The Social And Digital Systems (SANDS) Group is a transdisciplinary research collective within the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering at Arizona State University. Our materially-oriented work draws on approaches from computer science, interaction design, humanities, and philosophy of technology. Our current research examines bottom-up participation in science, DIY (Do It Yourself) methods, and the mechanisms by which expertise and knowledge is scaffolded amongst communities of practice.

Tracking Artist Hand Movements

Recently we started a new project to analyze hand movements of artists while they are drawing on a physical drawing canvas. The goal of this project is to uncover the latent elements of the creative process of artists while they draw on a canvas and combine them with the final static art piece to create a novel art experience. To achieve this we capture the hand movements of the artists while they are engaged in the drawing process. Then the captured information is displayed as part of a visualization that will be superposed into the actual art piece to create dynamic form of art.

In our first experiment we used a LEAP motion sensor to capture the finger and palm position of the right hand(drawing hand) of artist while they draw on a paper mounted in easel. Then we create a dynamic visualization by plotting the angle between the right index finger and the center of the palm over the period of drawing.



Hand movement superposed on the original art work

Since the LEAP’s spatial location data is not very accurate, now we are building a new experiment setup. The new system is composed of an easel with two cameras: one to capture the vertical position of the drawing instrument and a second one that captures its horizontal position. A LEAP motion sensor is also used to track the finger and palm during the drawing process. At the end LEAP’s data will be combined with data captured from 2 cameras accurately re-produce the finger and palm movements of the artists. Following image shows our new setup.


Heat-sensing drone test flight

As part of our heat-themed research, we are planning to use a drone to get thermal data for parts of Arizona. Nambi has been working with the DJI Matrice series drone and a FLIR Vue Pro thermal camera. This week, we did our first test flight in Papago park. The drone is impressively stable and responsive!

We are really excited about a second upcoming test to get some preliminary thermal data in urban and suburban areas a few weeks from now. Our longer-term goal is to use this high resolution fly-over data to study the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHI) in Phoenix—a phenomenon whereby cities tend to be hotter than surrounding suburbs. We are also interested in mapping microclimates in different socioeconomic neighborhoods across the city.


Melting Materials for Mold Making

While 3D printers have become more accessible, it is still relatively expensive and time consuming to generate 3D prints. In addition, the materials commonly available for 3D printing are limited to certain types of plastics. We wanted to explore the possibilities of broadening the affordability and material variety for making multiple models by using traditional mold-making with 3D printed sources. This way, by 3D printing a single model, users would be able to create multiple finished molds using a variety of materials.

Crayon – Solar Heating

As an early experiment in melting materials, we used solar heating to melt Crayola crayons into different shapes. Crayons have a relatively low melting temperature, becoming completely molten at between 120-150 degrees fahrenheit, which is an easy temperature to reach while sitting outside in Phoenix, Arizona during early Autumn.

left: fused crayons after heating; middle: cut up pieces of crayon before being heated; right: pieces of crayon fusing as they melt

Wax – 3D printing tests

Since we wanted to make these models useful for molding several different types of materials, including food, we wanted to insure that the 3D printed models would be food safe. The main ways to insure that a 3D print are food safe are to 1) use a food safe printing material (some types of PLA are food safe, but it is important to check with the manufacturer), 2) use a 3D printer that has a stainless steel extruder, 3) wash the 3D model with antibacterial soap, and 4) spray the model with a polyurethane spray to prevent the risk of bacteria growing in small cracks in the 3D print.

For testing the viability of the 3D models as molds, we used wax as a test molding material, since wax is solid at room temperature but can melt at between 110-150 degrees fahrenheit (depending on type of wax), and so is easy to melt using normal household items.

The first 3D print prototype used a raised image inside of a hollow cube, with the hopes that the wax could be poured in when hot and would be removed easily once hardened (a no-stick spray was applied to the 3D print before the wax was poured in). However, it appeared impossible to remove the wax from the model intact. By putting sheets of saran wrap between the wax and the 3D model, it was possible to remove the wax once dried. However, the resulting wax molds were unable to properly adhere to the shape of the 3D model because of the presence of the saran wrap.

left: first 3D printed model; right: the only way to remove the wax molds in one piece was to place a layer of saran wrap in between the plastic model and the wax as it melts. However, that resulted in the wax not adhering to the shape of the 3D model well.

