ModiBot- Building a better action figure- Here’re some shots of a customizable figure platform that I’ve been working on in my spare time. I’ve been experimenting with 3d printing at both Shapeways and Ponoko. The prints are really durable and that helps the figure to hold his poses and accessories. Yesterday, I met with Drew Bennett […]
In the product world, it takes a long time to get product to shelf, but you are trying to put so many items through the pipeline that you don’t have a lot of time to ‘sit around’ waiting for something to show up. I got my 3rd round of parts in the mail today. Once I started designing the parts and working up a library of baseline components, it started to get easier.
After a lot of late nights (after the kids went to bed), I got a full figures worth of parts (in model form anyway). Great, right? Yeah, but by that point, I’d fallen behind on posts, my first parts hadn’t come in yet and the whole thing started getting nebulous. I’m being dramatic of course, but its sort of about our relationships to stuff, atoms, brick and mortal- real world stuff. I had a full figure in captured via screen grab in Rhino- fun to show around to my son or supportive friends, but it just wasn’t going to be the same until I had all the parts in hand.
Today is that day. Holy smokes! I forgot what it was like to have ‘first shots’ in your hand. Obviously, I’ve posted about the parts and the fit and finish of the material, etc. But today, I actually had a product in my hand. Something I could move around and pose and really understand the proportion and personality of what I’d created and assembled. Its a feeling that you don’t get everyday, or at least maybe its one you become accustomed to over time. Each subsequent, item becomes a little more mundane out of familiarity until it all blends together. The big difference here is that its something I did myself. I didn’t need a staff of designers, engineers, marketers, salesmen, huffing and puffing about why it doesn’t fit the market, or the brand portfolio, or won’t pass safety. This once, I’m just swimming in good vibes and the playful optimism, enjoying a job well-done and a blurry glimpse at what might be on the horizon.
So! Back on track. The one part that I have ordered in what I think is the right material is the torso. Its the ‘polished’ variant of the Shapeways strong and flexible option. I think it only comes in white and black, but I’m going to try to order one whole figure in that material to see how it all fit together. All the other parts pictured are the basic white or unpolished option- which is much grittier than the polished. The grit creates a decent amount of friction in the joint, so the figure will actually stand. All that variation of the surfaces gives me a tight fit. But,… The ball joints for the ‘polished’ torso part have smaller balls and much less friction. To friction or not to friction is an important question- especially when a protofigure is $30 a pop. The polished part is pretty nice, though.
I’m anxious to get the basic figure debugged and then opening it up for sale in a Shapeways shop. In the meantime, I’ll try a few on Ponoko and get a few made on a MakerBot to see the relative benefits of each. Then, on to outfitting this guy to see how far I can take this customizable figure concept. I’ve still got a good amount of stuff up my sleeve. Onward.
So, I finally got my first batch of parts, more than a week past my scheduled delivery. It was really exciting to open the box. I had no idea what to expect.
The parts were three pairs of upper arms shot in two different materials. It was pretty apparent which material to move forward in, especially since I broke one of the black sockets without even applying much pressure.
Surprisingly, the hi-detail prints, which are the more expensive choice, are actually less detailed than the ‘strong and flexible’ plastic. Since I had already ordered more parts, I got extremely lucky that I selected the ‘strong and flexible’ over the ‘detail’ plastic stock. The strong and flexible stock seems to be a styrene of some sort. For ball joints that need a certain amount of flex and grab, it seems to work perfectly.
As far as the function, the tolerances of parts seem pretty much without too much distortion. There seems to be a bit of shrink built into the process. My ball joints are measuring at 5.9 mm instead of the six I spec’d. I can also see that I need to make the balls a bit larger to stretch the socket a bit, which seems to make for a better fit. Next round will build a larger ball.
Oddly enough, my next order cam just two days after the first even though they were order two weeks apart. As disappointed as I was that my first order was crazy late, it was spectacular to have more parts in hand to compare to the first batch.
The second batch consisted of two torsos- one with a Xevoz-compatible square socket arrangement and another with the squares at tilted at a 45 degree angle (more on why that might work better in the future). I also had a Xevoz-compatible forearm set-up and another with the tilted square plug. I also tried a new set of upper arms with a through hole in the ball socket to minimize the material usage. The open socket might work with a thicker wall, but in this round I also reduced the wall thickness on every socket, as well. The socket just doesn’t have enough material for a robust snap.
I order several different colors to see how much variation there is between formulations, granularity of the print and the saturation of the various colors. Its likely an optical illusion, but the white does seem to have the cleanest print of them all. I like the two colors- red and a ‘cornflower’ blue. Even the gray of the torso part is decent but they all seem to be much more granular than the white. I’ll continue to order in white for now. It seems to be the better material.
I’ve been kicking around an idea for a minimalist set of blocks. Not just low detail (like all blocks already are, I suppose), but low material usage as well.
I guess the goal is to see how little surface area you need for them to still be easily stackable by a child. Here’s a couple of my first shots. Both are pretty fun, but they’ve already sparked some ideas about reducing material while increasing stackable surface.
I ordered a couple from Ponoko and threw up a KidMechano shop to see if I can sell a couple. We’ll see if they show up any faster than the ModiBot
parts I ordered from Shapeways (which were supposed to be here last week! Arggh!)
For a bit of fun, I’ve started out with a few Xevoz-compatible parts- 4mm peg holes, 6mm ball joints. Modibot itself will continue to evolve, but for certain it will be founded in a ball and socket system (connector sizes TBD).
My overall goal is to create a very minimalist system to start and then develop a broader range of add-on accessories that will snap on to flesh out the minimalist chassis. I’ll testing how robust the nap system will be if I take it down to a 5 mm ball and 3.5mm peg/hole.
Here are a few of the additional parts. No the prettiest, but functional.
So the order for my first proto parts went in last week some time. This first test batch (upper arms) is coming from Shapeways.
I ordered a few parts to check the overall finish, strength and compliance of the snaps and the overall durability of the plastic itself. I tried a few of both the high impact white and black plastics. The price wasn’t bad at approximately $2.68 a pop.
I’m really excited to see what comes in the mail. It should be here on Halloween or a bit after. This first round is only multiples of one part, but it’ll be great to have something in my hands!
I’ve been using this project as a way to teach myself 3d modelling using Rhino. I gotta say its been fairly intuitive. Much easier than my prior attempts at Sketch Up and Blender (although it might be that this time I actually had something tangible to model).
If these parts work, I’ll open them up for purchase on Shapeways, or make some needed changes and try again.
I’ve been doodling on a mechanical figure platform for about the last 5 years. It continues to evolve, but its founded in my love of figure systems- from Micronauts to Lego to Centurions to Xevoz (of course). I miss the days when figure lines were built around a single figure and the fun was accessorizing him in a lot of new add-on kits. GI Joe/Action Man and Barbie started this way.
So, I’m starting an exploration of the intersection of figures and construction kits. The larger goal is to create a larger play platform and bringing it to market in a very streamlined fashion using craft-scale processes and product-on-demand/fabrication platforms like Shapeways and Ponoko.
In the next couple of weeks, I’ll post some pics of my first attempts at parts. Some of it will feel familiar and, as I start to familiarize myself with 3d modelling, will start pushing into some new realms. I’m interested to see where this ends up. It should be a lot of fun.