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?

Step 1: The backstory

Autodesk University is an annual conference and exhibition dedicated to getting people together to discuss the latest advances in the world of design, specifically in relation to Autodesk and its products. It's a hectic week-long event populated by anyone who's at all interested in cutting edge industrial design geekery (about 8,000 people in total).

Every year at Autodesk University, some kind of contest is held in which the attendees can show off their design prowess and win some pretty snazzy prizes. For Autodesk University 2011, I helped organize the 123D Fab! Challenge, a contest intended to promote awareness of the Autodesk's new 123D software family.

My brief was to design some sort of toy which could be laser-cut from a few sheets of cardboard, allowed for some degree of creativity or personal expression, would capture the maker spirit, and would also incorporate the 123D brand identity.
Speechless... Soooo Amazing!
NO <br>commnt
very cool!<br>nice job!
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!
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!
This kind of kit would be great for schools [with laser cutters].<br><br>Challenges could go on within or between schools, or the kit could form the basis of &quot;transfer&quot; projects, with primary-school groups working at high-schools with pre-cut kits or designing (and cutting) their own parts to add on.
My thoughts exactly!<br /><br />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.
that is insane great job!
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.
Hooray! I predict a war of cardboard siege engines by the end of the week.

About This Instructable


125 favorites


Bio: Artist in Residence at Pier 9, currently exploring a vast array of new tools with which to injure myself.
More by PenfoldPlant: Candy Hearts (made with real heart) Haggis Pops Explosive Cocktail Foam
Add instructable to: