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Digital making with a glowforge laser engraver

Digital making with a glowforge laser engraver
 
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We think that computers can be powerful tools for creative expression and believe that digital technology can be a great addition to traditional making and tinkering. However, one of the obstacles with tools like 3D printers and even craft cutters has been that creating even a simple shape like a square, let alone creating a personal design often requires young learners to learn a complex software and to be familiar with input tools like a mouse or a track pad. There is nothing wrong with learning to use CAD and graphic design software or coding languages, but good tinkering activities are first and foremost about the learner’s creative ideas and expression, not about learning software. The best tinkering allows to quickly iterate and focus on your idea while flexibly bringing in tools as needed and learning just as much as you need about the tool to master the task at hand. 

 

The prefect creative digital tool would be one that can be mastered with almost no instructions, as easily as a paintbrush. Enter the glowforge laser engraver. This machine takes a hand drawn design as an input and quickly cuts it out of different types of wood or plastic.

 

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Over the past year, our glowforge laser engraver has more and more become part of our own workflow as we are prototyping new ideas. We have been using it to make ornaments and signs from drawings and even to create shapes from graphic designs scanned directly from an IPad.
 
Two weeks ago, we debuted the glowforge at a drop-in workshop for adults that combined traditional making with digital tinkering. The workshop involved laser etching as well as wire bending and making circuits. As we invited museum visitors to prototype this new idea together with us, we had to work with the challenges that come with interrupting the natural flow of making by transferring designs to and from a digital tool, but we also saw the great potential of merging analogue making with a digital fab technique.
 

We were amazed by visitor's hand-drawn designs turned into wearable acrylic jewelry pieces that glow. We are looking forward to adding this digital tool to other computational tinkering workshops in the future.

 

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This work was supported by a grant from Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation