Craft Tech Lab

Software designed for children's uses lags far behind similar software for adults in many domains; CAD/CAM software is a particularly notable case. MachineShop is a first attempt at a sophisticated and rich tool with which children can design, fabricate, and construct the simple mechanisms that drive automata and mechanical toys.

By combining a software design environment for the cams, gears, and cranks needed to build these objects with a computer-controlled laser cutter to fabricate them, we hope to open this domain to children. With this tool at our disposal, we can learn about the changes that take place in the mechanical reasoning and spatial cognition of children as they create, construct, and use their automata.

Smart Tiles are small, computationally-controlled pieces that can be assembled into an array to create complex and beautiful dynamical patterns. The Tiles are essentially tiny LED-equipped "boxes", programmable by the user, that can be placed into slots within the larger array; the sorts of programs that one writes for the tiles are those typical of cellular automata (such as Conway's "Game of Life" system). The tiles also include piezoelectric disks, making them interactive; for instance, one can program a tile so that it will change its color when it is tapped gently by the user.


Glenn Blauvelt

Smart Tiles

Electronic textiles or "e-textiles" are textiles that contain computational functionality yet remain soft, flexible, wearable and washable.  Our research focuses on developing new techniques for integrating computation, electronics and textiles, designing e-textile artifacts, and exploring ways to make e-textile technology accessible to kids and other novices.



We are working on a software application called "Sliceform Creator" whose purpose is to help children create sliceform models in paper, wood, or plastic with the aid of a desktop laser cutter.


Diana Butter, Jeremy Garcia,

Ryan Lewis, Tyler Nielsen

SPECTRE is a software system that permits users to create 3-dimensional objects on the screen and to then print out a series of planar cross-sections of those objects onto transparent sheets. The resulting series of sheets may then be placed into a (easily homemade) box of shelves and viewed as a three-dimensional object. In effect, SPECTRE enables an inexpensive means of creating viewable three-dimensional objects and scenes.

Mechanical Linkages

These laser-cut mechanical linkages are based on ones on exhibit at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany.

Eric Eason

LaserBall started as a class project in Things that Think, Spring 2008, and work continued as a Senior Design Project for Fall 2008-Spring 2009.

Laser Ball is a construction kit that joins physical and virtual objects to create an interactive user experience. Users are able to move physical blocks around a screen, specify an area to draw a virtual ball, and then watch the ball bounce off the physical blocks.


Things that Think team:  Jonathan Crider, Karim Elatov, Matthew Fetig, Bobby House

Senior Project team:  Tomas Ramirez, Jessa Rothenberg, Amanda Orin, Kaiti Trimble, Paul Gerhardt

3D Zoetropes

Kevin Klinkel

Kyle Ludwig


As a three-dimensional twist on an old two-dimensional art form, Kevin and Kyle built zoetropes incorporating three-dimensional objects fabricated on our Dimension SST 3D Printer.     As the zoetrope rotates, the shapes appear to morph.  HyperCube VideoPolyhedron Video.

The Code Road

Nwanua Elumeze

The Code Road is a project that exemplifies a notion that we call ambient programming. Ambient programming is a style of programming that is informal, playful, opportunistic, and environmentally situated -- a style in which people can mess around with physical representations of programs, add or delete a bit at a time, and place program code in all sorts of unexpected locations. In the Code Road system, a programmable car moves about on the floor, reading bits of code using a bar-code-like reader in its undercarriage. As the car moves over particular pieces of code it executes the commands that it reads (e.g., "turn right here"). Code Road programs are thus created to be strewn about the floor; they can even be written on pieces of paper by hand.

Click here to see a video.

Pop-up cards and books are a fascinating window into three-dimensional thinking. We hold in our hands a two-dimensional page which when opened expands to become a three-dimensional picture.

How can we make a tool to help children create pop-up cards and books for themselves? What problems do we have to solve, and what sort of interface challenges do we face? What if children could make their own moveable books and cards? What might they learn from the experience? How would this influence their ability to visualize in three dimensions?

Even in this constrained set of pop-ups, there are many mathematical ideas which children can explore including recursion, fractals, symmetry, and angle equality. This project explores the construction of a tool for children to explore the world of pop-ups, and use of the tool as an instruction vehicle to teach children to make pop-ups.

PopUp Workshop

Sue Hendrix

We are designing a construction kit and accompanying activities that will allow kids to learn about circuits through sewing.

We held our first workshop on with a group of high school girls. The girls designed images that incorporated LEDs and fabric switches. They then drew their pictures with fabric markers and sewed lights and switches to their patches with conductive thread, creating simple series circuits.


Leah Buechley,

Jaime Catchen,

Nwanua Elumeze


Plushbot is a computational system that allows children and hobbyists to create their own plush toys with computational enhancements, such as LilyPad Arduino elements.

Craftopolis enables users to make their own computationally-enriched physical models (e.g., of dollhouse rooms, dioramas, game boards, and so forth), using any materials whatever, and to link those rooms into a shared online space.


Easigami is a tangible user interface (TUI) using an embedded computing approach.  It permits users to assemble a wide variety of polyhedral objects by connecting and polygonal pieces and folding them along edge connections.


The LilyPad Arduino

Leah Buechley’s initial development of the LilyPad Arduino, now the industry standard in wearable computing, took place while she was a doctoral student in the Craft Tech Lab.

Read an overview article and interview with Leah Buechley in MAKE Magazine

Huang, Y. and Eisenberg, M.

Steps Toward Child-Designed Interactive Stuffed Toys

IDC ’11:  Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, Ann Arbor, MI, June 20-23, 2011.

Huang, Y. and Eisenberg, M.

Easigami: virtual creation by physical folding

TEI '12:  Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, Feb. 19-22, 2012.

Meyers, J., LaMarche, J. and Eisenberg, M.

Craftopolis:  blending tangible, informal construction into virtual multiuser communities

IDC ’10:  Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, Barcelona, Spain, June 9-12, 2010.

Buechley, L., Elumeze, N., and Eisenberg, M.
Electronic/Computational Textiles and Children's Crafts
In Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children, 2006, Tampere, Finland.

A selection of previous Craft Tech Lab projects