Stefanie Müller

Interacting with Personal Fabrication Devices

Personal fabrication tools, such as 3D printers, are on the way of enabling a future in which non-technical users will be able to create custom objects. However, while the hardware is there, the current interaction model behind existing design tools is not suitable for non-technical users. Today, 3D printers are operated by fabricating the object in one go, which tends to take overnight due to the slow 3D printing technology. Consequently, the current interaction model requires users to think carefully before printing as every mistake may imply another overnight print. Planning every step ahead, however, is not feasible for non-technical users as they lack the experience to reason about the consequences of their design decisions.

In this dissertation, we propose changing the interaction model around personal fabrication tools to better serve this user group. We draw inspiration from personal computing and argue that the evolution of personal fabrication may resemble the evolution of personal computing: Computing started with machines that executed a program in one go before returning the result to the user. By decreasing the interaction unit to single requests, turn-taking systems such as the command line evolved, which provided users with feedback after every input. Finally, with the introduction of direct-manipulation interfaces, users continuously interacted with a program receiving feedback about every action in real-time. In this dissertation, we explore whether these interaction concepts can be applied to personal fabrication as well.

We start with fabricating an object in one go and investigate how to tighten the feedback-cycle on an object-level: We contribute a method called low-fidelity fabrication, which saves up to 90% fabrication time by creating objects as fast low-fidelity previews, which are sufficient to evaluate key design aspects. Depending on what is currently being tested, we propose different conversions that enable users to focus on different parts: faBrickator allows for a modular design in the early stages of prototyping; when users move on WirePrint allows quickly testing an object's shape, while Platener allows testing an object's technical function. We present an interactive editor for each technique and explain the underlying conversion algorithms.

By interacting on smaller units, such as a single element of an object, we explore what it means to transition from systems that fabricate objects in one go to turn-taking systems. We start with a 2D system called constructable: Users draw with a laser pointer onto the workpiece inside a laser cutter. The drawing is captured with an overhead camera. As soon as the the user finishes drawing an element, such as a line, the constructable system beautifies the path and cuts it--resulting in physical output after every editing step. We extend constructable towards 3D editing by developing a novel laser-cutting technique for 3D objects called LaserOrigami that works by heating up the workpiece with the defocused laser until the material becomes compliant and bends down under gravity. While constructable and LaserOrigami allow for fast physical feedback, the interaction is still best described as turn-taking since it consists of two discrete steps: users first create an input and afterwards the system provides physical output.

By decreasing the interaction unit even further to a single feature, we can achieve real-time physical feedback: Input by the user and output by the fabrication device are so tightly coupled that no visible lag exists. This allows us to explore what it means to transition from turn-taking interfaces to direct manipulation. We present a system called FormFab, which allows for such direct control. FormFab is based on the same principle as LaserOrigami: It uses a workpiece that when warmed up becomes compliant and can be reshaped. However, FormFab achieves the reshaping not based on gravity, but through a pneumatic system that users can control interactively. As users interact, they see the scale of the shape change in real-time, which allows them to make key design decisions along the way.

We conclude this dissertation by extrapolating the current evolution into a future in which large numbers of people use the new technology to create objects. We see two additional challenges on the horizon: sustainability and intellectual property. We investigate sustainability by demonstrating how to print less and instead patch physical objects. We explore questions around intellectual property with a system called Scotty that transfers objects without creating duplicates, thereby preserving the designer's copyright.