Design it online without installing anything

Here is a 3D printable inflatable actuator dipped in silicone to make it airtight. This could be an alternative to casting for making soft actuators.

There are some annoying things about designing sensors and actuators, and sharing those designs. One big problem is getting everyone on a project set up with the right software to create, share and modify designs. When I have a mac and you have a pc, and the software costs a lot and files from new versions are incompatible with old ones, everything gets stuck and we have not even begun talking about how the design works.

In that spirit, here is our parametric designer for the telescoping cone actuators. In 2015 it works in Safari, but you have to enable WebGL. Slide some sliders, get a stl file, and your browser is doing all the work except printing it and dipping it in silicone. If you print it, you’ll have to chip out the support material to separate the cones. Thanks to Chris Kimmer for the test prints.

The software world is usually a few steps ahead and shows where hardware could be soon. For example sites like let you try out code in the browser. For a while there’s been where you can compile microcontroller code in your browser. now lets you design and manufacture a circuit project in an online environment. Moving even farther toward hardware, some in-browser 3D design environments are popping up, powered by Three.js and the WebGL 3D library that comes with recent browsers. NO installing any new software.
Shapeways Creators,, and are geared toward specific 3D designs where you make a few parametric tweaks and get a quote on printing your object. There is even a general 3D design environment, TinkerCAD.

What about microfabrication? Will we be designing microdevices right in the browser, then hitting a button…then getting a package in the mail? (Oh yeah, and pressing a payment button and whipping out the credit card). Maybe someone is already doing this with photomasks.

But can I edit my project anymore if the “creator” company ever disappears? There has been a lot of discussion about that with mbed (and probably about the other systems discussed above). It’s something to be aware of–hang on to a copy of the source if this bothers you.

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