Monday, May 4, 2015

3D Printing, Autodesk And Civic Hacking

Most civic hackers probably don't think of 3D printing as a civic hacking tool, and I wasn't able to find any civic hackathons that had much emphasis on 3D printing during the event.

As Catherine Bracy says in her TED talk "Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens,"  "...you don't have to be a programmer to be a civic hacker. You just have to believe that you can bring a 21st-century tool set to bear on the problems that government faces." 3D printing is certainly a 21st-century tool.

So this lack of direct connections between 3D printing and the Civic Hack Ecosystem is something which I will herein attempt to remedy. This lack of direct connections also presents an opportunity for someone to lead the way in raising the visibility of 3D printing in a civic hacking event. The "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" could feature 3D printing and be one of the earliest civic hack events highlighting this addititve manufacturing process.

Autodesk has been doing awesome stuff with 3D printing and could be a key part of incorporating this 21st century tool in the community of civic hackers. I recently had a great discussion with an Autodesk rep regarding organizing an "Autodesk and 3D Printing" Tech Cafe event in northeast Wisconsin. That event would be later in the year and separate from the June 6th hackathon, but I'm going to follow up with the Autodesk rep to see if they'll participate in some way to incorporate 3D printing in the Appleton civic hackathon.

Ember 3D Printer, Autodesk
Autodesk has a ton of 3D printing tools, but one of the most applicable to civic hacking is their new Spark 3D printing platform and their Ember SLA printer, both of which are open source. As they say online, "Spark is an open platform for building better 3D printing software, hardware, materials and services." Even the resin for the Ember has been open-sourced. Totally congruent with the open government civic hacking ethos!

So one way civic hack events can incorporate or leverage 3D printing is to feature it as a 21st-century tool. That can be done as a standalone tool, or there could also be a focus on other equipment, processes and products that belong in the same category. This can educate people about 21st century tools they're not familiar with and might help engage young people who think things like 3D printing are cool. The San Diego Open City Project and Fab Lab activity used this approach.
"Come and join us for the presentation of our work with the Open City Project. Urban Prototyping and Civic Hacking are part of a global movement exploring how participatory design, art, and technology can improve cities and increase civic engagement. On Sunday, community-led teams show how citizens can come together to address civic issues by designing solutions. Come join us for refreshments, hands-on activities and demos, as we showcase community-produced apps, devices, objects and experiences designed to enliven our neighborhoods and the time we spend with our neighbors...Our teams have been hard at work, prototyping the "Citizen Inteligente" environmental sensor, up-cycled vertical garden,pop-up urban gathering space, 3D printed prosthetics, City Dashboard, and more great citizen-science solutions."
This aspect of 3D printing involvement was also found at the Super Happy Augusta annual block party.
"...celebrating the intersections of technology, culture and creativity. Here there was also a hackathon, but it wasn’t the primary focus. Participants were encouraged to display anything as long as they showed other people how they made it, with activities ranging from forging, 3D printing and robotics; to pitch training and meeting with potential VCs."
A second reason to have 3D printing at a civic hack event is to increase awareness in city and county employees of the capabilities of this technology. People in the city maintenance department would probably come up with innovative applications for 3D printing in their jobs. Having experienced 3D printer civic hackers collaborate with interested city or county employees might result in some pretty worthwhile civic hacks. Might even prompt the organization of a follow-up 3D printing workshop in a city or county garage or maintenance workshop.

RIFFLE 3D Printed End-cap
A third application of 3D printing in civic hacking could be to get people involved with citizen science hacks, such as the OpenWater or OpenAir projects from Public Lab. The OpenWater RIFFLE water monitor device includes a 3D printed end-cap for the device. Other Public Lab projects include 3D printed parts, as shown by the 3D printed mapping rigs and by the Public Labs webpage showing various 3D printed citizen science items.

A fourth type of 3D printing civic hack might be to apply this emerging technology to an existing civic hack. Mike Putnam already forked Madison's Little Free Library code to the DHMN Civic Hacks GitHub repository. Someone interested in the Little Free Library project might consider designing (and printing) 3D printed parts for building or enhancing Little Free Libraries. One cool twist, albeit an involved one, would be to design a system to capture solar power with solar panels on the roofs of Little Free
Libraries, then use that energy to power electronics which monitor and communicate what books are in a specific Little Free Library. You could then check Appleton Little Free Libraries online to see which books each one has inside it at that moment.

A fifth type of civic hacking with 3D printing fits in the general category of science equipment that could be used for a wide variety of civic hacks. Professor Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University authored an excellent book on this topic, "Open-Source Lab." Also on the Appropedia website, which Lonny Graffman helped launch in 2006, is the 3D printed scientific equipment page which gives a good sampling of the types of equipment you can produce with this technology.

One final civic hack to consider for this topic is 3D printing of buildings and landforms. Autodesk did this type of a hack when they released their new 123D Catch software which simplifies the process of making 3D models of large real-world objects. This SingularityHUB article talks about making 3D scans of historic buildings.
"...researchers at the University of Granada’s Department of Programming Languages and Computer Systems wants them to scan historical buildings and other points of interest so that they can be reproduced virtually in 3D. For a job that would otherwise require large, costly, and risky cranes, the quadcopters will be equipped with stereoscopic cameras and distance sensors and will be able to reach places tough for a crane to get to. They will be able to fly within inches of the building surface or monuments to capture high-definition detail. The 2D images, which are geopositioned
for precise location, will then be stitched together to create 3D representations...using 3D printing to create models is an obvious application, as Autodesk is already doing."
So Appleton could use the Autodesk scan-print system to create physical models of various building or large points of interest around the city. This could be a cool project to get middle school or high school students involved in...

In summary, I think I've shown a number of ways 3D printing can be a useful part of civic hacking. To move it into the real world, instead of just being the topic of this post, we need people interested in 3D printing to show up at the June 6 hackathon and take the lead. (And maybe have Autodesk or another company highly involved with 3D printing to sponsor the event in cool ways to help the civic hackers apply the technology to make their community better!)

[If you're interested in discussing 3D printing and civic hacks, contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail {dott} com.]

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