Jul 23, 2016 | By Benedict

Jonathan Odom, a designer at the Instructables Design Studio, has created a 3D printable Split Flap Display which can be used to communicate three-letter abbreviations on acrylic cards. Odom built the machine in order to bring “text and animation back to its mechanical roots.”

In the age of texting and online messaging, we’ve learnt how to communicate virtually any idea, plan, or feeling through a three-character acronym or abbreviation. LOL, BRB, 3DP…the list of pithy triplets goes on and on. And although Shakespeare would have been proud of our pragmatic new approach to language, there are also some serious downsides to the electronic media we use to convey these three-letters nuggets of information.

The problems go beyond the surface. Yes, it was frustrating not knowing what “FTW” stood for all those years, but think about the deeper implications: for every minute spent on iMessage or WhatsApp, we fall a little further away from the tangible, the physical, and the real. Messages, no longer truly cherished, drift through internet connections and across screens before disappearing into the ether. We have learnt to save time, but have we lost something even more precious?

Thanks to Jonathan Odom, there is now a spectacular way to merge the futuro-linguistic phenomenon of three-letter communication with something a little more old-fashioned and loveable than text messaging. Out goes your digital display and in comes, well, an analogue display, but one which uses an old clock design, an Arduino Uno, and a handful 3D printable parts. The Split Flap Display can be built using a handful of electronic components, ABS (or another suitable filament), and acrylic, and can be used in all sorts of abbreviation-suitable situations. Need to leave a concise message for your flatmate? Just dial it up on the machine instead of sending a text.

The train-station-esque display of the 3D printable gadget consists of four banks of split cards. By clicking the three white buttons below each of the first three banks, a user can cycle through the letters of the alphabet to create a three-letter word or abbreviation. It sound simple, but there’s actually some pretty clever design trickery going on under the surface of the display, with each flap divided into two halves and affixed to a rotating spool, so that each push of the button results in the next consecutive letter appearing: “Basically the ‘front’ of each flap pair is a whole letter, and the ‘back’ of each flap pair has the bottom of the next letter and the top of the previous letter,” Odom explains. “So ‘a’ has the bottom of ‘b’ behind its top flap, and the top of ‘z’ behind its bottom flap.”

While the fourth bank of cards does not contain letters, it instead honours another fabled aspect of 21st century internet culture: cat videos. By pushing the button for this bank, the user is treated to a kind of feline flick book, as the individual cards in the bank each display one frame of one of the first ever cat animations, created by 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge. LOL-cat indeed.

Designed in Autodesk 360, the Split Flap Display contains a number of 3D printed parts, as well as laser-cut acrylic components. Odom used a Fortus 450mc 3D printer to fabricate the 3D printed components of his version, but is confident that the same parts could be made on a consumer-level desktop printer. Alternatively, the STL files for the 3D printed parts could be sent to Shapeways or another 3D printing service for remote printing.

Others makers with one foot in the past and one in the future can attempt to build their own 3D printable Split Flap Display by following Odom’s Instructables guide. Once they do, however, they’ll have to come up with a few more three-letter 3D printing abbreviations. FDM? Check. PLA? Easy. But how about “MLA” for “Misaligned layers again!” or “FLF” for “Formlabs forever”? Odom, in fact, has even bigger ambitions for his creation: “Since it's controlled by an Arduino, I was thinking about adding a black decal on the wheel part with a photo sensor lined up with it,” he said. “That way, I could tell the Arduino what position the wheel is in. With that information, I could program the Arduino to spell out pre-programmed messages, or even make it controllable via Wifi. Does some brave soul want to make 140 of these and make it write out a Twitter feed???”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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