Typical in 3D printing, where innovation is all too often ahead of its time (ask Janne Kyttanen), great ideas often emerge before a large enough audience exists that can fully appreciate them. One such product is the Free Universal Construction Kit, a project by Golan Levin and Shawn Sims (released through the Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab and Synaptic Lab collectives) that lets users 3D print over 80 adapters to connect together different construction sets. It was originally released in 2012 but it is as relevant as ever today.
The Free Universal Construction Kit is a matrix of adapter bricks that enable complete interoperability between ten popular children’s construction toys. By allowing any piece to join to any other, the Kit encourages totally new forms of intercourse between otherwise closed systems. As with other grassroots interoperability remedies, the Free Universal Construction Kit implements proprietary protocols in order to provide a public service unmet, or unmeetable, by corporate interests. The Kit was developed with support from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University and is represented, for legal purposes, by Adapterz, LLC.
The Free Universal Construction Kit is not intended as product as much as a provocation. It offers working adapters between Lego, Duplo, Fischertechnik, Gears! Gears! Gears!, K’Nex, Krinkles (Bristle Blocks), Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Zome, and Zoob—adapters which can be downloaded for free from various sharing sites as a set of 3D models suitable for reproduction by personal manufacturing devices like the Makerbot (an inexpensive, open-source 3D printer). In so doing, the Free Universal Construction Kit prompts consideration about intellectual property, open-source culture, and reverse engineering as a mode of cultural practice.
Levi and Sims created the Free Universal Construction Kit to open doors to new creative worlds and in the belief that expertise shouldn’t be disposable—and that children’s hard-won creative fluency with their toys shouldn’t become obsolete each Christmas. By allowing different toy systems to work together, the Free Universal Construction Kit makes possible new forms of “forward compatibility”, extending the value of these systems across the life of a child. What they hope to demonstrate is a model of reverse engineering as a civic activity: a creative process in which anyone can develop the necessary pieces to bridge the limitations presented by mass-produced commercial artifacts.
- The official website of the Free Universal Construction Kit is http://fffff.at/free-universal-construction-kit.
- Complete STL files for the Kit are available here (45 Mb). Note: units are inches.
- An archive of high-resolution photographs of the Kit can be found in this Flickr photoset.
- A print-quality PDF of the Kit grid can be found here (3 Mb).