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123D Fab! Cardboard Construction Kit

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This is the story of how I designed a cardboard construction kit and how a bunch of very clever people at Autodesk University 2011 used it to make things far cooler than I could ever have anticipated. I'll discuss the backstory of the construction kit, my thought process in designing it and what happened when it was unleashed on a test audience of designers, architects and engineers.

The kit itself consists of an assortment of laser-cut cardboard pieces that can slot together in a regular, geometric fashion to form complex and weird structures. While the simplest components of the kits are just circles with slotted rims, the kits also contain a wide variety of decorative pieces (e.g. wings, hands, mustaches), mechanical components (e.g. wheels, gears, levers) and structural units (e.g. long beams, "peanut" shapes, semicircles) which can all be combined in countless ways. So far, I've seen people make some amazing things - machines, sculptures, monsters, vehicles, buildings, furniture and even a primitive programmable computer - just using pre-cut cardboard and some 1/4" wooden dowel.

Here's one example of something that can be made with the kit, which is now available on the Instructables Store:


Not convinced? These are some reasons why I think this kit makes a great toy:
  • Modular and expandable design: Like Lego or K'NEX, there's no limit to the size or complexity of what you can build.
  • Simplicity with depth: Even a toddler could make something fun from the kit, but older kids and adults (i.e big kids) with an artistic or engineering mindset will be able to make rather spectacular creations.
  • Incredibly low material cost: Corrugated cardboard costs next to nothing. If you have access to a laser cutter, this is practically a free toy.
  • Entirely recyclable pieces: When you're done with it, just recycle or compost it.
  • Renewable parts: If a component becomes damaged, it's quick and cheap to cut out a new one and recycle the old one.
  • Open source design: I've included all of the kit's specifications so that people can design their own pieces. I'd love to see how others expand on this basic simple toy. My dream would be to see this develop as a community project, with people all over the world adding their own new pieces to the collective toy box.
  • Hacker-friendly: One of the things I love about this as a toy is that it discourages any attitude of reverence towards its components. All the pieces are replaceable cardboard, so people automatically feel comfortable modifying and corrupting the original pieces. If you're afraid of breaking a toy, you'll never really be playing with it to its fullest.
See? Wouldn't that be a fun thing to give to a classroom full of bright young minds?

 
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DUO003711 months ago
Speechless... Soooo Amazing!
massa
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commnt
dimtick2 years ago
very cool!
nice job!
snideprime2 years ago
Awesome! I'd love to play with one, but my computer lacks the software to open the file downloads. If it were available in pdf I could cut it out by hand (no laser cutter, either) Great job, anyway!
PenfoldPlant (author)  snideprime2 years ago
Your wish is my command! I've uploaded the files in PDF format too. However, I'd definitely think twice about trying to cut the whole kit by hand... Good luck to you if you try it, though. Let me know how it goes!
Thanks...I can't find them, though. the only file downloads I click on both give the eps files. I probably woeldn't cut them all, not at once, but enough to play with.
I love those entries made at AU. Very cool stuff!
Kiteman2 years ago
This kind of kit would be great for schools [with laser cutters].

Challenges could go on within or between schools, or the kit could form the basis of "transfer" projects, with primary-school groups working at high-schools with pre-cut kits or designing (and cutting) their own parts to add on.
PenfoldPlant (author)  Kiteman2 years ago
My thoughts exactly!

If only I knew someone who had recently started work as a science teacher... I don't suppose your school has a laser cutter, by any chance?
Getting one as soon as they finish building the new part of our school - allegedly June/July, so plan for September.
brainsfried2 years ago
cool!
PenfoldPlant (author)  brainsfried2 years ago
Thanks!
brainsfried2 years ago
that is insane great job!
canida2 years ago
The end designs at AU were amazing. I want to play with this some more - let's clean off the main table and go to work.
PenfoldPlant (author)  canida2 years ago
Hooray! I predict a war of cardboard siege engines by the end of the week.