New technology trends seems to provide a margin of liberty for designers and makers where they can costume design and fabricate literally anything — thanks to 3D printers, CNC milling machines, and laser cutters. Yet, do these technologies open venue to _everyone_ to make anything they want? In developing countries, where there is a population of skilled labor who are either talented crafters, skilled technician, or amateur makers, getting introduced to new fabrication trends could be a major shift in reshaping their talent and opening venue to new markets of new products which they can develop, and support their economic empowerment.
Laser cutters are one powerful tool for fabrication, which, unlike 3D printers or CNC milling machines, they don’t require 3D modelling skills, and are easier to troubleshoot. If you are able to draw, then _supposedly_ you can use the laser cutter. However, your drawings still need to be done using a 2D vector application, and you should be familiar with English language to easily navigate the interface, not to mention that you have to be a computer illiterate at first place and can afford having access to one. Those things sound challenging for a crafter whose major skill is drawing with pencil and paper, or for a skilled maker who can’t afford to buy a computer or aren’t comfortable using one (like simple electricians, who can fix your radio but not your DVD player). In addition to the size and weight of laser cutters, which makes chances very low for crafter/technicians to come across one, unless they are trained to use it. So, wouldn’t it be interesting if we could break the barrier and bring laser technology to anyone anywhere, with an easy interface, and see how will they use it?
Last November, I approached IceAlex and sopke to the fablab coordinator AbdelRahman Gamal that I would like to use the fablab to replicate the model of the Arduino based microslicer, then interface it with a mobile application, that makes operation easy, where users can just sketch, scan, and cut. This way we can make use of both the portability of the technology and the ease of use, in enabling people with different kind of talents of using it. I am a humble maker, so I was going to tinker and research and take my time, with the help of some friends here and there until I finish a prototype. However, AbdelRahman advised me to better make an introductory public event, and collect a team, then start developing the machine together. I was very open to the idea, however, very skeptical to how things would work, and given that there was nothing to loose, so I said OK! We made a facebook event, and to my surprise there were 14 attendees from different disciplines, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, a Linux admin and an architect. On the same day, we formed teams and organized tasks, then met after 2 days, with a model for a new mechanical design that is different from the tutorial, an initial motor driver circuit, and some motors for testing. Wow. Moving forward, the team became 10 people. We finished a first mockup and used it for testing motors, drivers, laser. None of us has built a laser cutter before, so it is an interesting learning journey –thanks to opensource hardware. We are currently we are done with the first iteration of the final design. The machine uses a 700mW laser, which is not very powerful, yet powerful enough to cut and engrave paper and fabric, which makes it ideal for tshirt engraving, and making paper origami, and any other interesting product that depends on cardboard, paper, or fabric. We are working on minimizing the cost (which we collected from each other) and we managed to move down to almost $120. In line with that, we are using recycled motors (unipolar steppers) and developed drivers that provide smooth microstepping for any similar recycled motors that are taken away from any used device. The working area of the machine is 31 x 21 cm, however, thanks to the smart design, the machine can move freely on any open area, which makes the working area almost infinite. Now we are working on product development, to make sure the small, portable, and light machine, is comfortable to carry and use. We are also moving forward with developing a software interface, and a mobile application for operation. This is the result of 8 weeks of work, and we are looking forward to have a fully functional model before the end of February. To signify mobility, we called the machine Risha, which means feather, in Arabic. If you would like to learn more about the project, want to join the team, or help with software and mobile development, or if you would like to donate some money to use to help us build a second working prototype :), then please drop us a line at: email@example.com
Join us, we are open and fun to work with. We also like innovation and aren’t afraid of trying new things. Next time when someone tells that open hardware will change the world, please take their words more seriously.
About the team: The team current team is Sameh Ahmed (mechanical development), Sherif Rashwan (electronic development), and Abdelrahman Nazih (design development).
Earlier prototypes have been developed by: AbdelRahman Gamal, Ahmed Essam, Ahmed Ramzy, Mohamed Adel, Mohamed Bassiouny, Muhammad Nasr, Mohamed Said
There are other supporters like. Ragy Samy, electronics engineer, who is part of a team that developed high power laser cutter (https://www.facebook.com/Ashya2ydesigns) and who helps with various hints.
Watch a video about the team: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFNxCg1a_RE&feature=youtu.be or follow work progress on facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/220367314801253