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Methods and Applications of Informatics and Information Technology

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Volume 60, Issue 2


Interacting with personal fabrication devices

Stefanie Mueller
  • Corresponding author
  • MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory The Stata Center, Building 32, room 32-211, 32 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
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Published Online: 2018-03-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/itit-2017-0041


Personal fabrication tools, such as 3D printers, are on the way of enabling a future in which non-technical users will be able to create custom objects. While the hardware is now affordable and the number of people who own a 3D printer is increasing, only few create new 3D models. Most users download models from a 3D model database and after downloading fabricate them on their 3D printers. At most, users adjust a few parameters of the model, such as changing its color or browsing between predetermined shape options.

I argue that personal fabrication has the potential for more: Instead of only consuming existing content, I envision a future in which non-technical users will create objects only trained experts can create today. While there are many open challenges for human-computer interaction, such as abstracting away the necessary domain and machine knowledge, I focus on improving the interaction model underlying current personal fabrication devices.

In this article, I illustrate why today’s interaction model for personal fabrication tools is not suitable for non-technical users. For this, I draw an analogy to the development of the user interface in personal computing and show how solutions developed by human-computer interaction researchers over the last decades can be applied to this new domain. I analyze the challenges when creating interactive systems for personal fabrication and describe six research prototypes I built to overcome these challenges. I discuss the limitations of these systems and conclude with an overview of recent advancements in personal fabrication that will allow us to go beyond what is possible today.

Keywords: Personal Fabrication; human-computer interaction; direct manipulation


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About the article

Stefanie Mueller

Prof. Dr. Stefanie Mueller obtained her PhD from the Hasso Plattner Institute under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Patrick Baudisch. She is currently an assistant professor in the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, joint with MIT Mechanical Engineering, and a member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL). Stefanie’s work has been published at the premier venues for Human-Computer Interaction ACM CHI and ACM UIST and has received several Best Paper and Honorable Mention Awards. Stefanie is also serving on the ACM CHI and UIST program committees as an associate chair. In addition, Stefanie has been an invited speaker at universities and research labs, such as MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, CMU, Cornell, UW, ETH, Microsoft Research, Disney Research, and Adobe Research.

Received: 2017-12-31

Accepted: 2018-01-18

Published Online: 2018-03-22

Published in Print: 2018-04-25

Citation Information: it - Information Technology, Volume 60, Issue 2, Pages 113–117, ISSN (Online) 2196-7032, ISSN (Print) 1611-2776, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/itit-2017-0041.

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