SCF Sympusiom and Summer School

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Between the 11-18 of June Iddo and myself had the privilege to participate in both the 2017

ACM Symposium on Computational Fabrication (11-13 of June) and the 2017 SIGCHI Summer School on Computational Fabrication and Smart Matter (14 – 18 of June).

Both events took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts and were hosted by MIT.


Before we dive into the content let us explain what computational fabrication and smart matter are all about.

Computational Fabrication – This field is all about digital manufacturing and computer graphics. Think of any modeling software – It performs a lot of complicated mathematical calculations (hence computation) in order to help different users with manufacturing, building, 3D printing (hence fabrication), etc.

* Some of you may think of the act of lying when you hear fabrication (or at least I did), because the most common use for fabrication is “fabricated a story” which means he built a story.

Smart Matter – This is another name for micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), a technology that combines computers with tiny mechanical devices such as sensors, valves, gears, mirrors, and actuators embedded in semiconductor chips.

Moving that technical definition aside, it’s basically a small unit of material that can take input (sensors) and respond in some way (actuating). Our skin is an example of smart material –  when it senses cold it creates goosebumps.


Back to the program:

The symposium kicked off with a lovely evening reception overlooking the Charles river and an inspiring talk by Daniela Rus who leads the CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) lab at MIT.

Daniela’s talk was titled “One Robot for Every Task”. In her talk Daniela states that as the world moves towards a more robot-centric environment we must find ways to fabricate our robots wisely. If each robot can only do one task, then we will find ourselves surrounded by a large amount of robots.


The next couple of days of the symposium were packed with amazing talks from leading experts in the computational fabrication and smart matter community, we had a futuristic talk about Self-Assembly & Programmable Materials from Skylar Tibbits, a breakdown of the entire 3D printers’ industry by Terry Wohlers, an amazing talk about Innovation and creativity from Ivan Poupyrev and many many more.

In order to keep the blog short and insightful, I decided to focus on two main talks:


Made in space by Matthew Napoli:

Matthew works for a company called “Made In Space” which basically tries to disrupt the space industry. What does that mean you might ask yourself; well that means that they are trying to create a totally new approach on how building for space happens.

Up until now, building for space was straightforward – you build something on earth then you launch it up to space. Take satellites and spaceships, with all of its equipment and tools, as the obvious examples.

What “Made in Space” is offering is that whatever we can manufacture in space we “simply” do it there instead of doing it down here.

Think of how much energy is wasted on just getting the satellite to space, what if instead we manufactured the satellite in space?

What if instead of filling the spaceship with tons of spare parts just in case something went wrong, we would simply equip it with a 3D printer and some raw material which will enable us to build only the parts we really need, thus saving us room of parts and time when trying to find them.

Besides raising these ground breaking ideas, “Made in space” has already collaborated with

NASA and managed to print the first 3D items in space using their 3D printer.

Although this is just the beginning, it definitely sounds like the beginning of a fascinating era – “Space manufacturing”.


Adventures with New and Different 3D Printers by Scott Hudson.

Scott started his talk by presenting a challenge to the audience:

Print something you will use in your daily life.

Which of course he follows with the story of how after he tore off his watch-band he decided to take on the challenge and was surprised of the complexity of what seemed like a trivial task at first. We hope to make this challenge a course in the lab sometime in the future.

This led Scott to the discussion on how 3D printers today do not act as production machines, meaning we don’t use them to create products we want to use, but primarily as prototyping machines. He says we should challenge this status and try to bring more production printers into our world.

He then showcases a wool printer which he uses to print teddy bears for his kids, a material layer printer which is used to print soft objects and finally an electromagnetic printer which, well, prints electromagnets.

He adds another interesting point at the end about 3D printers: While some might think that we will reach a point where everything will be 3D printed, Scott challenges that thought by saying that in some areas we got so good at manufacturing that we will not want to invest the time, research and funding to get to that exact same point with 3D printers when we are already there with our conventional methods. He gives the example of microelectronics and bolts.


For the full list of keynotes and their talks you can visit :

The symposium ended on the 13th of June at around 16:30 which left us with only half a day of rest before the start of our Summer School.


The main goal of the summer school was to provide 30 PhD students with the opportunity to discuss their research with senior mentors in their field and to learn new research skills.

Sure enough, during the summer school days we were constantly surrounded by some of the leading experts in the HCI field – Sean Follmer, Robert MacCurdy, Stelian Coros, Ramesh Raskar, James Weaver, Victor Zordan and Sriram Subramanian.

They all presented their work, and then remained for a varied amount of days and were happy to consult, share and talk about our work or theirs.

We also got the chance to peek into the early stages of research other participants were doing, and of course present our very own “Animating Matter”.


Besides the “professional” goal of the summer school, another major goal of it was about building the HCI community.

That is why, besides the workshops and tutorials, we also had a DIY sushi night, a Charles River Boat Tour, and a night out in Boston which were all part of the schedule.

Beyond the scheduled events we also managed to go out on 2 karaoke nights, play pool, arcade and of course eat endless amount of pizza and hamburgers.

But we only did it because we wanted to build the community, no fun was exhibited during the making of those events.


For the full  list of mentors and participants :

When the week (Symposium and Summer school) was over we were quite exhausted, but full of inspiration, motivation, and exciting new ideas.

We believe that week supplied the soil and water for many interesting research topics which will fill the lab in the upcoming years.

We just need to wait and see what will grow out of it.

Written by Yoav Orlev, MA CS student at the IDC.

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