Not 3DPrinting June 12th, 2013 C4CC London

Here at Makers’ Guild we of course love 3DPrinting. In fact initiating the collective purchase of a Makerbot two and a half years ago was one of the inspirations for the Guild and super informed Rachel Park wrote us a great blog post on 3DPrinting 18 months ago.  It is also true as a prototyping technology it has transformed manufacturing over the past 20 years and will become a key maker technology. However…… we feel in just the past few months the hype is charging, at breakneck speeds towards the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. Hence the decision to hold an event not about 3DPrinting but two people deeply passionate about making with other technologies

Jailmake Tom Dixon beopen

First up Jamie Elliot founder of Jailmake introduced his well-equipped Peckham studio. He described his wide-ranging client projects ranging from a custom jewellery roll to pop-up exhibition stalls designed and built in a week for Tom Dixon. Another seriously ‘time constrained’ project he recounted was the Four Day Chairs Four different chairs for four times of the day, designed and hand carved from solid ash in four days. That’s 4. The elegant, portable ‘First Branch’ product enables you to reach that high first branch for tree climbing escapades.

Jailmake 205-200

205-200=5 was Jailmake’s studio condensed into 5 sqm (from their 205 sqm space in Peckham hence the name) for London Design festival 2012 and exemplifies how Jamie loves communicating design, making and helping people to learn. Jamie is always teaching clients, employees, friends, anyone who will listen to learn by doing, by breaking, experimenting, collaborating and sharing. I wholeheartedly agree and have long believed it’s crucial for effective design to know the possibilities and limits of materials with which your working in order to exploit them fully. Chris Anderson @chr1sa mentions in his recent book ‘Makers’  how Jim McKelvey founder  and Chair of muti-billion $ company square hand built 50 prototypes Square readers himself to fully understand his product, a great example of personal passion. Jamie commented on how hard is to do things in urban setting. e.g. build a log cabin or something from the Global Village Construction Set.  He wants to make Jailmake’s workshop more open by taking small local commissions or teaching local communities.

The assembled Makers swooned as Jamie revealled the delights in ‘Home-Made Contemporary  Russian Folk Artifacts’ [WANT!] and nodded sagely as he mentioned ‘Manufacturing Processes for design professionals’ THE design and making bible.

Rounding off, Jamie listed the serious metal and wood working tools at Jailmake and how he wants to mix them with higher tech CNC machines combining the ease of CAD/CAM with the power of heavy machinery. For example using 3DPrinting (yes that!) for lost plastic casting or combining with other parts in this way 3DPrinters can be seen as ‘just another tool’, part of an extensive kit.

Fiddian then announced a partnership between Jailmake and Makers’ Guild to deliver hands on day workshop sessions at Jailmake’s wonderful studio and use those lovely machines. More on this soon.

Robofold robots

Next up was Gregory Epps founder of Robofold. Fiddian recently went to visit his workshop equipped with a big CNC machine and two gorgeous big orange robots, ABB 6400s to be precise. Fiddian rather likes robots!

Greg started folding metal when he was 16, realising that it is wonderful transformational process to make flimsy sheets of stuff beautiful and strong. He wanted to make a mountain bike with folded metal and there his quest to industrialise folding metal began. A while later he realised that robots were the only thing that could automate this spatial process and eventually he got funding to buy some and started Robofold after leaving the Royal College.

He showed a video of how the process works, it looked graceful and simple seeing robot scoring and folding metal. Behind this elegance is Robofold’s clever software turning craft into industrial process thus turning flat sheet metal into complex forms without expensive moulds. It’s natural for sheet materials to want to fold. It’s also 60-80% more efficient to work with folds rather than pressing metals into moulds with great force, saving energy and cost. Folding like this is also accessible, it starts with paper, properties scale well from paper to metals. The first Robofold robot was made from Lego!

A typical development process for Robofold goes something like:

1. Design – Paper Folding. Test if you can fold paper from 3 points.
2. CAD software (in-house designed) allows manipulation of fold angle etc.
3. CAM software (in-house designed) for CNC router and robots
4. Production CNC cutting and scoring
5. Production robots folding
6. Installation/distribution

Behind the scenes Robofold had to create whole lot of software and are now developing nice robot simulation software so designers can simulate the process and understand fully what it can provide.

Robofold Zara Hadid

A lovely exemplar of the products of Robofold’s process is ARUM for Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher at the Venice Bienalle, 2012. 488 panels were folded using the same parameters but everyone is different.

