Is new technology truly available just because it’s technically available? The Critical Making lab is hard at work on creating 3D printed prosthetics for Ugandan amputees but it’ll take a cultural, as well as a technological, change to really make the program take flight. Read the story here.
3D printing a brain is one thing.
Making it useful for med students is another. But with some gelatin, a solvent and a little bit of ingenuity, research associate Joshua Qua Hiansen can turn a printed mold into an echogenic and accurate model of a brain.
It looks like a brain. It sounds like a brain. It even squishes like a brain.
In Canada, we tend to take voting for granted. We expect it to be open to us and we expect it to be a simple and fair process. In 2009, Dr. Matt Ratto challenged his Critical Making class to imagine a world where voting was openly biased. This object is one of the results:
It’s a little broken at the moment but in its original form, the voting machine would have two buttons, one red and one green. To vote, the user would have to press one of these buttons. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? And it is – unless the user has red-green colour blindness.
A colour-blind voter using this machine is forced to either guess which button signifies which option or seek help from someone else. In no case can they reliably cast their vote on their own. The object raises questions of biases and privilege. For a person with a full range of colour vision, it’s such a non-issue it’s doubtful that they’d even notice there was a bias. But the person being excluded will notice.
And if it’s this easy to miss the bias against one group, it leads to the question: who else do we not notice we’re excluding?
To learn more about how this object was made, check out this post from 2009.
This Valentine’s Day, Research Associate Joshua Qua Hiansen wants to give away his heart. It’s okay, he has a lot of spares:
Of course, these hearts don’t beat for anyone, even true love. They’re anatomical models for teaching medical students. More on Josh’s Twitter:
Anyone who’s interested in 3D printing probably has at least a tiny soft spot in their heart for science fiction. And what’s more sci fi than space travel? Of course, we’re not quite here
But space travel is evolving all the time. The Planetary Society, a non-profit space advocacy group, has been busy developing a a citizen-funded project called LightSail that will use the sun’s energy as a method of propulsion. See the Planetary Society’s website for more information. The LightSail model is experimental for now – the first test flight was in 2015 – and a full demonstration isn’t scheduled until later this year.
The Critical Making lab has partnered with The Planetary Society to create realistic 3D-printed models of the LightSail Cube Satellite. There models are not functional, but will be used for educational purposes to explain how the actual Lightsail works. Stay tuned for future examples…
Note: Spaceship images from Wikimedia.
Daniel Southwick is a PhD candidate in the Critical Making Lab, currently working on his dissertation. He is interested in troubling current conceptions about 3D printing. 3D printing is often promoted as the transition from digital objects into physical ones. Daniel’s recent project, the Camera Obscura, shows that it isn’t that simple.
The Camera Obscura project started from a simple goal: Southwick wanted to print and put together a camera from a pattern downloaded from the internet. If 3D printing truly was as simple as it is often perceived, this should be no issue. It was not, however, that simple.
Creating the camera in fact required physical and social structures which were not present for Southwick. The pattern was not created in a void but as part of the creator’s environment. The pattern came from a European country; connecting parts were metric and difficult to get in Canada. Putting it together also required a great deal of implicit knowledge of how cameras work – for example, Southwick initially printed the camera in white plastic, not realizing that reflection of light would be an issue when actually taking photos.
Although Southwick wanted to avoid excessive self-reflection, he pointed out that the Camera Obscura project demonstrates just how complicated it can be to move an object from the digital realm into the physical and how deeply an object’s pattern is influenced by the culture and environment of its creator.
Re/Making the Unknown: A Symposium Exploring Humanistic Approaches in Science and Technology Research
A few of us from the Critical Making Lab are co-organizing a half-day symposium that brings together scholars from multiple fields to discuss the use of interdisciplinary humanistic approaches and methods in understanding:
how scientific and cultural knowledge are produced
how infrastructures that cross disciplinary boundaries can share objects, methods, and features
and how new technologies that blur material/digital distinctions are changing cultural institutions
Date: June 18
Location: Room 1150, Robarts Library (Main Floor), 130 St. George Street, University of Toronto
Session One – 10am to 12pm
Finding the Known in the Unknown – This session will discuss historically-informed approaches to curating unknown, discarded, and damaged/destroyed technoscientific objects. This session will be facilitated by curators from the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection, and will present a handful of case studies that see historical artifacts from the collection brought to new life through the use of cutting edge technologies.
Coffee and light lunch (provided) – 12pm to 1pm
Session Two – 1pm to 3pm
3D (De/Re)Materialization – This session will consider, with respect to the use of 3D technologies in humanistic approaches to science and technology studies, how 3D scanning and printing can be beneficial for some humanities scholars. Through the presentation of relevant examples and a live demonstration of 3D scanning and printing technologies, it will encourage a discussion around whether 3D makes possible certain kinds of investigations that are becoming increasingly necessary in a number of disciplines. The session will be facilitated by scholars from Information, Museum Studies, and History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.
