By Will | 3Ders
Lancaster University researchers Christian Weichel and his colleagues have put a new twist on conventional measurement tools for digital modeling and fabrication. While many people are familiar with calipers and protractors, Weichel's team identified a blaring disconnect in today's modern age; these tools are entirely passive. So they thought, wouldn't it be great if the calipers and protractors didn't just measure tangible objects in space, but also registered that data automatically? Better yet, what if they could be actuated and display angles and lengths in physical space based on feedback from the digital environment? Such desires in functionality led them to develop the SPATA (spatio-tangible) tools, about which they published this recent paper.
In the video above, you can see the simplicity it creates in remodeling a broken sprocket part. Measurements are fed directly into the CAD software for a brisk digital build experience.
They also juxtapose SPATA tool usage with the conventional method of taking measurements by hand and inputting them by hand. The old way causes the user in the video to switch between handling the tools and operating the CAD software a total of 23 times, which they refer to as "context switches", while the SPATA tools required only six. To boot, the traditional technique took about 50% longer than the SPATA technique. So not only does it appear to save time, but the lack of repetitively switching back and forth between contexts could have positive effects on attention and productivity as well.
The builds of the SPATA tools are shown above (Fig. 1 & 2). The protractor is based on a Dynamixel AX-12A servo motor, which Weichel says "provides a serial interface and reports its orientation with 10 bit resolution." It can sense and actuate angles with a margin of error that is less than a single degree, and the case itself is 3D printed. The actuator and display of both of the tools are based ATmega328p microcontrollers, as well as accelerometer values and button input.
Weichel's team claims that "by partially offloading control to the measurement tools, we can make task execution more fluid and convenient," adding that users can measure height, width, and depth without even putting down the SPATA calipers. In addition, the tools can sense their own orientation and display information like fabrication time or required material (Fig. 3c).
In fact the SPATA tools are full of functionality that breaches into digital design environments. They include a number of clever features that allow you to stay off the mouse and keyboard. SPATA tools can serve as tangible proxies for the digital design, so by moving it around on the desk you can scroll across or rotate the object that appears on the screen. Zooming in and out is as easy as rotating the protractor blade or sliding the caliper jaw. Switching between digital tools in the CAD program can be done by quickly moving the SPATA tool left or right. Switching between manipulation and measurement modes is done by flicking it front to back.
Other features related to 3D modeling include quick primitive creation (Fig. 4); extrusion, revolution, and hole boring; selection of specific features like a tilted axis (Fig. 5); and scaling both entire models and local subsets (Fig. 6).
Figure 4: Creating a box (from left to right): select the ground plane, measure width, height and depth.
In addition to this long list of capabilities related to 3D design, SPATA tools have similar integrated features for two-dimensional software such as scaling, rotating, and measuring on a Cartesian plane. The display screen can even warn users if certain changes would result in a significant increase in the model's projected 3D printing time, allowing you to make the more efficient choices.
The team holds that this technology can be applied to other tools besides calipers and protractors. They also see it becoming more customizable going forward, with possibilities like modular attachments for specific situations. One example is a thin probe to measure depths of holes in smaller objects.
SPATA tools wouldn't just be useful for fabrication purposes, either. With tangible feedback they could provide a preview of just how big that new smart phone actually is before you end up holding a bona fide tablet to your ear on public transit.
Please login to save this item to your profile.