Surfaces are a key market sector for Robofold especially building facades. It gives architects the freedom to make many different forms for a similar cost, competing technologies require standardisation to a few patterns to be affordable. Furniture, bowls, lighting, shelving and sculpture can also be Robofolded, parameterised products are in the pipeline.

Greg summed up saying Robofold is an immature technology as is 3DPrinting. Robot forming and 3DPrinting are cheaper than many current production methods but we are only just beginning to understand what they are really good for.  As they said ‘the future’s bright, the future’s orange [robots] and OK, OK 3DPrinters too.

Makers’ Guild’s wonderful self appointed official videographer PJ has again uploaded videos of the night to You Tube. Thank you again PJ and here they are:

P.S. It was wonderful to see two people inspired by the evening go right home make stuff and blog about it. Big up @nanoBorg88 for his post making a card ‘almost vase’ and @workshopshed prototyping a jet engine styled folded light   Hurray, hurray that’s just what we want to see!

Thank-you again to our kind hosts The Centre for Creative Collaboration

The Amazings Collaborations: make a product with elder craftspeople

We just got this message in from founder of The Amazings Adil Abrar. We really like the Amazings and the idea of elder creatives passing on their wisdom and thought you might too:

We’re really excited about introducing a new feature at The Amazings, called Collaborations. We have a fine, talented and rare pool of elder craftsmen, and we are going to give people the opportunity to suggest something that they would like to learn to make together. This could be a ipad cover with Meike the feltmaker, a cute range of toys with Paul the woodworker, a teapot with clay artist Mandee….or anything else you can think off.

Our first list of Amazings ready for collaboration are below, just look through their profiles, think of an idea, and email it to us. If chosen, we’ll work it up with you, introduce you to the Amazing for you to start collaborating, and then film you making your creation. When we release the film, you’ll get royalties on every download we sell!

The Amazings await you….

Leonor, scrapbooker – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/leonor

John, dry stone waller – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/john–7

Debbie, polymer clay jewellery maker –  http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/debbie

meike, feltmaker – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/meike

susan, papercrafter – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/susan

mandee, clay artist – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/mandee

stewart, signwriter – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/stewart

judith, seamstress – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/judith

jan, watercolour artist – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/jan

josefina, crocheter and mosaics – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/josefina

lesley, potter – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/lesley–2

paul, woodturner – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/paul

paul, bookbinder / kiltmaker – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/paul–2

virginia, knitter – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/virginia

dot, loom knitter – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/dot

karen, upcycling – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/karen–2

su, pottery – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/su

tom, guitar maker – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/tom

amanda, gift wrapper – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/amanda

jacqueline, book artist – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/jacqueline

andrew, street photographer – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/andrew

Leonard, glass artist – http://www.theamazings.com/teachers/leonard

Making and Social Change May 8th, 2013 C4CC London

Here at Makers’ Guild we believe making has vast potential for social change, it’s part of the reason we do it, as well as just loving making stuff of course! Hence kicking off the 2013 series of events on aspects of making and social change.

First up, Fiddian Warman, founder of Makers Guild, welcomed the group and introduced the event and Brian Condon from the Centre for Creative Collaboration introduced the space.

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Our first speaker, Daniel Charny (@danino), told us about his history as an industrial designer and the curator of the V&A Power of Making show. The success of Power of Making resulted in a lot of reflecting about how to harness the public’s enthusiasm for making. His initiative, Fixperts, is a reaction to that. Fixperts is about getting people who are good at fixing and making to do things for someone who needs something done, and then make a short film about it. Fixperts projects are carried out entirely by volunteers, often experienced designers who want to get close to users in a way that industrial design often doesn’t allow. Daniel’s co-founder is James Carrigan of Sugru.
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Their aim is to get making acknowledged as a type of thinking and to encourage more people to engage with the practices of fixing and making, especially in education. Fixperts has worked with 7 universities around Europe. Tutors find a way to run projects in their environment and Fixperts help build the individual briefs. 102 students from Brunel’s industrial design course have just completed a Fixperts project set by their tutors. Some of the problems they tried to solve include insomnia and how to feed sheep!
Daniel finished by talking about the future for Fixperts. They have been invited to take part in a Maker Fair, and are looking for fixers and makers to take part in a type of “fixing cafe”. If you might be interested in taking part, you can contact Daniel and James at hello@fixperts.org

