We all know that 3D printing is like a snowball gathering pace down a mountainside, just waiting to avalanche the world into a place where on-demand home manufacturing is the norm. But while most of the time when we talk about digital fabrication we’re talking about an additive printing process—one where the object is created incrementally, layer by layer—3D printing isn’t always about printing things out as a complete product. Along with digital printers, there are digital tools being developed that can aid us when sculpting and crafting. Fresh from the wicked sharp minds of the researchers at MIT Media Lab is a brand-new digital milling device for crafting and fabrication, the FreeD.
Created by designers Amit Zoran and Joe Paradiso, the FreeD is essentially a pimped out cutting tool that aides with the creation of sculpted designs. The handheld mill is guided and monitored by a computer, following the design parameters of a 3D model, but still grants the craftsperson the freedom to sculpt and carve as they would with their hands. By combining the qualities of the human—the skill and artistry that has been learnt through practice—with the motion tracking benefits of the virtual world, the FreeD augments the capabilities of the user, making the process easier, especially for amateurs and beginners.
As anyone who has ever taken a hammer and pick to a hunk of limestone can attest, sculpting is delicate, precarious work. One false swipe and your work of art could be in ruins and all those hand blisters will have been for naught. But with this device, using a magnetic tracker, the computer will intervene when you get close to the perimeter of your outlined design, either slowing the spindle speed down or drawing back the shaft, stopping you from destroying your handiwork.
The merging of digital manufacturing aids with the unique touch of the human hand is an exciting new avenue for 3D printing to explore. As Jamie Zigelbaum, of Zigelbaum + Coelho, who notified us of the development said, “It’s been clear that CAM [computer-aided manufacturing] has been missing a human expressive, improvisational component and this is likely the first entry to that space of its kind.”