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Think you’d do a better job designing your household appliances than the manufacturers? You could soon find out.
3D printing has the potential to transform DIY . You can already do things like print your own replacement handle to repair a broken coffee cup . Now software company Autodesk in Toronto, Canada, has developed a system that lets you customise the controls on everyday gadgets such as radios, alarms clocks, toasters, ovens and TV remotes.
The system, called RetroFab, takes in a 3D scan of an appliance – captured with a Kinect depth-sensing camera , say – and then automatically suggests different shapes and layouts for the appliance’s buttons, dials, switches, levers or LEDs. Your options are shown on a screen, overlaid on the scan of your device. Simply choose the things want to change, resize them to your liking, and arrange them where you think they best fit.
RetroFab then automatically designs the connecting structure that will let the new control panel sit on top of the existing one and allow the new buttons to control the ones they will replace. The design is then sent to a 3D printer, which creates the new panel (see video).
RetroFab has many uses, says Raf Ramakers at Hasselt University in Belgium, who developed the system while working at Autodesk Research. As well as correcting “design mistakes”, he thinks it will help people with impaired dexterity due to advancing age or a disability.
“Some controls, like rocker switches, might require too much force while others like radio tuning require lots of precision,” he says. “In these situations, a caregiver can use RetroFab to customise the appliance to make it easier.” It could also be used to make ovens or kettles more child-proof, he says. Ramakers will demo the technology at CHI2016, a computer-human interaction conference in San Jose, California, in May.
Industrial designer Rama Gheerawo, director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at London’s Royal College of Art, thinks RetroFab is sign of things to come. “It’s still very early days for 3D printing,” says Gheerawo. “But if it takes off in the same way that inkjet printing has, then in five to 10 years we might hack everyday objects in this way,” he says.