Our second – surprise – speaker was Jim from WeFarm (@we_farm). Jim is a web developer by day and maker at night and has worked with faberdashery, among others. We Farm is a project commissioned by Cafe Direct Producers Foundation, the charity side of Cafe Direct – who make fair trade tea and coffee. CDPF work with the farmers that they buy coffee from on social change projects.
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We Farm is a project that James has been involved with for some time. Coffee and tea farmers have lots of ideas and skills but often no way to share them. Only 10% of farmers in the coffee belt have access to the Internet so sharing stuff online doesn’t work. However, 90% of them have access to SMS, which is taking off as a way to do many things eg banking. The brief for We Farm was: a social network for farmers using SMS. The result is a system that allows a farmer, in e.g. Kenya, to text a questions such as: how do I make money from rearing rabbits? A volunteer student translates the question into Spanish and it gets sent out to the whole coffee belt community. A farmer in Latin America who rears rabbits responds with some advice, which gets translated and sent back to the questioner. We Farm has been successfully piloted in Peru, Kenya and Tanzania, with more than 5000 messages exchanged.

During the break there was lively chat with some people showing work they do like PJ Wolosaczonek bringing along his ‘Kornel’ corner clocks. We’d love it if more people brought stuff along to show. PJ also kindly videoed the talks and has put them on YouTube in three parts here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. They are also embedded at the bottom of this page.

Paul Harter from Printcraft (@printcrafting) was our third speaker. Paul runs glowinthedark.com a company for helping people realise their digital designs. He originally set up Printcraft.org as a fun family project with his kids. The idea is that kids create stuff in Minecraft (a lego-like online world for building and creating) and then turn it into 3d models on Printcraft. At the time Paul was part of a 3d printing consortium with Fiddian (a protpype Makers’ Guild initiative!) and they owned part-shares in a Makerbot.

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This enabled Paul and his kids to print some of the artefacts they were building within the game Minecraft. Minecraft is like virtual Lego: a game with no rules and where you set your own goals. Some people fight and destroy things. Others build complex buildings and machines. Kids tend to build fancy buildings and weird characters. Using Printcraft they can then have their models 3d printed. Paul runs two servers in Minecraft. Once the model is built kids can press the print button. Their model will then appear as a 3d model within a Printcraft page. They can then download an stl file and then open it within a 3d print program, eg. The open source ReplicatorG or Makerbot’s Makerware. At the moment no log in is required as Paul wants to keep it as simple as possible for kids to make and print their models.

After setting up Printcraft, Paul went to the 3D Print Show with his kids and the Makerbot and their stand got an amazing response from the general public. Next, he applied to Nesta’s Digital Makers competition which fitted with his agenda of encouraging young people to make things. Printcraft won and received enough money to sustain the business for 6 months to a year. Now Paul is trying to turn project into something bigger and – hopefully – more sustainable. He has partnerships with Makerbot (who have given him a better printer), and Shapeways and iMaterialise who help him do the printing.
Paul talked to us about what happens when your hobby project begins to outgrow itself. Paul is slightly ambivalent about where Printcraft goes next. Despite working with Nesta on measuring metrics like engagement, learning outcomes and income, he doesn’t see Printcraft as a startup. Instead it’s more of an extension of a making philosophy. The people he does it for are families: parent and child sharing technology and making together. He sees Printcraft as being an adjunct making activity to, e.g. making birthday cards or cakes.

Paul also talked about the importance of getting the excitement about making that we have as adults across to children. Sometimes the exciting social history of making gets lost in discussion of mass manufacture.  Paul thinks makers need to engage with educators more so they can understand what might be good things to give to children. he finished with a quote from Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled!”

Our final speaker was Hannah Lewis from Remakery, who talked to us about the amazing and abitious Remakery project and the importance of seeing waste as a resource, rather than a problem. She told us that in London 6 million tonnes of waste is going to landfill each year. Skills and energy are also wasted as youth unemployment rises. Remakery is a reaction to this: a space for reuse and recycling of waste materials.
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Remakery is converting a space consisting of 40 derelict basement garages in Loughborough junction, between Brixton and Camberwell. The aim is to remake this abandoned space into a community resource, with workshop, co-working and events space. Hannah talked about how this type of project creates inward (personal) change as well as outward changes to a community, and how society is having to already get to grips with problems of scarcity and how Remakery can help with this.