After the first model proved ineffective for casting wax, we created a second model which had a hollow bottom, in the hope that the wax mold could be pushed out of the model once it had hardened. This did succeed, but it was still fairly difficult to remove the wax mold and there was some surface abrasions to the wax.

left: liquid wax cooling inside the second model. The model was placed on top of wax paper to prevent the liquid wax from leaking out from the bottom of the model. right: resulting wax model. While a marked improvement from the previous attempts, it was still difficult to remove from the 3D print and had sustained minor damage.

Wax – Silicone mold

Because the wax was proving difficult to remove from the inflexible plastic 3D prints, we chose to look for possible in-between methods of transferring a 3D print into a molded material. We decided to use silicone putty, a material that starts out with a texture resembling play-doh but will solidify into a permanent shape while still maintaining flexibility. To create the silicone mold, silicone putty was spread around a 3D print and left to dry. Afterwards, hot wax was poured into the silicone mold, whose flexible properties made it much easier to remove the wax after it hardened.

left: original 3D print; right: silicone mold that was created from dried silicone putty that was molded around the 3D print; bottom: resulting wax piece that was cast in and removed from the silicone model. Despite being much thinner (and therefore more fragile) than the previous wax molds, the wax piece was removed from the silicone with significantly less damage than the wax tests that were cast directly in the 3D prints.

wax-silicone mold.jpg

Given the success of molding with wax, we did some preliminary experiments with food materials using the same silicone mold, which was created from a type of silicone putty that has been designated and labeled as food-safe.


The chocolate tests were mostly successful, with the only notable problem being that the surface detail of the chocolate molds appear to have lumps or pockets in their surfaces. This may be caused by air pockets being stuck under the liquid chocolate as it is poured into the silicone mold, or the type of chocolate that was used (standard chocolate chips) is not designed to remain smooth after being melted and re-solidified.


The success of the gelatin molds varied based on the type of gelatin that was used.

below: When using Jello brand gelatin mix, the resulting gelatin did not maintain its shape when being removed from the silicone mold.


below: Alternatively, coffee agar mix (which is intended to be cut up into cubes or other shapes after hardening, and thus was designed with greater internal resilience than Jello) was easily removed from the silicone mold without any damage.

Summer-long solar cooking study

Phoenix is one of the hottest cities on earth, with highs regularly reaching over 110F in the summer months. Climate projections suggest that many other parts of the world are also heating up, and Phoenix presents a testbed for understanding the challenges and opportunities presented by extreme heat. One of our projects looks at creatively using heat for sustainable outcomes through solar cooking.

We focus on solar cooking as a hybrid approach that supports both adaptation—by utilizing natural heat and alleviating economic impact (indoor cooking increases AC bills); and mitigation—reducing energy consumption. Also, by relying on a natural source of energy, solar cooking offers new insights into alternative modes of food production and sustainable food systems.

As a first step, we conducted a summer-long study whereby participants built DIY solar cookers and prepared foods ranging from slow-cooked pork and chicken to bread, kale chips, brownies, beef jerky, and fruit rollups. The project culminated in a solar cooking potluck where we prepared solar cooked foods as a group. Our findings show that solar cooking is indeed feasible and often fun. However, the process is also challenging. Solar cooking currently requires time-intensive monitoring of the food temperature and re-positioning the oven towards the sun. It also requires highly-specialized knowledge, both in terms of recipe palatability and food safety.

Moving forward, we are designing an easier-to use solar oven and knowledge-sharing platform to support solar cooking as a mainstream practice. On a practical level, these new tools can alleviate the real economic difficulties posed by extreme heat as well as improve local nutrition, food knowledge, and human health. The project is also interesting from a cultural perspective as we are creating the first ever community knowledgeable around “solar cooking cuisine”. We also hope to share the work more broadly through public cookouts and exhibits to engage the public in dialogues around extreme heat, sustainable energy, and climate change.


DIY Panorama Distortion

Even as 3D printing technology continues to advance, there are still limitations as to the availability of detailed color 3D prints. The best commercially available 3D printers use binder-jetting (where colored ink is used in the construction process of the object), which results in a fuzzy, diluted image on the object’s surface.

