Fabrication: Laser Etching

I spent quite a bit of time for this week’s fabrication project pursuing what I was explicitly told not to pursue: a wooden pendulum clock. When I found myself hand-tracing diagrams I had scanned into Illustrator, I decided to shift gears (pun intended).

I still wanted to do something or make something I hadn’t done before on the laser cutter. I had previously tried vector cutting an enclosure for my pcomp midterm (thank you, Makercase), so I decided to try out raster etching using one of my own drawings.

Lately, I’ve been really into drawing weird squiggles. It seems and mostly is pretty free flowing, but every once in a while, I’ll draw a squiggle that just feels WRONG. All of which to say, apparently, there are some implicit governing principles on what makes a proper squiggle for each of these compositions.

I decided to laser cut the one below:

I replaced the colors so that they were black and white, and added a 0.01 pt red-stroked rectangle to cut out a portion of the design. I found some 1/4” clear acrylic in the unclaimed materials/junk section of the shop. I printed the design on a test piece and realized that it would take FOREVER to etch the full design onto any piece.

Luckily, our lasercutter is so weak that the test acrylic was completely untouched, and I was able to rescale the whole design, resize my vector cut rectangle and restart the job.

I first ran the job to only etch the raster portion – I did this numerous times until I saw the surface of the acrylic change. Finally, I ran the vector cuts a couple of times to ensure I had a clean cut on my design.

I used the larger material my “designed rectangle” was cut from to do a few tests. I wanted to see if I should keep the etching as is or paint the etched area white before I took off the paper adhesive cover.

The paint was actually a bit unwieldy given the intricacies of the etchings, so I decided to keep the etchings as is.

Here’s a shot of the piece before I peeled everything off:

I sort of liked how it looked with the paper on!

I wanted to see if the acrylic I had would reflect LED lights in an interesting way, and my initial tests were quite promising:

I didn’t have time to enclose the setup, but given that next week’s assignment is literally on enclosures, I thought I’d save that bit for later.


Physical Computing: Prototype + BOM

This week, Jiwon and I went on a hunt for materials to make our “jacket” to the garment district at Moods fabric. We were looking at what fabrics that we could use to elevate the sense of touch and movement. We looked into two-sided sequins that we could use for some areas of the jacket.

We also brought the multimeter to the fabric store to see if there were any other conductive materials to use to create into capacitive touch sensors, but unfortunately, most “metal” buttons that they had were either not conductive at all or conducting very minimal electricity. So we decided to not get any.

Below is a screenshot of our bill of materials spreadsheet so far:

For the product testing for this week’s class, we made a simple version of our jacket. We used the scrap fabric that we found at the soft lab and made a shirt and I sewed conductive thread onto the shirt. We then connected the conductive thread to a flexible wire then connected to the MPR121 Capacitive Touch breakout board.

We also chose some sounds to put use for sound samples to be triggered upon touch, then Jiwon wrote a very simple p5.sound sketch that triggers it.

We are keeping all of our code in this project github repo.

Plans for next two weeks:

  • Figure out how to network the two lilypads together
  • Make the two base jackets / shirts
  • Identify textural patterns & practice embroidery skills
  • Add conductive sequins to the sequins fabric we purchased
  • Create more audio files
  • #pcomp 

    Fabrication: Literal & Metaphorical Breakthroughs!

    This summer, I went to the Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference and had a lot of fun in their lockpicking village. Basically, they had variety of locks hanging out on a table for folks to pick, and I especially loved this all-in-one picking station:

    It served as the inspiration for this week’s fab assignment, which was to create 5 multiples. I imagined building something like this:

    Ideally, I’d like to switch out the “picking modules” within the station (as I advance through harder sets of locks).

    To get started, I needed to understand the basics of installing a doorknob.

    This video was a decent introduction, though I wouldn’t have access to a specific jig made just for boring doorknob holes. With a bit of additional internet research, I learned that I would need a hole saw that I could attach to a drill (or drill press) to bore holes the sizes I needed (a 2 1/8” hole and a perpendicular 1” hole). I also realized I needed wood that was thick enough for a doorknob (preliminary research indicated that something between 1 3/8” and 1 3/4” would do.)

    I had a very eventful trip to Home Depot. I got a 8 ft. 2”x4” and a bag full of doorknobs and padlocks… a haul that was, uh, pretty interesting to transport back to NYU.

    Once back in the shop, I measured out my 2x4, sectioning off 30cm at a time. I used blue tape to mark the spot where I’d cut.

    I used the miter saw to chop up my 8 footer into more manageable pieces, and soon had a stack of 30 cm slabs.

    Luckily, I had a few extra slabs because once I started boring holes, my troubles really got started.

    First of all, most of the hole saws in the shop are unusable. I had drilled pilot holes into my wood, but without a center bit attached to the hole saws, my drill would travel quite a bit. I ended up buying my own hole saws, and even with those, it became clear that it would be too difficult to use a hand drill. I switched to the drill press, and even then, only experienced very limited success.

    You can see the disaster of those first few attempts here:


    I was pretty discouraged at this point, because even when the main 2 1/8” hole was okay, the perpendicular 1” hole seemed nearly impossible. I had to stand the slab of wood vertically on the table while clamping one end, but again, hand drilling did not seem like a feasible solution.

    At this point, I asked John what he thought might be a better solution, and he asked if I needed my 2x4 slabs to be 30 cm. And no! I did not! That actually made it sooo much easier to work on the drill press for the 1” holes.

    Once I realized that I could actually use the drill press for all my holes, I felt like I was back in business (I had briefly considered abandoning this whole misguided endeavor in favor of coasters or bookends or chopstick rests, or something).

