The object to the right may not look like much, but it's one of the more mind-blowing things I've encountered. You know how the worst Hollywood cliche of bad cybermovies is that some kid is playing a videogame and he gets SUCKED INTO THE SCREEN and then must fight game baddies for real? Well, what if that could happen in reverse? What if you could turn videogame vehicles, characters and scenes into real objects?
Now you can. Here's how.
I'll start by letting reBang, where I discovered the picture, explain it:
The image is a screen capture from Pro/ENGINEER CAD, perhaps the most widely used product development 3D application for design and manufacturing. That object is a piece of a virtual game object “captured” from id’s Quake 3 videogame (the barrel of a Rocket Launcher). It was not created in my CAD application. It was not ripped from the game files. I “hijacked” the data streaming to my monitor using a freely available tool. And now, if I desired, I could manipulate the data and create a real product.
Let's pause for a moment to let that sink in. What reBang is describing is nothing less than a three-step process for turning cool bits into even cooler atoms:
- Capture a scene from your favorite videogame.
- Import it into a CAD program and isolate an object you'd like to have.
- Send it to a fabricator, either a 3D printer or a computer-controlled milling machine, and watch it emerge as a physical object.
Presto--your own rocket launcher, just like those in Quake. It won't work, but it will look just right (especially after you paint it). Why wait for some toymaker to get around to making an action figure of your favorite videogame character? Do it yourself!
I think I will. Inspired by a Neil Gershenfeld fablab speech, I plan to eventually convert part of our garage into into the coolest screen-to-steel battlebot factory around. Right now we're still in the Lego league, but I figure that the way to win the kids over to proper DIY matter hacking is to start by magically turning their fave virtual characters into real ones.
reBang doesn't describe the process, but here's what my research has turned up. That "freely available tool" that captures 3D coordinates from videogames? I think it's HijackGL, which intercepts a videogame's OpenGL calls to the video card and outputs the geometry data in standard 3D CAD formats.
We'll edit that data in Blender, an open source CAD program. Then, since we're not quite ready to buy our own 3D printer yet (even on eBay), we'll probably send it off to be fabbed at our local 3d printing shop.
That's good enough for toys. But for real battlebots, we're going to
want to make individual parts out of metal and plastic, and for that
we'll want to move to a proper computer-controlled milling machine.
Right now a Roland MDX-15 is less than $3,000
on eBay, so as soon as the youngest of the kids gets out diapers we'll
be ready to start building a workshop for the 21st Century.
For more fablab goodness, here's a weekend reading list: