I truly believe that there will come a time, probably not too far off in the future, where we will all be 3D printing intricate electronic devices from the comfort of our own homes. We’ve seen companies like Voxel8 and Functionalize push the envelope is this area already, and the implications of such technology could be staggering, opening up the window for cheap electronics and an incredible amount of innovative design.
Another company called Inventery Inc., which we’ve covered in the past because of their intuitive 3D modeling app, Morphi, is combining 3D printing with Play-Doh to enable some pretty cool new applications for the technology.
For those of you who were unaware, Play-Doh is not only incredibly fun to roll around in your hands and mold into things, but it’s actually conductive as well. This means it can be used to complete a circuit. When the team behind Morphi realized this, they knew that they could come up with a fun, easy, and cool new design using their mobile app, 3D printing, Play-Doh, and an electronics kit called MaKey MaKey.
“MaKey MaKey contains a small circuit board (which attaches to a computer through a USB cable) and alligator clips (with each end attaching to the circuit board and each other end to conductive material),” explained the Inventery team to 3DPrint.com. “MaKey Makey can be used with any online websites or other programs using arrow keys as well as with Scratch, a free programming language and online community developed at MIT with a large library of pre-existing MaKey MaKey projects.”
The project? A 3D printed functional video game controller!
For those of you not familiar with Inventery’s Morphi app, it allows its users to simply draw a 2D object on their smartphone or tablet’s screen, and quickly turn that object into a 3D printable model.
“We used the Draw tool in Morphi to design a simple game controller with curved edges,” explained the team. “We extruded and re-sized our hand-drawn shape in Morphi and then used cylinders from Morphi’s Shapes library to subtract 6 large holes for the controller buttons. However, we were careful not to subtract completely through the bottom of the controller. We then made one smaller hole within each controller button hole which was subtracted through the bottom so each alligator clip (from the MaKey MaKey kit) could be placed securely from underneath and not fall out while in play.”
Next it was time to print the controller out on their Ultimaker 3D Printer. Because the team wanted it to be comfortable on their hands during extensive play, they ended up printing it with NinjaFlex’s rubber-like filament. Once printed, they filled all six holes with Play-Doh, attached the MaKey MaKey board to their computer via a USB port, and finally connected the alligator clips to both the board and the Play-Doh within each button hole from beneath the controller. Incredibly, the controller works like a charm with any game that uses a computer’s keyboard arrow keys. Below you will see the team at Inventery testing the 3D printed controller out by playing PacMan. Unbelievably, those six buttons being pressed are Play-Doh.
“In creating this project, we wanted to show how easy and fun it could be to design and print models that could be used with basic electronics,” explained the Inventery team. “We were aiming for an abstract, minimalist style and quickly designed a few instruments using cones, spheres, cylinders and a hexagon [all which were 3D printed]. The instruments were mostly hollow, but had holes running through the tops and sides for the MaKey MaKey cables and conductive material. We printed 4 instruments (about 2 inches high) on an Ultimaker 2 using the quick print settings in Cura.”
Just like with the game controller they used Play-Doh to complete the circuits, but this time also experimented with conductive tape. Below you will find a video of the finished electronics in action: