Introduction: The Carbon Collection

About: Former Artist in Residence at Instructables, currently Hacker Advocate at Hackster. Cofounder of ProtoTank, a hardware prototyping startup. FIRST kid (rock on, team 677!). Former board member at AHA (Ann Arbor…

Unleash your inner cyborg nightmare princess beast with this fetching four-piece set:

The Carbon Collection was born from months of learning, building, and reconfiguring at the Pier 9 Instructables workshop. It relied heavily upon the Object Connex500 3D printers and the vacuum former.

Lovingly constructed with carbon fiber, feathers, leather, and 3D-printed elements, the ensemble unites organic and electronic media in terrifying harmony.

Check out these sub-structables for other processes I learned along the way:

And read on for background on the collection as a whole.

Step 1: Re-use Culture / the Collar

There is, of course, a stupendous array of gorgeous machines at Pier 9, and for this collection, I used the vacuum former (for the spikes) and the Object Connex500 3D printers (for the headspine). These mingled with older techniques and mementos that I like to work with.

Re-using motifs and materials:

  • brings solidity to my body of work,
  • supports environmental sustainability within a culture of creation,
  • helps my packrat self justify holding onto stuff, and
  • makes me write up projects, to preserve them beyond their inevitable cannibalization.

E.g.: the Collar

This is constructed mainly from three parts:

  • A spare headspine: Refining the base of the mohawk left me with a number of extras.
  • A metal claw from a robot I built with FIRST Team 677 in high school. This claw became part of the Project Anglerfish mini fighting robot; for this, I detached it and put it through the same process as the carbon fiber spikes.
  • Feathers from my brainwave wings, whose left servo gave out long ago. I figure I'll reuse the headset for something, and I can always turn the leather harness into something else!

The feathers were lashed to the headspine using black suede cord, and the whole thing was bound together with twisted wire, one of my favorite materials. I used thicker aluminum wire at the fore, to weight down the front of the collar. I will probably add more weights, perhaps as pendants from the front curls. The wire also protects the wearer from the plastic and fiber edges underneath.

The organic feathers and wire tendrils support the technologic, biological, chitinous feel of the whole. And the feathers have an oil-slick iridescence that plays into this perfectly!

As a side note, the carbon fiber for the whole collection comes from a guitar project I began at TechShop years ago. The headpiece ended up with some more wing-feathers, silver wire, and recycled suede, which form the removable black carapace covering the servos.

The soft black leather was bought as a pair of trousers, and some was used to make the harness for the brainwave wings. The rest has sat in my workshop (read: bedroom) for years, seeking new applications.

Similarly, the finger claws were built from extra head-spikes (attached to twisted-wire rings), supporting my "whole buffalo" approach to leftover materials.

As each material has its own backstory, each project draws on deep-grown roots, conceptually and physically. Each time I work with these tools and materials, I am tied into past experience. But as each project also brings new materials and processes, the organism takes new life to grow further. It's wonderful!

Step 2: Challenges

This was my first foray into EEG animatronics in which I actually dug into the programming and built my own actuation system.

It was also one of my first shots at 3D printing, and my first at vacuum forming. I have spent many, many hours working with Fusion 360 – excellent but sometimes uncooperative CAD software – and many more troubleshooting the code and actuation, which finally broke again just before the show.

Working to complete this alongside part- and full-time jobs has been very stressful, and if I could do it over, I'd dedicate full time, learn to use the tech before I started my residency, and maybe cram fewer super-new things into a single project. I addressed this stress on my blog:

Here’s a hint: If you’re spending upwards of 12 hours in the lab(s), feeling productive, and at the end of the day you feel like you haven't accomplished anything… you’re probably learning more than you ever have before. In the past few months, I’ve leveled up hard in CAD, website design, programming, electronics, and video editing, plus numerous other things I’ve probably forgotten. And the result is that I feel like I’ve produced very little, because these things are new, and difficult, and I am still slow at them. But it’s a necessary process if you want to get anywhere. And when that feeling hits, just step back a bit and give yourself some credit.

Complex things aren't built in a day. What are we for, if not for living? What is the residency for, if not for learning? So tough it out through the doldrums, challenge yourself, complete something, and appreciate that hard-won satisfaction.

Cheers, all.