Local people want to use the workshops to make and fix things, some people are curious and have joined as volunteers. Some people have been referred by hostels or mental health services. Since late July last year the Remakery team and local volunteers have been remaking the space as a community self build project. Funding has come from London Community Foundation, Wrap, and Lambeth Council. Remakery won Lambeth’s “Your Choice” project in which Lambeth residents voted on which building project should win £100K. This was an important catalyst to enabling building work to happen. Unfortunately it isn’t enough for the size of the space so they have received an additional 60K from the Tudor Trust and are seeking additional funding from other sources. Some building suppliers have also given in kind support, donating things like insulation materials (Rockwool).

Hannah told us about the collaborative process they undertook to design Remakery. They worked with Architecture for Humanity and Good for Nothing who designed the logo. Designers from Innocent smoothies helped with branding and prompted them to come up with the name.

Remakery (@remakery) is an example of a ‘bencom': a cooperative society run for the benefit of the whole community, not just the coop members. In pursuit of this Remakery are issuing shares, which members can buy for £1 each. At the moment this is limited to one share per person, as the aim is to generate community involvement, not raise cash. Hannah said that they may use shares to raise cash at a later date, but that it would always be limited to ‘one member one vote’ so that no one could take over Remakery by buying lots of shares. In future income will also come from monthly membership fees and there will be a range of rates depending on the level of use. They will also continue to apply for grant funding for social programs such as the Alchemy Incubator – an incubator for helping new business ideas to develop in the local community.

They plan to run “how to courses” and “build your own” courses introducing key skills. They are already reusing materials and holding educational events. They had a ceramic tile workshop recently as part of an away day for Lambeth Councillors! Brixton People’s kitchen used Remakery to build their bike powered mobile kitchen and they held a Secret Cinema screening which brought 70 new people into the space. Building work is ongoing and volunteers are in working on it every day from Monday to Saturday. Remakery is opening this autumn but there are plenty of ways to get involved NOW! You can contact Hannah at @remakery and people@remakery.org

Makers’ Guild is planning a series of upcoming events, including more hands on events. If you’d like to speak at a future event or suggest a theme, contact fiddian@makersguild.org. We’ll be announcing the next event very soon. It’s probably going to be themed on ‘NOT 3D Printing’!

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A slideshow of more pics from the evening are here.

And here are PJ’s videos (thank you again PJ):



iMakr – the opening of London’s first 3D printer store

On Wednesday May 1st, Makers’ Guild headed along to the opening of iMakr, London’s first (and apparently the world’s largest) 3D printing store.

The crowd at the iMakr store launch

The crowd at the iMakr store launch

The event was packed (so packed, in fact, that this was the second launch event – they’d had to split the initial event into two to accommodate everyone who wanted to come). 3D printers whirred and hummed as guests supped prosecco and munched on canapes. The walls were lined with examples of 3D-printed artefacts, most of which were for sale and all of which you could pick up and touch.

Some of the 3D printers (all of the consumer-end fused filament variety) on display at iMakr included the slick ‘Up’ Range, the great value Solidoodle and large capacity Leapfrog in addtion to the market leading Makerbot.

3D printer

Up 3D Printer

Although it was hard to hear over the noise in the store, the founder of iMakr told us that it’s going to be much more than just a place where you can buy 3D printers. There are also help and support events and workshops available to allow you to make your designs into 3D-printed artefacts.

3D scanner

The Leapfrog Creatr 3D Printer

According to the website of the iMakr funders, iMakr.VC, support is available to launch 3D printing projects  ‘in exchange for an equivalent stake in your project’ – an offputting model for some, but for others perhaps an interesting opportunity to realise a design which can’t otherwise be made.

The audience was a mixture of the curious, the overwhelmingly enthusiastic and the pessimistic. We talked to one punter who felt that ‘it’s all very impressive’ but most of the stuff people are making is dull or just not very good. It seems that having a 3D printer is no guarantee of producing innovative or even tasteful products.

3D-printed ornament

3D-printed ornament

Perhaps one area where 3D printers are definitely innovating is in toy production. The 3D-printed Makie dolls were very much in evidence (all that handling had made them a bit grubby!), and there were some rather impressive super-hero figurines on display.

Makie dolls on display at iMakr

Makie dolls on display at iMakr

3D-printed superhero figurine

3D-printed superhero figurine

Other impressive artefacts included sterling silver jewellery which was genuinely beautiful.

3D-printed sterling silver jewellery

3D-printed sterling silver jewellery

All in all we were impressed by the iMakr venture, and think it can only help to spread the word about personal fabrication and make it more accessible to local designers and makers. We’ll be watching with interest to see how the venture develops.

