Making LINKKI: design, storytelling and learning with movement (2)

LINKKI as a story board ( A character in the Bruno Munari’s book, ROMILDA THE FLOG)

LINKKI is a kinetic construction toy based on planar linkage mechanism with which users can design movements, make kinetic arts and learn basic STEM subjects by hands-on playing. More details and the design specification being able to be found on my website, here I’d like to share the making story behind it in two installments.This is the second part of story. Read Part 1: Background.

In the first post of Making LINKKI, I wrote about the background and inspiration that motivated me to make LINKKI. Now it’s time to tell about the prototyping process.

First of all, I continued with the idea of designing movement for prototyping and storytelling. In order to make standardized parts, various sizes, materials, fabrication methods were tried out: parts were hand-drilled, laser cut, and finally milled with CNC; Materials such as wood, cardboard, MDF, plexiglass were tried out; Axles, gears and pulleys were 3D printed. At the same time, to explore the possibilities, a number of movements were built.

Building mechanical movement, if simple, is not so much quick and easy as painstaking and time taking. Friction, overlapping, the heads of fasteners, gravity…etc., all of them block movement. I tried to design parts so as to prevent these problems and to make the building process as easy as possible.

The other concern was to make it open-ended taking advantage of both the fast and dirty prototyping and polished construction toy. Actually, the flat parts are easy to make by yourself just with cardboard and a punch tool so that if you need a part of specific form or a part with drawing, it’s a matter of a few minutes. But, imagine that you had to make everything from scratch!

Prototyping familiar movements
Curve drawing tool

Other than the storytelling and prototyping capacity of the toy, the other aspect of linkage I payed attention to was traces linkages leave behind. The sketch drawn by mechanical movement is beautiful in itself with the repetitive and symmetric curvy trajectories. Traditional drawing tools designers used to use in the past, for example, pantograph and curve drawing tools such as ellipsograph were based on linkage mechanism. It’s quite interesting to find not a few mathematicians tried for long time to draw a straight line with mechanical linkages and a book called How to draw a straight line was published. I tried to prototype as many linkages as possible that draw (They were archived in Linkage drawing blog).

Part of linkage drawings

The drawing becomes more sophisticated when a motor module is attached. The motor drives either the mechanism or the drawing board behind, or even both with pulley and belt. That is, it’s not that difficult to build so called drawbot.

With a motor attached, the drawing become more sophisticated.
The board can be static, rotate and move linearly.
Prototyping motor modules

Moreover, with a sensor module attached, a signal meter or visualizer can be built on it. Coupling an appropriate sensor, i.e., the weather sensor, push sensor…etc. with interesting activation or movement, users would, I expected, get familiar with the idea of physical computing and IoT.

Values of light sensor drawn on the paper roll with LINKKI

To sum up, prototyping for LINKKI, I saw the possibility of the toy as a prototyping tool, creative medium, and educational tool and the final prototype was built for this purpose. Even if the technology behind LINKKI is not so simple as it seems, users can approach this in the more casual and design-and-art-oriented way just like drawing on the paper.

By this, I wrap up the Making LINKKI stories: 1. background, 2. prototyping. I am quite likely to come back with new stories because LINKKI is being still in its prototyping stage. More photos and explanations are available here.