Yesterday was my ninth wedding anniversary, which means that nine years ago today, my husband and I were flying to Florida, hoping we’d make it to our honeymoon cruise on time; when you get married ten days before Christmas in Ohio, sometimes the plane doesn’t leave on time because there was a snowstorm the day before and the pilot has to de-ice the plane…three times. Luckily, we made it, and two days later were standing in beautiful, sunny Cozumel, Mexico. We went snorkeling, enjoyed some rum cake, and just generally basked in the warmth. I took a ton of pictures that day, and I enjoy looking at them from time to time, thinking about the beginning of our life together. Now, pictures are great, but wouldn’t it be neat to have an actual three dimensional memory of a place that you could hold in your hand? Design company HUSH has made that possible with their new web-based tool, TopoTopo: it lets you enter a location and create a 3D topographical model of the place that can be turned into a puzzle and 3D printed!
HUSH, a concept-driven design firm that combines digital technology and physical environments to help clients deliver powerful brand experiences, wanted to create a lighthearted, user-personal puzzle game gift for the holidays, that would also have a connection to their design culture. The free TopoTopo interface, created through the company’s interactive tech design expertise, has many options for design, materials, and colors. The inventive, shareable, and 3D printable puzzle gives users the ability to let their imaginations run free, while also highlighting how specific geographic locations can touch and inspire our emotions and trigger our memories.
A completed TopoTopo puzzle reminds me of a cross between Conor O’Kane’s 3D printed map of Ireland, created using a Cocoon Create 3D Printer and digital topographic data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), and these charming LOCKNESTERS 3D animal puzzles. It features unlimited complexity of terrain, and combines it with open source data, customization, and a rapid production pipeline. Plus, puzzles have a rather unique and universal appeal, starting from when you’re three and putting together those children’s puzzles with giant block animal shapes, to when you’re an adult and trying as hard as you can to solve that near impossible mathematical puzzle.
HUSH founding partner and Creative Leader David Schwarz says, “Places have meaning. Geography and topography are often the backgrounds to our experiences. They are the setting in our own life stories. The physicality of a place represents the scene and all of our experience play out against that scenography.”
“Traditional puzzles range in complexity. Appealing to all ages, puzzles can take on diverse forms, are typically low cost and easily portable. Yet, even with the amazing longevity of the puzzle, few have taken advantage of the modern digital toolset or customization through real-time, cloud-based information,” explained Schwarz.
HUSH used the geographic, open source data from the SRTM I mentioned earlier, and parsed the data using Google Maps APIs, to make it simple for users to search for virtually any location on our planet. So how does it work? Just type in the name of a location, and the TopoTopo interface makes a 3D visualization that can be customized and explored. Once you’re done playing with the design, select ‘puzzle preferences,’ and you can have your chosen location 3D printed in a number of materials, and shipped right to your door in a customized 5″ topographically-accurate puzzle memento. The great thing about open source data, and this project in particular, according to Schwarz, is that people can explore and create things we can’t foresee yet, and there are thousands of places on Earth for TopoTopo users to discover and capture.
I wanted to try the TopoTopo interface out for myself, and see if it was really as user-friendly as it sounds. Good news: it absolutely is! Bad news, at least for me: Cozumel was a poor choice, as it is very flat. I even tried experimenting with the height, and it did not help. I typed in a couple of other locations to see what they would look like, including my family’s annual vacation destination, the small town of Suttons Bay, Michigan. That had a few more hills, but I wanted to see what a really mountainous region would look like. So I typed in the Smoky Mountains, and presto, hills for days! I also tried the puzzles in one big piece, a 3×3 grid of nine smaller pieces, and a 5×5 grid of 25 even smaller pieces.
You also have the option of saving your TopoTopo to your Twitter or Facebook account, right from the page! If you want to buy one, you can send your model to HUSH’s 3D printing partner Shapeways, and choose to have it 3D printed in polished gold, colored plastic, or sandstone. TopoTopo, on top of being just really cool, and as easy to use as a quick Google Maps search, also represents a very meaningful expression of HUSH’s design culture, and way of seeing the world, just in time for Christmas.
Schwarz asks, “How can we capture the experience of a place and preserve it? How can we access a memory of place? A digital-physical puzzle seemed to be a good challenge to take on these questions, while also leveraging our passion for data, design and physical building.”
This awesome project is just the latest of several really cool and innovative things HUSH has come up with, including their dizzying “Made By Numbers” data sculpture and “Releases,” where hundreds of collaborators recorded themselves saying the word ‘release’ and a piece of software generated unique, 3D forms based on the timbre and tonality of each spoken word. Discuss in the TopoTopo forum at 3DPB.com.