Making Uncovered

On 20th April, Makers’ Guild plus a couple of young makers, headed to Brixton East for Making Uncovered, a showcase of some of the best local making initiatives.

There were a lot of different craft and making projects on display, with opportunities to get your hands dirty (literally) and try everything out. Brixton East is a lovely space for displaying work, and the atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly. We hope there will be more events like this in Brixton soon.

Shares in the Remakery project

Shares in the Remakery Project

Remakery is a co-working space where waste materials are turned into useful products. Hannah from Remakery will be talking at the Makers’ Guild event, ‘Making and Social Change‘ on 8 May.

Brixton Pounds' coveted David Bowie ten-pound note

Brixton Pounds’ coveted David Bowie ten-pound note


The Brixton Pound is an alternative currency local to Brixton which you can use in selected shops and restaurants in the area. As well as notes, you can also use text messages to make payments in some locations.

Trying out a proper letterpress.

Trying out a proper letterpress.

Screen-printing some rather lovely fox design bags.

Screen-printing some rather lovely fox design bags.

Turning wood to make a rolling pin.

Turning wood to make a rolling pin.

Felt making

Felt making.

Getting to grips with arduinos

Kirsten recently attended an @techwillsaveus introductory workshop on arduinos, along with her 14-year-old stepson. She reports back on what she discovered.

Tech Will Save Us describe themselves as “a haberdashery for technology and education dedicated to helping people to produce and not just consume technology.” This is a great philosophy, and as someone who spends too much time staring at a screen and not tinkering or crafting, I was inspired to attend their workshop at the Science Museum, where they introduced us to the basics of coding for arduinos. I also took along my stepson, who has been learning Processing recently, and was keen to try his hand at electronics.

If, like me, you hadn’t really encountered an arduino before, it’s basically a micro-computer which allows you to make input and output devices do things in the ‘real world’ by connecting to software programs you write on your computer. Arduinos aren’t as powerful as RaspberryPis, and don’t have their own operating system – they’re really for controlling devices (like lights, motors or sensors), not for hardcore computing.

Before the session all we had to do was install the arduino drivers, and at the workshop we were provided with a neat little kit bag containing an arduino, USB connector, lots of wires, lots of resistors, some LEDS, switches, a potentiometer (which we used as a dimmer switch), a mini speaker (which we turned into a theremin) and a light sensor.

Starter pack for arduino

Starter pack for arduino

Over the course of three hours, the two facilitators lead us through the set up of the equipment and then taught us gradually more complex code sets in order to get our bits of electronics to do things like flash on and off, turn on and off, react to changes in light, or make sounds. We learned about for loops, if and else statements, and a whole bunch of other useful things. It was great fun, and there wasn’t a second wasted. My stepson, who normally gets bored really quickly, was captivated the whole time, and even found the time to adapt his code and test it with different functions.

Having done some coding and some electronics before was a real boon – in fact, all the participants had done at least some coding before and some had done a lot. However, if you are brand new to both coding and electronics, you’d probably still be able to handle this course (the second facilitator was great at going round the room and solving problems for people).

Things I found difficult included wiring up the bread board (the arduino is quite small, and has minimal pins to plug things into, so we were given a breadboard with additional pins for all the projects and components we were using). After a while, with lots of wires stretching between the arduino and the breadboard, it’s quite hard to see what’s going on. I also found that my slapdash approach to copying down code often caused me problems: miss out a semi-colon or mistype your input number and nothing works. Fortunately, my stepson was at hand to help me with debugging.

Arduino and breadboard

Arduino and breadboard

By the end of the session I had a much better idea of what an arduino can and can’t do, and had started to think of additional ideas for it. The next project is to hook mine up to some simple motors to make a sculpture in my garden. I’m pretty confident that I can do this now, with some help from the arduino forums.

After the training session was over, we were taken to the Alan Turing exhibition in the Science Museum to see behind some of the exhibits. We were shown the interfaces and then the exhibits were opened up so we could see the arduinos inside, and the masses of switches and wires connecting everything together. It was a really nice way to finish off the session, and to see the wider applications of arduino technology.

The exterior of one of the Turing exhibits

The exterior of one of the Turing exhibits

The interior of the Turing exhibit

The interior of the Turing exhibit

If you want to attend any of these events at the Science Museum, you can book here. Or find out about other events at the Tech Will Save Us website.

