Tangible Input Devices
for Digital Fabrication
Benjamin A. Leduc-Mills
October 3, 2013
Background & Motivation
Current State of Affairs
Risks, Limitations, and Outcomes
The Era of Personal Fabrication
Gershenfeld and Anderson
Unprecedented ability for individuals to manufacture on
a small scale
3D printing a major focus
3D Printing and Children
3D printing is permeating educational spaces and can
be a tool for learning
Support for novice designers can be better – download &
print is not meaningful
Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) informed by embodied
cognition and constructionist traditions is a promising
avenue for research
Design a class of TUIs that facilitate exploration, play, and
design for 3D printers.
Draw on the history of tangible learning tools and
embodied cognition to situate and inform the TUI designs
Evaluate the TUIs to gauge usability and learning
potential among tweens and young teens (11-14)
Related Work: Major Themes
“Things to Learn With” – educational objects
Embodied Cognition – a body-centric view of cognitive
Embodied Interfaces – „smart‟ tangible devices, that
combine ideas from both
Related Work: Embodied Cognition
Cognitive processes are „deeply rooted‟ in physical
interactions (e.g. learning readiness by hand gesture)
Embodied Mathematics – collection, construction, stick
manipulations, walking along a path
Embodied Design – encouraging thinking through doing
Related Work: Embodied Interfaces
Tangibles + Embodied Cognition = Embodied Interfaces
Digital Manipulatives (Resnick)
Tangible Bits (Ishii)
Embodied Design (Klemmer et al., Antle)
Related Work: Approaches
Interactive Fabrication Tools
(AKA the work I‟ve already done)
UCube (v1): Hardware
Grid, Tower, and Switch
4x4x4 Input Space (64
System state sent to a
Interpretation of input:
convex hull, knot/path
„Edit‟ mode for convex
Export to .STL
Save, Load, Spline,
UCube: Study 1
14 Participants – 5 girls, 9
5 groups of 2, 1 group of 4
tasks – side by side
screens, one live, one
5 target shapes: straight
vertical line, diagonal
line, a cube, a triangular
prism, and an irregular
UCube: Study 1 Results
4 groups (including the
group of four) completed
all the shapes
1 group ran out of time
after 3 shapes
1 group modeled 1 shape
Sessions lasted 17-30
24/30 tasks successful – 80%
UCube: Study 2
10 participants: 8 boys, 2 girls
2 exercises: modeling &
9 shapes, cube in each (10 tasks)
Modeling: model on UCube from
memory, holding shape, using
Matching: given a set of lights on
the UCube, choose the correct
3D-printed model out of a set
Study 2 Results: Modeling
Five shapes: cube, a
tetrahedron, a diamond, a house
(a cube with a pyramid on
top), and an irregular polyhedron
• 21 of 50 from memory
• 12 of 50 holding model
• 8 of 50 with software
Total = 41/50 or 82%
Of 9 misses, 7 were irregular
Remaining misses both from
same participant (the youngest)
Study 2 Results: Matching
Of 50 matching tasks, 0
objects were chosen
Most matches were
completed in 20 seconds or
Formerly UCube v2
7x7x7 input space (343
Removable magnetic LED
boards – multiple
shapes, multi-player games
More robust, studier design
Multiple colors of convex
Minimal Spanning Tree
Edit mode for path & MST
Width slider for path & MST
All exportable to .STL
Pop-Up Book, paper-
Lighter, Cheaper, Portable
3x3x3 input space –
27 input points
Capacitive switches toggle
LEDs on and off
Software has been
adapted for PopCAD
Focus on multi-shape and mutli-
Colors++, Avoid Red+Green
Explore 2-shape modeling
union, difference, intersection
Two shapes occupying the same
Other modeling modes - Curves?
Voronoi mesh? Recursion?
2 paths, 2 minimal spanning trees
Exploration of paper as
material – can paper
mechanisms give rise to new
Embedding new sensors
Multiple, networked, pop-up
books? Gives rise to other
Redesign – switch
spacing, paper choice, origin
User Study 1: SnapCAD
12-30 Participants, 11-14
6 exercises: hull
modeling, mst modeling, 2
hull modeling, 3D tic-tic-
toe, „freehand‟ activity
Hull, path, mst – brief
demo, then 3 modeling tasks
from 3D-printed models
2 hull – model from side-by-
side screen comparison (x3)
Tic-Tac-Toe – 3 games
Freehand exercise to gauge
completion (or lack
thereof), time to
User instructed to think aloud
Audio, Video, and screen
capture for additional
User Study 2: PopCAD
10-15 Participants, 11-14
3 modeling exercises plus
Convex hull, path, minimal
5 3D-printed shapes for
completion (or lack
thereof), time to
Track new vs. overlapping
User to think aloud
Photography and Screen
Capture for further analysis
Task Timeline Notes
User Study Logistics Sept-Oct IRB & Site Approval
Technical Additions Sept-Oct As Outlined in Proposed Work
Conduct User Studies Nov-Jan SnapCAD & PopCAD Studies
Write Up Results Feb-March Analyze & Write Up Data
Write Dissertation April-June Put it all together
Defend Dissertation June Defend
These are unproven interfaces – may be completely
May be useable, but viscerally unappealing to target
Practical roadblocks: device malfunction, loss of study
data, lack of sufficient participants
Many modeling operations are impossible
(curves, scaling, extrusion, etc.)
Not a catch-all or professional solution, but a part of an
„ecosystem‟ of next generation fabrication tools
Learning outcomes are not truly being measured, merely
hinted at through the related literature and the user
Argue convincingly that embodied + tangible devices
can aid in modeling for 3D printing
Suggest scaffolding of mathematical and spatial
Make comparisons between devices, modeling modes,
A novel body of work: 3 devices, 4 user studies
Significant contribution that is timely and important
A path for future research on embodied devices for
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