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Exclusive Interview: Carla Diana
Posted by 3DP4E
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Carmen M. | 3DP4E

Carla Diana is a creative technologist, who explores near future technologies in the arena of domestic robotics, mobile devices and virtual sound. Named an “alpha geek” by the New York Times Magazine in 2008, Carla’s influence as a maker, designer, educator, and author has made her a major tour de force in the 3D printing world.

Her most recent book, LEO the Maker Prince, is the first to teach kids about 3D Printing (in the maker spirit, the book comes with free .stl designs of objects for readers to download). For this interview, we discuss the recent San Mateo Maker Faire, her first printed object and the importance of teaching kids how to 3D print.

How are you? I know you are traveling at the moment, you were in the Bay Area and now Europe. What’s happening in Europe?

Hi Carmen and 3DP4E! I’m great! I was just in the Bay Area for MakerCon and Maker Faire. I was on a few panels about design and technology at both events, but my favorite talk was “Behind the Scenes With LEO the Maker Prince” where I talked about the process of developing the story for the book, LEO the Maker Prince: Journeys in 3D Printing. I was also part of screening of a documentary called “Connecting: Makers.

I’m headed to London Monday to run a workshop at a conference called LondonUX, and then I’m off to visit my friend Barbara Sansone in Barcelona who is a maker, curator and creative technologist.

How was the Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA? Any highlights?

Maker Faire was phenomenal. I saw lots of robots, big and small, but the most fascinating thing was what a big presence 3D printing had. There were booths with companies that make and sell printers, as well as people who are starting small companies with things like 3D printed dolls and shoes, as well as lots of young kids who use 3D printing for their personal and school projects. The real highlight for me was being able to personally connect with young readers who visited me at the Make: Books booth to talk to me about the story and check out the objects.

You had a book signing for Leo, the Maker Prince and family fun day, how did that go?

Yes! I had a family activity day on May 5 around LEO the Maker Prince at the Museum of Arts and Design as part of their Studio Sunday series. It was great! We had about 20 people total and both the kids and the grownups were super curious about 3D printing. We had a number of Solidoodle printers on hand and printed a few things from the book, including the pendant made with mathematical formulasand the shaker instrumentthat we “hack” by pausing the print to throw rice inside.

Any plans on writing a sequel to Leo?

I have many plans for books and objects that continue LEO and Carla’s adventures in 3D printing! What I’m thinking about right now is how to expose kids to the process of designing products. Since one of the big hurdles to creating in 3D printing is knowing the modeling tools, I'm working on a sequel that not only features objects that can be made, but gives reader some more information about how to get started with 3D modeling. I would like this book to really teach readers how to draw and think in 3D.

Can you tell us a bit about your background in mechanical engineering? What sparked your interest?

I always knew that I wanted to make products and create things that other people could hold and use. I was good at math, but also very interested in art, so mechanical engineering seemed like a great way to apply math in a creative way. When I was choosing my major, I didn’t know that Industrial Design existed as a possible career as a way to use drawing and creativity to develop objects, but I went back to school years later to get an MFA in 3D design.

How were you first introduce to 3D Printing and how old were you?

I was first introduced to 3D printing when I was in my 30’s and working for product design consultancies like Smart Design and Frog Design.

How long have you been working with 3D printing and what was the first object you ever made?

I’ve been working with 3D printers since 2006 when I was on the core team that developed the humanoid robot platform Simon with the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Socially Intelligent Machines lab. I used 3D printers to make scaled down versions of the head shells to test them for look and check out how the forms might fit together. We also used very high end 3D printing to fabricate the final robot exterior shells. The Simon robot head shells were my first experience, and it felt like magic to have something that only existed as a 3D rendering on my screen turn into something real that I could hold in my hands.

What 3D printers do you use and do you have a favorite?

I use all kinds. I have access to a professional Dimension UPrint machine as well as a high-end Objet printer at Drexel University, but lately I’ve been more fascinated with low-end desktop 3D printers. I’ve used an Afinia and the Solidoodle in the past, but now I use a MakerBot replicator. I like the MakerBots because they have a huge team behind their development and they are doing a lot of good work around the whole user experience, from the software to the online collection of files to the machine details.

How about 3D modeling software, what programs do you work with and which ones do you teach to kids?

I use Rhino3D as it’s the professional design software I’ve used for years. For kids, I recommend TinkerCAD, SketchUP or the 123D Suite from AutoDesk.

How do you think our will society benefit from 3D Printing in the future?

3D printing will change how we think about manufacturing and product development, giving young entrepreneurs new opportunities to build businesses. It will also affect medicine, architecture and food. I mentioned this earlier, but Jeffrey Lipton from Cornell University who was on this panel I ran at Maker Faire NYC last year does a great job of exploring some of those last areas: 3D Printing and the Future of Design Education

Why is it important to teach kids how to 3D print?

In the future this technology will be available in schools, libraries and homes, so it’s important that the kids who will be grownups tomorrow know how to use it well to create new products, artwork and learning tools. Here’s an article I wrote for the Smart Interaction Lab blog about the importance of Fab Labs in High School education.

What kind of impact have you seen 3D printing have on kids?

I am already starting to see schools that have 3D printing. My own alma mater, the Marymount School for Girls in New York City, has a Fab Lab with five 3D printers, a laser cutter and lots of other tools for building and electronics. ThIs will impact so many aspects of learning. For example, with geometry and physics, kids can hold things in their hands to learn new principles, rather than just reading about them in a book of formulas. With history they can actually print out small models of ancient buildings and artifacts. And there are many, many more ways that learning can be impacted.

Do you have a favorite 3D design or print made by kids?

While at my residency at the Museum of Arts and Design I noticed a 10-year old boy reading intently, and his parents explained to me that he was the inventor of the “Menurkey”–a clever object that was a cross between a Menorah and a turkey sculpture, created to celebrate both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving simultaneously. This particular boy, Asher Weintraub, developed his invention using 3D modeling and printing, and has since sold 7,000 replicas. It was such a successful project that he was invited to meet President Obama at the U.S. White House.

How important will 3D modeling knowledge be to students entering college today?

For anyone studying engineering, architecture and design, it will be a core skill that students will use on a regular basis.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on getting my models working well with the Shapeways online service so that people who don’t have 3D printers can buy the objects from the book. I get a lot of requests for the sheep and the jewelry, so I am trying to make a few versions of these available to anyone at a reasonable cost.

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Posted on January 9, 2015
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