Prototyping: Failing Deliberately

Guest post by Matthew Venn, a full-time inventor and maker. As well as making cool stuff like the polargraph energy monitor, maze puzzle box and snowflake simulator, he is a great science communicator, designing and delivering science workshops to thousands of children worldwidehttps://twitter.com/matthewvenn

While I was developing the electronics for my energy drawing robot, I ran into a weird problem. On the lab bench the electronics and the motors were working fine – but every now and then at home the robot would lose its place and start drawing off the page. It was super-annoying because every time I took the circuit back to the lab it would work again!

When we’re working on a project and we know there’s a new challenge to solve – some tricky mechanics, a different painting technique, a new ingredient to add – we’ll usually try solving it in a low-risk situation, where failure isn’t a problem. Then, when we’re happy it all works, we give the project its real launch. What we’re aiming to avoid is failure after we think we’ve finished – ‘but it was working before!’

Prototyping is an interesting field because in a way, we want things to fail: we want to shake it and break it and test it until we’re sure all the bugs are out. But in other areas of life, people mostly try to avoid failure. I think learning is all about staying on the cusp of failure – not too much to be completely frustrating, but enough that we’re out of our comfort zone.
James Dyson famously made over 5,000 prototypes for his hoovers. But it’s not just about getting better at what we do, and therefore making better products; mistakes along the way can lead to interesting new ideas in their own right. Check out musician Matthew Herbert’s manifesto of mistakes.

Schematic idea for the polargraph energy monitor

Schematic idea for the polargraph energy monitor

Risky business

We’ve all experienced the frustration of a thirty-minute task that turns into a day’s work! To avoid this I break a project down into smaller tasks, then try to identify how risky and time-consuming each of those individual tasks are. I’ve found that it’s important to be able to identify the riskiest part of the project and have the discipline to start on that first; once the hardest part has been dealt with, we can move on until the whole system is working.
My main field is electronics. Using a new microchip always carries a high risk factor: sometimes they work as expected, but often they take a huge amount of work to get working right. To help counter this I keep a timing and risk spreadsheet for projects complex enough to need one. I make a note of the estimated risk factor and time for each task, and then multiply the time by the risk to help me get an overall estimate of time.
If you’re using any software, learn a version control system like git or svn. These tools make it cheap to try large changes and then keep or throw away the results. They can also enable collaborative testing with people in remote locations.

First Circuitboard Testing

First Circuitboard Testing

How can we fail better?

An important thing to remember is that prototyping is a process, and as with any process, we can improve on it with practice and awareness. What do you always fail at? What could be better? What are you always repeating? What is frustrating? As you work, make notes on what you’re learning, so that if it’s a month or year until you return to the project you can still benefit from the mistakes you’ve just made.

What the Polargraph pictures looked like when the robot kept crashing

What the Polargraph pictures looked like when the robot kept crashing

Prototyping is changing

Prototyping in the electronics and mechanical world is changing for the enthusiast. I think the two most important changes are the speed with which we can create and test mechanical objects, and the modularity of electronics.
Laser cutting3D printing and home CNC have really taken off, with many small machines available to those with a modest budget. The benefit of being able to create a physical object and manipulate it with your hands is hard to overstate.
Even if you don’t have access to these technologies, the turn-around time and low cost of some laser-cutting shops is now such that within a few iterations you could be holding a new product in your hands. One project exploring this is Stuart Child’s SNIJect, which looks at the difference between iterative design with and without access to a laser cutter.
The Arduino wasn’t the first prototyping electronics board, but one thing that really helped it to succeed was the standard (although idiosyncratic!) form factor of the I/O pins. This enabled people to build ‘shields’, which allows hardware reuse. Take a look at http://shieldlist.org/to see how far this has gone! For most embedded projects it’s now possible to just buy the shields you need, plug them together and write the software.
The open source/hardware movement has now fully taken off, and we can reap the rewards of all the hard work that people have put in over the years. Amazing things are created, documented and shared on sites like instructables andthingiverse

Finally fixed

So how did I fix my robot? I realised that what was changing from lab to home was the power supply; the lower-quality wall wart I had at home was introducing problems in my circuit. Working this out taught me that to fully test a prototype I need to simulate as closely as possible its end environment (including power supply). Sometimes it’s not enough for a prototype to work on the bench; we need to simulate the target environment too.
And this is what prototyping is all about: deliberately trying to make the mistakes early, when they are easy to solve – then learning from the mistakes that make it through. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.

Finished and working energy plotting polargraph

Finished and working energy plotting polargraph