Artisanal Electronics

A thesis on digital fabrication and electronic products

Dematerializing Modularity: replacing physical building blocks with software tools.

Posted on | December 9, 2010 | No Comments

Listening to Peter Schmitt’s PhD proposal presentation, I was struck by what seems to be a general trend in construction kits: replacing physical building blocks with software tools. Peter is interested in the construction of kinetic objects: replacing today’s hobby servos with more flexible processes. I’d like to help people design consumer electronic products from digital building blocks, enabling the final objects to be made using standard electronics components with digitally fabricated materials.

In general, I see at least three overall advantages to this approach (software design tools) versus more traditional construction kits (physical building blocks):

  • lower costs: the use of more fundamental components means that people don’t need to pay extra for pre-assembled modules
  • increased flexibility: because the elements are smaller and perform more limited functions, they can be combined in more ways
  • easier sharing: since the design is created in a digital tool, it can be shared online for others to study or modify

Of course, the creation of these software tools is a task in itself, requiring time and attention. Again, though, its digital nature makes it easier for others to use and build upon, yielding a potentially increased leverage versus physical building blocks.

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Chronicling the master's thesis of David A. Mellis, a student in the High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab.

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