Oct.25, 2013

New York Comic Con (NYCC) is the largest pop culture event on the East Coast dedicated to comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys and movies. Independent artists from all around gather there to showcase their amazing work. At this year's NYCC, CAD Designer Brian Anderson showcased V.e.r.a.1 (Vulpes Exploration Rover Alpha 1), an adorable 3D printed cybernetic fox mounted with sensor arrays. It was an attraction at the NYCC. Brian had ten V.e.r.a.1's for sale at the show and they all sold out in the first two days, before the weekend even started.

polyopticsLABs, a government organization that focuses on producing advanced biologically inspired robotics and systems, created V.e.r.a.1 Exploration Rover, the worlds first self aware exploration rover. The V.e.r.a.1 is designed to excel in dynamic scenarios by rapidly adapting to unknown environments. polyopticsLABs uses fox (Vulpes vulpes) DNA and combined it with high level operating systems and state of the art robotics to create this awesome fox robot. When initialized and adequately powered, the V.e.r.a.1 will process information in the environment and intelligently respond to stimuli.

Brian was contracted to do the concept work to help promote the project and commemorate the launch of this unit. The scale model of the V.e.r.a.1 is not a functional autonomous rover, but the backstory shows how much effort went into the creation of each piece. "V.e.r.a.1" is a resin figure that is completely hand-made out of over 30 assembled parts. It includes working lights in the eyes and main radar body, on/off switch and replaceable battery, hand-painted weathering, and a removable head access panel to display the inner workings.

Most of the parts were 3D printed on a Form 1 3D printer which uses stereolithography (SLA) technology to achieve high resolution 3D printing quality.

"Using 3D printing lets me bypass traditional casting techniques that would otherwise require me to perfect an entirely different set of skills. That's one of the biggest advantages." said Brian. "Since I work with a completely digital creation process, I can keep the work within the realm I am most practiced in. Also, since I do limited run work, usually less than 40 units, I can use the 3D prints as final products. Design wise, being able to prototype technical aspects as well as the aesthetics of a part within a few hours or over night, speeds up the process considerably."

When being asked why he chose a SLA 3D printer instead of other FDM 3D printers, Brian said,

"There are some amazing FDM machines on the market now, and the results are continuously improving! In time, FDM may prove to be the better choice, but currently, in my humble opinion, the complexities of heating and cooling plastic filament, at the micron level, lead to inconsistency and inaccuracy as well as unique machine problems. SLA has the edge at this time, in terms of surface smoothness, fine detail, and ease of use. I have limited experience with FDM machines, and this just my personal opinion. I would love to get more hands on time with FDM printers."

There are also challenges when using a SLA 3D printer to create products. "There are failed prints to deal with (10-20%), as well as technical problems with the machine that require servicing. Also, there are techniques that are specific to the the Formlabs machine, such as part orientation, position in the build platform etc, that have a learning curve. Overall I'm very happy with my digital pipeline and the Formlabs machine is a huge part of that." Brian explained.

The finishing job of the V.e.r.a.1 model is pretty amazing. In a recent interview with Formlabs, Brian explained in details the finishing process:

First, all parts are sanded and testing for fittings:

Next I mask the eyes with model tape and begin by airbrushing a basic gray paint primer, adding blotches of dark red rust areas. I paint a few coats of varnish on to help set this layer, and then I paint over the first white colour layer:

After that, I take a small file (and lots of other scraping tools) and scrape away layers of the white colour, paying special attention to the edges. This gives a worn and rusted look of chipped paint:

Next I add the orange accents with some more masking, varnish and scraping:

Then the electronic components are added and tested to make sure everything is working. I wanted the model to seem like a real machine, so here is where the inner workings come into play. Each piece is printed separately and then assembled and fit into the head cavity. After completion, one side of the head is removable, so you can imagine how it would be to service this machine, make upgrades and patch in new software directly to the memory core:

Another implementation of LEDs in Form 1 builds!

V.e.r.a.1 brains

After that, paint pigments are rubbed into the surface to add to the worn look, as well as faint red and brown washes to break up the solid colouring:

Finally, paint splatters and hand painted rust spots and details are added, including fine touches such as highlights to pop out some specific spots:

In the end I have a collection of models whose subtle differences contribute to a unique look on each piece:

Here's the squad, ready to go where no fox has gone before!

The point of it all is to create something that seems as if it could really have been used on another world, and to inspire your imagination -- Where has it been and where it will go next? - Brian Anderson

All above photos and sketches by Brian Anderson and PolyopticsLABs

If you love it and would like to have one, the V.e.r.a.1 is available for pre-order now. "Due to the intense amount of creation time, quantities will remain limited with pre-orders in groups of 20 pieces. Orders will be filled as soon as possible, with an estimated maximum wait time of 120 days." writes Brian.

You can pre-order your own right here for $135.00.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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