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Today’s “tool tale” comes to us from this year’s ITP Summer Camp, which kicked off in New York yesterday.

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Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting from the ITP Summer Camp. If you haven’t heard of ITP before the best way to describe it is as the “centre for the recently possible,”  ITP is  is a two-year graduate program located in the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU whose mission is to explore the use of technology, and how it can augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people’s lives.

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Kate Hartman welcoming the campers to ITP.

Every summer for the last few years they’ve run a summer camp,  a four week crash course for people with day jobs — non-student makers, artists, musicians, creatives of all sorts. Courses, workshops and lectures are held on evenings and weekends, and people are encouraged to sit down and make stuff.

Yesterday this year’s camp kicked off with a series of how to introductions, basic “Hello World” courses, giving introductions to soldering, Arduino, Processing, 3D printing, and how to use their laser cutter.

ITP has an Epilog Mini 24 — a 50 Watt desktop laser cutter with a large 24-inch × 12-inch platform. Capable of cutting a wide range of materials, from woods to plastics and acrylics, paper and leather, and etching sturdier materials like metals the cutter is an amazing piece of kit.

Trent Rohner talked us through how to use it for raster cutting, used for engraving and etching, and vector cutting, used for clean cuts through material. Pick a power, speed and frequency setting, all of which depend on the material you’re using, and you can drive it directly from Adobe Illustrator. Red lines indicate where the cutter should cut through the material, and black indicates where it should etch —and  you can use greyscale values to determine how deep it’s going to etch the material.

Although it’s probably taken the ITP crowd a huge amount of tinkering to get it up and working, certainly the compiled list of materials and settings indicate that it’s been an interesting journey, now they’ve done that it’s almost embarrassingly simple to use. Just grab the template file, open it in Illustrator, and create your design. Then hit print.

That something as powerful as a laser cutter can be this accessible shows how far things have come. Tools that were only available to large corporations are suddenly available to the maker in the street. We’re in the middle of a revolution where the space between ideas and final products is shrinking, and tools like the desktop laser cutter at ITP are causing it.

Interestingly ITP also has a much larger self-built 120 Watt cutter that’s not in full time use quite yet, although it was actually designed and built during last year’s summer camp, as it’s lacking the correct venting. Maybe we can fix that at this year’s camp.

Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker and tinkerer, who at the moment is spending a lot of his time thinking about the Internet of Things. In the past he has mesh networked the Moscone Center, caused a U.S. Senate hearing, and contributed to the detection of what was—at the time—the most distant object yet discovered.


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