Oh, but wait. First off, that’s some kind of wiggly cube suspended in a Jell-O shot which, right off the top, makes it cooler. Second, it’s some kind of wiggly cube 3D printed into a Jell-O shot. More accurately, printed into about 70 Jell-O shots for someone’s 25th birthday party by a guy who scratch-built the printer out of a bunch of old DVD players and CD drives in just a couple days. Why? Because he wanted to make a bunch of wiggly shapes in Jell-O shots for a birthday party which, not for nothing, is exactly the kind of inspiration that makes me go all tingly in my nerd organs.
See, one of the things that I’ve always found so cool in modern science fiction is the character of the nouvelle hacker/maker–not the old-fashioned black-hat hacker who wears mirrored sunglasses and breaks into computer systems, but the post-cyberpunk materials hacker who is able to either look at a pile of existing scrap technology and envision making something new out of it or look at a problem and figure out how to repurpose a bunch of scrap technology into a solution. The scene in Neal Stephenson‘s Diamond Age where they visit the slum geeks with their room full of aged computers and jury-rigged partiscopes or William Gibson‘s Winter Market where Rubin made all those weird little robots out of trash are both examples that hung with me for years after reading the stories. That tickled some deep part of me and made me believe that the world, broken as it may sometimes appear, held wonders for those who were born with different kinds of eyes than me.
Anyway, cobbling together a 3D printer to get all wiggly with someone’s Jell-O shots? That’s pretty sweet. It’s making for the sake of making–not as research, not for any material gain, but just doing it because it can be done. And what’s even better is that, because we’re already living in the future, the guy who did the build documented the entire thing over at spritesmods.com, including pictures, video, diagrams, wiring schematics and a full description of how the idea came to him and how it all worked out in the end. He even included a link to the source code that made the whole thing work, which is a nice touch. Now we can all have fancy-pantsy Jell-O shots, should that be something we desire…
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of hacked, scratch-built and disposable technology, there’s also this: A shoebox CNC robot made of sticks and cardboard that’s being kickstarted by Ryan Wistort. Why would anyone want a CNC gadget deliberately constructed out of materials that make it incapable of doing things that most CNC systems are designed for? I’ll let Ryan answer that one.
CNC fabrication machines like CNC routers and milling machines have been used for decades in machine shops, but why keep this technology in the shop? What happens when these tools and technologies start being used in the kitchen? or in the classroom? We believe robotics, automation, and fabrication are the “future”, but perhaps we should stop thinking about robots that do things like paint and draw as replacing people who paint and draw, and start thinking about these technologies as a new type of paintbrush. Computation is everywhere, let’s use it to enable what we do in the physical world, it might just inspire and enable a generation to create in new ways.
So yes, this super-cheap ardunio-based CNC robot is too lightweight to do things like cut metal or mill wood. But it can be used to draw, paint pictures or (with a little additional tinkering) frost cookies with vector graphics, print PCBs using conductive ink, work as a glue-depositing 3D printer or (most importantly) mix cocktails with perfect accuracy (and the addition of a fluid pump).
Again, as with the hacked Jell-O shot machine above, this is just one of those things that I can see being utilized in all kinds of heretofore un-thought-of ways. That might become the nut of someone else’s ideas for another generation of mechanical weirdness that couldn’t have existed without first having access to a cheap, portable, cardboard-based CNC mill.
Anyway, for those of you who are interested, Ryan’s cocktail-making CNC robot needs $200,000 to get off the ground and has 28 days left to run. So get on over and visit his kickstarter page for all the details.