    It took a while before I was able to successfully drill a hole all the way through my 2x4. Part of the problem was I underestimated just how much the drill press platform would move. After I clamped everything down and double checked the degree adjustment on the platform I was finally able to cut hole through the smaller pieces.

    Now knowing smaller 2x4 pieces were the way to go, I returned to the miter saw, and using my other slab as a job, was able to quickly cut up 5+ pieces of the same length.

    Next, for each of the pieces, I measured 60mm out from the edge and drilled a 1/8” pilot hole to mark the center of my main doorknob hole. (Speed-clamping all over the place).

    Once all the pilot holes were in, I started putting in all the 2 1/8” holes. As I worked, I felt like I began to better understand the language of the drill press. At a certain point, it would feel as though I had hit an impassable point and could not drill any further. After a bit of trial and error, I figured out that I had to raise the platform to allow the drill press to make better contact with the deeper material (though I lived in fear of moving the platform…). After a bit of adjustment and lots of double-checking, I was able to drill through each side of the slab.

    It was actually quite satisfying when the “hole” finally broke through.

    The completed prepped slabs are below:

    At some point, I imagined having installed the doorknobs before class, but I think that will have to wait. The process outlined above spanned the space of several days and many chasms of despair and uncertainty.

    But it was a lot of fun seeing myself get better at something, over a relatively short window of time.


    Animation: 2D Character + Storyboard

    For our next animation assignment, Joy and I decided to work together. We both had an interest in using archive or other public collection-based images, and decided to gather a few that piqued our interests.

    Here were a few of my favorite images:

    It seemed that we both had an interest in stories in which the moon featured prominently. Joy also had an interest in looking at stories that were from non-Western traditions. We began to explore a few online story collections that pulled from folk tales around the world. (A few collections were GREAT, and I mean to keep revisiting them: https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html & https://www.librarything.com/).

    We found a few stories about the moon that appealed to us:

    We decided build these stories into our piece: our primary character would make three attempts to go to the moon, succeeding on their third attempt.

    “A Trip to the Moon” also served as a point of inspiration:

    Initially, we considered making our primary character a young boy, but realizing that animation would allow us to be more playful, switched to raccoon as hero.

    As we talked more about the story we imagined, we thought about doubling up on heros: what if two raccoons, very different in disposition but alike in passions, attempt the same journey.

    We developed a storyboard of such a story, viewable here: A Tale of Two Raccoons (a working title). A few excerpts below:

    We also had to locate (or create) an 2D character and prep the asset for class (essentially breaking down the moving components into different Photoshop layers). Joy and I decided to each draw a raccoon!

    Here’s mine below:


    Final Project Idea

    In collaboration with Jiwon Shin.


    A pair of wearable NIME devices that trigger sound upon touch. The devices are in form of a jacket with various capacitive sensors sewn onto it. When the two participants wearing the device touch each others’ bodies, different sound is triggered (and possibly visuals, time permitting).

    The piece plays on the difference in areas and intensity of touch depending on the comfort level of the relationship between the two people wearing the jackets. The hypothesis is that people who are more “deeply connected” will be willing to touch larger and more intimate areas of the body for longer periods of time. It will be also interesting to find out whether this wearable device, under the context of art, participants will be more willing to lower their boundaries and become more intimate with each other compared to themselves when not wearing the devices.

    Experimenting with Capacitive Touch Sensors:

    We hoped to use capacitive touch as a way of making the wearable have the sensitivity we desire. Today, we ran through a basic capacitive touch example using Paul Stoffregen’s Capacitive Touch library for Arduino. We wanted to test whether various capacitive touch sensors could act independently of each other (or if they suffered from a certain amount of interference).

    Note that the value of resistance for the capacitive touch sensors varied across various tutorials we found online, but after some testing, we found that the 100K resistors worked fairly well for us.


    You can see our tests using three simple copper tape sensors below (along with the sensor readings we received from each of them).

    We were pleased to see that there was little interference between sensors, but realized that whatever conductive material we used on the wearable would need to be well insulated from each other. We were pleased to see that the copper tape was fairly reactive to how much (or how hard) we touch the sensor.

    Once we had a feel for how capacitive touch generally worked, we decided to tests some materials from the Soft Lab. We found a few things we thought might be conductive material: what looked to be dark conductive thread, a thicker silvery thread, and a light ribbon of woven material.

    You can see our tests below:

    It turned out that the silvery thread was not at all conductive, but we’re excited about the possibilities of the other two materials.

    Next, we tested with the conductive thread with the MPR 121 capacitive touch breakout board. We bought some sheet clear plastic from Canal Plastic and sewed on a line of conductive thread.

    Below is the video of our test:

    One thing to note was the fact that when touching the pins of the breakout board with our fingers, it was recognized as a “touch”. We realized that we needed to insulate (possibly with hot glue) between the pins of the breakout board, so that the threads coming out from the board do not cross each other.

    Another thing to note is that Adafruit’s MPR 121 capacitive touch library’s test sketch only differentiated between a “touch” and “release”. We would like to figure out if there are other functions that the library provides that will give us the raw numbers of the readings so that we can make more final distinctions of different intensities of the touch.

    Plans for next week:

    • Write code for triggering sound
      • Decide what kind of sound / music that we want to create
        • If we decide to use sound samples, collect assets
      • Decide what environment we want to use for coding
        • Possibilities are: p5.js / tone.js for sound, p5.js / three.js / processing / openFrameworks for visuals (time permitting)
    • Start thinking about the design of the jacket
      • Research online for simple jacket blueprints
      • Ask classmates with fashion design experience for their advice