jeopardising the all important time in the workshop to make, as well as the time to explore and experiment with real materials and processes as these are fundamental for understanding the constraints and affordances for making successfully.  It is through this hands-on process that designer makers build an important source of knowledge, albeit tacit, that is needed for good concept generation and designing. And by continuing to ask designer makers to feed back their thoughts to us to improve Cloud9 for how they want to work Anarkik3D can develop a valuable universal tool that suits a wider range of people.

This is a very good place then to thank all the designers, designer makers and artists who since 2000 have contributed to the development of Cloud9. Please stay on board as we will to develop it.

 See MA Student Farah Bandookwala at www.hapticjewellery.ning.com

About Xiaoqing on Ada Lovelace day

Xiaoqing testing an application

Xiaoqing testing an application

This is to celebrate the talents of Xiaoqing Cao who is the technical manager and senior programmer in our Company, Anarkik3D Ltd. She is also a co-founder of the company and we have been working together since Summer 2005 developing haptic software. She is extra special as not only has she skills in computer science she is also an artist and combines her sensibilities,  talent and skills to create elegant software applications that are so visually satisfying too. Having a high level of aesthetics embedded in our products is important as the main group who use our applications, designers, applied artists and artists, will instinctively ‘evaluate’ the software on what the interface looks like and how well they can interact with it. 

Our company is founded and led by the two of us and we are proud that we are at the leading edge developing haptic (virtual touch) technology for application in the creative industries.

I am also really pleased to have the opportunity here to acknowledge  the others in the team, Abi and Mark, as together we are a great team with an excellent range of talents between us which we need to remain at this front edge and especially now as this is difficult time for small business.

Today we celebrate the bringing together of science, art and design!