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For centuries, nature has proven to be a bountiful source for ideas for designers and other innovators. Part of the genius of inventors is their ability to see the ways in which the technology of nature can be integrated into human creations. In this project, we’ll look to ducks as our inspiration, and outfit a model robot walker with feet well-equipped to traverse wet and muddy terrain.

If you’re a teacher, this project is a great vehicle by which to teach students some of the principles of science and design thinking. More specifically, looking to nature for inspiration can be a great way to push students to better understand the ideas of biomimicry. For a video on the topic of biomimicry within design thinking, see below. You can also find a complete lesson plan devoted to these topics, as well as instructional materials like learning objectives, test materials, and evaluation rubrics here. (Note: The final product is not intended for use by children.)

Step 1: Download Autodesk 123D Design

Before you start, download and install Autodesk 123D Design (it’s totally free). 123D Design makes it easy to manipulate all kinds of shapes and create viable designs using numerous materials.  For a general tour of the interface and commands, see these short tutorials:




Step 2: Sketch the Feet

Start by creating a square with outermost dimensions of the foot. For this example, we’ll be adding duck-like feet to an already-designed robot walker model, (available here) and your square should be 50mm x 50mm.

Using the Sketch>Spline tool, draw the curve of your foot. The center point of the curve should be at the midpoint of a side of your square, and each toe should point out toward a corner.

Use Primitives>Cylinder and place it at the bottom middle of the square. Make the radius 5mm and the height 15mm. Using the Sketch>Trim tool, select each side of the square to delete it. For these steps, in more detail, see below.

Step 3: Create Toes

Place a cylinder with a radius 10mm on it’s side at one of the ends of the spline. Use the sweep tool to move the cylinder along the spline, until the two toes that are formed are the same length.

Add a middle toe by putting another cylinder on its side, and drawing out the ends past the end of the spline (for the back toe) and as far out toward the front as is appropriate. For these steps, in more detail, see the tutorial below.

Step 4: Add Webbing

To create the webbing, use the Sketch>Polyline or Sketch>Spline tool to make an enclosed shape connecting the toes. Next, extrude the shape downwards the appropriate thickness.

To make the foot look more natural, round off sharp edges with the Modify>Fillet tool, and add material by selecting all surfaces, choosing a material, and applying it. For these steps, in more detail, see the tutorial below.  


Step 5: Mount Feet Onto the Walker

First, insert the walker from the file provided (available here). Next, make 6 copies of the foot you designed by Selecting, Copying, and Pasting.

Using the Move tool, rotate each foot until it is about parallel with its corresponding leg. Attach each foot by clicking on the Snap tool, clicking the circle on the top of the foot, and then clicking on the circle on the inside of the corresponding leg. Repeat this process until all 6 feet are connected. For these steps, in more detail, see the tutorial below. 

Step 6: Print!

In order to print parts from 123D on your MakerBot you will need to install the Autodesk 3D Print Utility which will prepare your parts for printing. For more information on the Autodesk 3D Print Utility click here.

You will also need to download and install the latest version of the Makerware™ software from MakerBot. The software is free of charge and can be downloaded here.

Once a part has been created and is ready for printing you can select 3D Print option from the 123D Menu. This will bring up the 3D printer dialog where you can select your printer and options for printing.

After setting up your printer options, you will be given the choice to save as a .stl file or send directly to the Makerware software for printing. 

If your printer is not listed in the Autodesk 3D Print Utility, you can still export to a .stl file directly. This will allow you to use any software your printer requires. This can be done by selecting the Export STL option from the 123D Design menu.

Lastly, if you don’t have a 3D printer, places like TechShop have the tools to turn your design files into physical objects, and staff the people who can show you how. Places like Shapeways can even print them for you.

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