As an alternative, it may be possible to create 3D prints with detailed surface color by pasting 2D printed images onto the surface of mono-color objects. In order to turn flat, 2D images into shapes that can fit onto uneven 3D forms, I created a program that would alter the proportions of the image so that it can be printed, cut, and pasted in such a way that the image will be evenly displayed over the 3D object.

right: original image;  left: image morphed to fit orb


below: test pasting image onto orb

print test_paper107

below: 3D printing tests, using symmetrical shapes

bendy cylinder bare

below: 3D prints – symmetrical shapes and Russian nesting doll prototypes after paper images are glued onto them



In order to get outside perspective on whether this approach would be feasible for an average user, we held a small workshop in order to gather feedback. For this case, the workshop attendees would be evaluating the process of cutting out images and pasting them onto the prints. The actual 3D printed models were printed ahead of time (since the 3D printing process can take too long for the span of a workshop). All workshop participants were presented with a set of 3 Russian nesting dolls, and were requested to bring in their own image files to be pasted onto the objects.

below: example set of 3D printed Russian nesting dolls and printed paper images before images are cut and applied to dolls


below: workshop pictures


On Cutting Out Paper Shapes – workshop attendees could choose between using scissors or exacto-blade. While all the attendees were able to cut out the shapes, some found the process tedious. Based on this feedback, future endeavors will focus on using laser cutters or similar tools to cut out paper and avoid unnecessary human labor.

On Pasting Paper onto 3D Forms – participants varied how they applied the paper onto the 3D prints. Some brushed the paper with gel medium before applying it to the 3D form, while others lathered the 3D form with gel medium before applying the paper. Both approaches were successful, though it seems applying the gel medium directly to the 3D form was faster.

below: if an extra layer of gel medium is not put on top of the paper, it does not have a glossy finish. While some attendees preferred the matte finish, it does leave the exposed paper at greater risk of abrasion or damage. By using an alternative gel with a matte finish, it may be possible to provide protection to the paper while not giving the object a glossy finish.


The results of applying the paper to the 3D prints were mostly successful. However, in some cases the paper ended up crinkled or not correctly matched up. For participants who completed multiple Russian Nesting Dolls, the results appeared smoother after their first attempt.



Certain types of printed images hid the cuts in the paper better than others. Generally, large areas of a single color (especially white) clearly displayed where the paper had been cut. In contrast, designs with bold and complex patterns mask the location of the paper cuts.

below: large white area clearly shows where cuts in the paper occurred


below: bold and complex patterns make the paper cuts much less visible


The most consistent problem was applying the paper in such as way that the “head” was completely covered. For many, this resulted in the black 3D print being visible between the strips of paper.

As a potential alternative, we used a different algorithm that would allow the paper to be cut into rectangular strips, as opposed to the curving triangles in the previous models. While this did allow the paper to completely cover the form, the extra overlapping pieces of paper made gluing more difficult. In addition, a fault in the algorithm caused additional warping of the image. Overall, the curving-triangle method appears more successful, although an extra buffer of paper should be added to the design so that the paper will completely cover the form.

left: Paper cut into strips. Overlapping pieces of paper bunch up slightly. No underlying part of the underlying object is exposed.

right: Paper cut into curved triangle shapes. Near the head, part of the underlying object is exposed.


Participants in the study suggested many possible uses for this technique, including fine art pieces (such as vases), figurines & game pieces, and biological medical models.

Going forward, we are looking to expand the capabilities of the program, so that it will be capable of morphing images to more complicated 3D models. Ideally, this would allow a user to design a complex form in the program and then map a 2D image onto it.

Bio workshop at HeatSync

Hi folks, as we are continuing our work in DIY biology with general public and non-professional biology hobbyists, last week Cass, Stacey and Me conducted a DIY bio workshop at HeatSync Labs in Meza, Az. HeatSync is a community driven maker-space, one of the coolest places I’ve ever been in Arizona. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t make it this time, even though he immensely contributed in organising and planning the workshop.DSC_0414.JPG

The first part of the workshop was about yoghurt fermentation. Cass explained the steps of yoghurt fermentation process and worked closely with the participants in the process. Here are some images.

Then we moved to the second part of the workshop – Gram staining. In this activity participants were asked to follow instructions printed on the card given by us, as well as Cass’ guidance. Everyone was so excited to see the microscopic images of the slides they have created, actually results were awesome!


While everyone was partying with bacterias in the downstairs, I was busy connecting the camera of our DIY incubator to the HeatSync WIFI network. Yes, now we have a WIFI camera inside our incubator as we promised in one of our earlier posts!

We left our incubator and some basic materials at heat syncs lab, so that they can play with them in the summer. Hopefully we will get some useful feeds from the camera too!DSC_0411

I’m Piyum, signing off and running to catch the flight to CHI 16 to present our Bio work there. More on that later! Thanks for reading.


Here we were at CHI 16 poster session.