Credit: Courtesy Proxy Design Studio

For anyone who can’t sit idle, here’s a tangible solution to help keep your hands and brain engaged. From New York–based Proxy Design Studio, comes a 3D printed object that takes full advantage of its third dimension. Call it a toy, curio, or exemplar of state-of-the-art digital fabrication technology, Mechaneu #1 is a kinetic, spherical agglomeration of interlocking gear assemblies backed by a lightweight, but strong internal structural network that links the action of one gear with all 64 gears in total (32 gears on the outer surface, and 32 twin gears inside). Rotate one gear and the entire object clicks into life.

In a press release, Proxy Design partner Mark Collins says that Mechaneu appeals to his subconscious mind. “It taps into a fundamental desire to see our actions multiplied and intensified,” he says. “We knew we were on to something when we couldn’t put the prototypes down.”

  • Credit: Courtesy Proxy Design Studio

Collins and studio partner Toru Hasegawa, both of whom have backgrounds in architecture and computer programming and teach at Columbia University’s GSAPP (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation), developed and mapped biomimetic algorithms that model the two-dimensional growth patterns of cells onto the three-dimensional surface of a sphere using the open-source coding environment Processing. Beyond the surface, Mechaneu’s support armature, which simultaneously resembles a complex space truss and the guts of a Swiss watch, was modeled in MeshLab.

Unless previous fabrication techniques, such as laser cutting in which material must be removed to create the final product, 3D printing only outputs what is needed, Hasegawa says. With this new paradigm of manufacturing, the team looked to the natural world for inspiration. “Nature solves problems by shape: Use material when needed, take out when unnecessary,” resulting in complex geometries such as bone structures, Hasegawa says. “We used this same logic on every part of the Mechaneu to create a porous object that feels completely solid.”

The team wanted to create an object that uses the latest 3D printing technology. Mechaneu pushes the current standard commercial printing limits of 1 million polygon faces and a maximum file size of 64 megabytes, Hasegawa says. It is now available for purchase at Proxy Design Studio’s shop on Shapeways, the 3D printing service, community platform, and marketplace. As 3D printing continues to advance, the studio expects the design and fabrication of Mechaneu to evolve as well. As such, the inaugural version is only available for a limited time before the studio will officially retire it and move on to the next of kin. Future iterations may include active robotic components to increase Mechaneu’s capabilities and behaviors. The team is already working on prototypes such as an Internet-driven countdown clock and a robotic companion toy.