This symposium is an effort of the Jackman Humanities Institute Working Group on Humanistic Studies of Science and Technology.
Recently, in the Critical Making lab we printed a nonworking version of the Defense Distributed 3d model ‘liberator’ handgun. To be precise we printed a disabled version of the gun as part of a project on the increasing hybridity of the virtual/material world and the role of 3D printing more generally. We did so publicly (link to Globe and Mail story here) in order to initiate an open conversation on issues related to 3D printing and guns and to hopefully engage law enforcement, regulators, policy makers, and 3D printing advocates in developing a measured rather than a knee-jerk response to the perceived problems associated with 3D printing. That an open conversation is necessary was brought home to us by recent calls by both conservative and democratic politicians in the US for regulation of 3D printers.
We are certainly interested in facilitating and extending the current debates and are hopeful that we can work with authorities to address concerns. However, we also want to be clear that the gun is just a ‘canary in the coal mine’ for a whole slew of important theoretical and pragmatic information issues. Our work is not on firearms or the functionality of 3D printed guns per se, but addresses the limitations of our capacity to engage and think about them. We are primarily interested in the increasingly tenuous dividing line between our mundane and physically embodied existence and the seemingly separate and virtual modes associated with digital technologies. Recent debates regarding the material nature of information have been given a new locus given the development of working 3D printable guns. Our reason for printing the gun was simply to take note of this new recentering and to explore the issues from a number of different perspectives.
More specifically, the law and other formal and informal entities are used to treating ‘the digital’ and ‘the physical’ as two entirely separate worlds. We have been encouraged to think this way by a whole variety of individuals and institutions, including both libertarian (e.g. John Perry Barlow’s famous ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’) and conservative voices (e.g. reasoning regarding the DMCA in the US,) depending on need. Over the last few decades, a lot of work has been done to encourage the idea that information is immaterial, that form and content can be separated, that the medium is just a neutral channel for transmission. (Mcluhan was prescient in calling attention to the limits of this idea!)
Matthew Kirshenbaum has noted that “computers are unique in the history of writing technologies in that they present a pre-meditated material environment built and engineered to propagate an illusion of immateriality”. 3D printing calls attention to this fallacy – and the 3d printed gun is only one example of this, albeit a particularly evocative one. Other examples of this fallacy include the idea that all information (not just the computational) is similarly immaterial. This results in the idea that once books and other textual materials have been scanned and digital versions have been created, the physical ‘versions’ can simply be thrown away since all value resides in the ‘informational’ content and that has been captured. While librarians, archivists, and critical scholars from a range of disciplines (Katherine Hayles, Matthew Kirschenbaum, JF Blanchette, and many others) have been speaking about the problems of this perspective for many years, 3D printing definitely highlights the pragmatic and not just the theoretical import of such issues.
Our research on 3D printing includes work on its use to facilitate accessibility for the visually impaired, new forms of distributed productivity and design, and other socially beneficial attributes. Our printing of the gun model and exploration of its dimensions should not be taken as either a whole-hearted embracing of the cyber-anarchistic future articulated by its original creator, nor of a ‘won’t somebody think of the children’ reductive response. Instead, the project stands as part of our work as information scholars and as public intellectuals debating and exploring new information technologies and the patterns of life associated with them.
Matt Ratto recently appeared on an episode of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin to discuss the critical implications of 3D printing dangerous, controversial, and occasionally illegal technologies (like guns) with Paikin and Cody Wilson, director of Defense Distributed, the R&D firm behind Liberator 3D-printed gun.
Lab members Antonio Gamba Bari and Gabby Resch, in conjunction with the Children’s Own Media Museum, took a handful of arduinos and one of the lab makerbots down to Toronto’s Harbourfont Victoria Day festival in order to provide the opportunity for kids (and their parents) to explore, create, and build a range of unique artifacts. It was an interesting opportunity for us to explore the interactive possibilities afforded in a busy, chaotic atmosphere, as well as a chance to see how a long-running group such as the COMM anticipates and prepares for an event that caters to hundreds of both excited and distracted kids (and their parents) as they experience technologies like 3D printing and electronic circuits for the first time.
I find this project by Thomas Traxler to be a wonderful articulation of a sort of mechanistic notion of a tree, complete with inputs (sunlight, yarn, dye) and outputs (color, shape, speed). The title is necessary here, and really sets the frame for our unpacking of the artist’s concept. Mechanically I really like the way a simple mechanical transformation – sunlight into electricity that then powers an electrical motor at differing speeds – is translated in various ways. The dripping dye differently colors the yarn that moves past it – lighter if faster, darker if slower. The material is wound thicker or thinner depending on the speed at which the motor turns. Both result in a complex aesthetic , despite the initial simplicity.