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How to Make (Almost) Anything

How to Make (Almost) Anything is a class taught by Neil Gershenfeld, the Director of The Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT.

In this well-known course, students are taught how to design, plan, prototype, fabricate, and document projects that explore the boundary between computer science and the physical world by “…turning data into things and things into data.”

The course materials and previous students’ projects are available online, and I decided to follow along and build some fun projects at the fab labs around Copenhagen!

Computer-Aided Design

Week 0

In Progress

This week’s assignment is to “…model (raster, vector, 2D, 3D, render, animate, simulate, …) a possible final project, compress your images and videos, and post a description with your design files on your class page.” …or rather, my personal project page.

Computer-Controlled Cutting

Week 1

This week’s assignment is to “…characterize your lasercutter’s focus, power, speed, rate, kerf, joint clearance and types,” and “…cut something on the vinylcutter: design, lasercut, and document a parametric construction kit, accounting for the lasercutter kerf, which can be assembled in multiple ways, and for extra credit include elements that aren’t flat.”

3D Scanning & Printing

Week 2

This week’s assignment is to “…test the design rules for your 3D printer(s),” and “…design and 3D print an object (small, few cm3, limited by printer time) that could not be made subtractively,” and “…3D scan an object (and optionally print it).”

Computer-Controlled Machining

Week 3

This week’s assignment is to “…do your lab’s safety training: test runout, alignment, fixturing, speeds, feeds, materials, and toolpaths for your machine,” and “make (design+mill+assemble) something big (~meter-scale). Extra credit: don’t use fasteners or glue. Extra credit: include curved surfaces.”

Modeling & Casting

Week 4

This week’s assignment is to “…review the safety data sheets for each of your molding and casting materials, then make and compare test casts with each of them,” and “…design a mold around the stock and tooling that you’ll be using, mill it (rough cut + (at least) three-axis finish cut), and use it to cast parts.”

Electronics Production

Week 5

This week’s assignment is to “…characterize the design rules for your in-house PCB production process. Extra credit: send a PCB out to a board house,” and “…make an in-circuit programmer that includes a microcontroller. Extra credit: customize the design. Mill and stuff the PCB, test it to verify that it works. Extra credit: try other PCB processes.”

Electronics Design

Week 6

This week’s assignment is to “…use the test equipment in your lab to observe the operation of a microcontroller circuit board,” and “…redraw an echo hello-world board, add (at least) a button and LED (with current-limiting resistor), check the design rules, make it, and test that it can communicate. Extra credit: simulate its operation.”

Embedded Programming

Week 7

This week’s assignment is to “…read the data sheet for your microcontroller, use your programmer to program your board to do something. Extra credit: try other programming languages and development environments,” and “…compare the performance and development workflows for other architectures.”

Input Devices

Week 8

This week’s assignment is to “…measure something: add a sensor to a microcontroller board that you have designed and read it,” and “…probe an input device’s analog levels and digital signals.”

Output Devices

Week 9

This week’s assignment is to “…add an output device to a microcontroller board you’ve designed, and program it to do something,” and “…measure the power consumption of an output device.”

Networking & Communications

Week 10

This week’s assignment is to “…design, build, and connect wired or wireless node(s) with network or bus addresses,” and “… send a message between two projects.”

Interface & Application Programming

Week 11

This week’s assignment is to “…write an application that interfaces a user with an input &/or output device that you made,” and “…compare as many tool options as possible”

Final Project

Week 11

This week’s assignment is to “…document a final project masterpiece that integrates the range of units covered,” and “…prepare a summary slide and a one minute video showing its conception, construction, and operation.”