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.
Step 1: The Backstory
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.
Step 2: Inspirations
I really appreciated the simplicity and flexibility of this type of toy, so I decided to build on it by giving it a wider range of components as well as holes in each disc for rods and axles.
Step 3: Design Process
Here are some of the early sketches I made, as well as some tidied versions that eventually became part of the instruction leaflet for the finished kit.
I used Adobe Illustrator to precisely measure and draw most of the pieces.
As kit this was intended to raise awareness of Autodesk's 123D software family, I incorporated some pieces that had been made by Autodesk blogger Shaan Hurley using 123D Make. Shaan took a 3D version of the 123D logo and sliced it into different levels, creating a contour map effect. One of the stipulations of the 123D Fab! Challenge at Autodesk University was that each entry had to somewhere feature this 123D logo.
Step 4: The Final Kit
I've included the EPS file of the whole kit here, so you can make your own. Please give it a try!
Step 5: Prototypes
The "fan sled" shown here is now available as a kit on the Instructables Store.
Step 6: The Games Are Afoot
With the a MakerBot 3D printer, $500 of Ponoko vouchers and an iPod Touch as the first prizes, you can see why so many people chose to spend their evenings frantically tinkering with their kits.
As well as using the basic kits they were given, the contestants were encouraged to incorporate extra materials such as LEDs, feathers, string and whatever else they could find in the convention center.
Step 7: Finalists
1st Place: Michael von Hamel - the photo here does not do justice to this incredible machine. When you turned the crank on the front, gears and wheels all over the structure turned. At the same time, different electrical circuits would be broken and completed, causing a series of lights to flash. Very clever stuff.
2nd Place: Neil Wakeman - Neil's decision to use every last scrap of material, including the packaging of the cardboard pieces, in this beautiful and elaborate sculpture won him $500 of Ponoko vouchers.
3rd Place: Joanne Massey - a seasonal favorite, this showed off the maker spirit by incorporating a crocheted Santa and LEDs.
Runners-up: Pete Migrin and Olle Wranne - Migrin's whimsical lamp and Wranne's elegant reindeer were both aesthetically wonderful.
A special trebuchet category was introduced to the contest for an impromptu war between Dennis Martin's and Nathan Howe's cardboard siege engines.
Step 8: Other Entries
Step 9: More Entries
Step 10: Even More Entries
Step 11: The Future
What I'd really love to see is people picking up this idea and running with it as a community. If you think you (or someone you know) would enjoy this kit, then download the designs and laser-cut your own pieces (or buy the kits from our store). Better yet, design your own pieces and upload them to Instructables!
Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where people can not only download their toys from the internet, but upload and share their own modifications to create an organically growing toy library?
Yes. Yes, it would.