Exo-Voice & Exo-Shoe: Onyx Ashanti Creates Incredibly High Tech 3D Printed ‘Footware’ & More

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The creative process is, above all, a process. Good art, just like any creation worth having, is worth waiting for. Onyx Ashanti, a native of Mississippi, is all about the iterative process in his creative works, and has been developing “beatjazz” for several years, even doing a TED talk on the topic in 2011–and he just gave another TED talk, on a different subject, last month.

This “multidimensional expression concept” extends across any number of platforms, just as versatile as Ashanti himself, as he is a “musician, Programmer, 3d print-designer, writer, performer, inventor…a self described child of the internet, and disciple of the open source philosophy.”

exo voice prosthesisTwo of Ashanti’s recent projects–both of which have been in the works, at least conceptually, for some years now–have recently caught our eye here at 3DPrint.com. Ashanti, who has been doing work in discovering the nature of the cyborg, told us via email about his the exo-voice.

“the details are that this is a design abstraction of my current cyborg sonic interface, the exo-voice,” Ashanti tells us in his characteristic lower-case type. “the system allows me to interact with sound kinesthetically. it is currently being mutated into a daily wear system with a sonic OS (beatjazzOS) to investigate how sound can be used to interface with what we think of as reality and program new ones at will, in realtime, on the go, hence my interest in biomechanical interfacing, function and aesthetic, ie, its about to get very much more strange than this.”

exo voice 3d printThe descriptive page on his website is an experiential marvel in itself (be sure to listen to the provided track at the top of the page as you read–Ashanti also includes warnings to be careful if listening while driving, as the music is binaural and can thus seem jarring). The exo-voice, still a work-in-progress as Ashanti revisits the ideas behind it and the capabilities of the system, has been in the works for around two years now and the artist shows no signs of slowing.

The exo-voice explores “sonomorphology” which uses sounds to experience changes and feelings, in a nutshell. He’s brought 3D printing into play for the sensors since the initial iteration of the idea. As he noted on Facebook, “it can be 100% printed, sensors, wires and all, it feels unlike any interface ive ever worn or designed, allowing for full finger motion in all directions…”

onyx ashantiFrom head to foot, Ashanti’s artistic visions have you covered.

He also let us know that he “just dropped [his] modular platform for biomechanical foot investigation a short while ago.” The exo-foot, Ashanti’s “new type of footwear,” is so high-tech that he considers it not just footwear–but “footware.” He shies away from using the word “shoe” to describe his creation, but it is a “100% 3d printed, modular, bio-mechanical foot interface.”

That 100% is only slightly overblown, as there are two metal pins in the current version of the exo-shoe (which Ashanti “will sort out in future iterations”). The idea had been percolating for s3around three years, but last summer he started actual design work, and then picked it up again now in the spring–because who doesn’t think about more open footwear as the warmer months hit?–and Ashanti notes significant improvements to his second iteration. This version is more comfortable, easier to put on (it snaps together), and the design is modular.

His work, published April 13, on his blog, on the exo-shoe is incredibly involved from start to finish.

In beginning the work on the exo-shoe, Ashanti started at the very beginning with a question not many of us have ever truly stopped to think about: “what IS a shoe?” This question isn’t nearly so straightforward as it might first seem: “re they foot protection?  are they a status symbol? are they a cultural identifier? are they a magic spell meant to bind you within a a certain range of movements?  once I began asking questions about them I started getting strange answers back, in my head.”

Ashanti took a look at the movement of a bare foot compared to one in shoes, and sought to keep closer to the nature of walking–and it was then that he “realized that it could not be a shoe.” In seeking to balance out weight distribution more according to body nature–that is, more toward the forefoot than on the heel–Ashanti began several years of research into what might be like a shoe without being a shoe. His first thought, a fairly soft covering, wasn’t great; in fact, he notes, “this immediately sucked…hard.” With everything about that design fairly painful, he looked back at his exo-voice mask–and so was born the idea of the exo-foot as it is currently developing.

The exo-shoe features modular components, hinged together at the heel, mid-foot (under the ankle), and the forefoot. Following a lot of thought, Ashanti turned to paper, then CAD, and, finally, his 3D printer. The integrated system, the “footware” of Ashanti’s vision, is an adaptable design with bases in both nature and high-tech approaches.

exo shoe by shoeAshanti used taulman bridge nylon for most of the print job, and for parts requiring more flexibility, FLEX EcoPLA from FormFutura. He noted that the combination of the two materials allowed for both the strength and flexibility needed for a “shoe replacement” that could be used in real life conditions. He notes that he intends to upgrade to a higher-power 3D printer in the near future in order to enhance the production process, but for now is content to design snap-together pieces that are easily combined.

For a technical look at the creation process, Ashanti says:

“with nylon, I use a 15mm retraction setting (this pulls the nylon back so that when you move the hotend across the print it doesn’t drag a string of melted nylon across its surface). nylon drizzles more than abs or pla but at this setting it is perfectly fine.. because I didn’t want delamination over time, I printed the layers at a very hot setting for this material. although suggested temp is 235-250c, I find that 285c ensures that the layers will stay welded. this is the same temp I use for the eco-flex PLA, although at a greatly reduced speed since flexible material will easily get caught in the gears if pushed too fast.”

More details about the creative process and technical specs can be found in Ashanti’s full description. His innovative designs bridge the gap between high-tech and nature, all while serving to enhance, it seems, the human experience of life. From the perception of sound to simply walking, this multi-faceted inventor is exploring perception across the board.

Onyx Ashanti’s work is highlighted on his website, as well as on social media including Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and YouTube. Let us know what you think of his innovative, new look at objects using 3D printing to convey his visions over in the Onyx Ashanti Exo-Voice/Exo-Shoe forum thread at 3DPB.com. Check out the video below explaining this incredible design:



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