Object-oriented machines

May 20th, 2015

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I’m giving a talk on 5/21 at the Media lab that is open to the public. Which means you are invited. Here’s an abstract for your reference.

Thursday, May 21st, 5pm, E14-633

Object-oriented machines

A new infrastructure of fabrication: modular machines spanning design, communication and computation

Software is object-oriented, but machines aren’t. Even though mechanical design has kinematic connections, electronics have control systems, and communication has network layers, there are no hardware objects like there are software objects. I span conception to construction with modularity to enable the rapid production and proliferation of digital/physical tools.

Precision and technological complexity in production currently rest in the hands of defence departments and large corporations. To democratise making, we need to make precision and complexity in production broadly accessible. This idea is considered dangerous by many: the defence department does not want just anyone to be able to make high-strength aluminium tubes; nor does Apple want everyone to have access to their means and methods of production. But the priesthoods of manufacturing and tyrannies of global supply chains are built on an unstable albeit well-defended monopoly of production– and that monopoly stands in the way of widespread socio-technical progress. This talk will be about current and future work to disrupt these monopolies.

I develop modular infrastructures that span fields of expertise, re-creating automation and fabrication systems with broad access to precision and complexity at many levels. This infrastructural intervention necessarily reconceptualises the fundamentals of design representation, machine controls, and network communication, as it cannot adhere to the assumptions and allegiances that are currently heavily baked into existing manufacturing infrastructure. This will have implications at all levels of engagement, and will require technical, social, and cultural shifts. Instead of supply chains, I invoke immediate supply as how distributed manufacturing can be harnessed to hit the moving targets of demand. Instead of in-house expertise, I develop the concept of an API for manufacturing, so anyone can deploy a design at low volume without the high cost historically associated with automated production, or the loss of complexity traditionally associated with prototyping. Finally, instead of authoritarian quality control, I propose developing trustworthy manufacturing ecosystems, where we leverage widespread networks of manufacturing partners to enable global, distributed, reliable, and on-demand production.

Access to control, access to precision, and access to complexity are required for the democratisation of making. If this is going to be a revolution, we need major change in modes of manufacturing and forces of production, and some ivory towers are going to have to come down.


Nadya Peek develops new empowering infrastructures of fabrication. She does this by deploying unconventional digital fabrication tools, small scale automation, networked controls, and advanced manufacturing systems. Spanning design, electronics, firmware, software, and mechanics, she rebuilds production systems to accommodate high-tech in low volumes. These systems enable scaled-down production without a loss of complexity in design.

Nadya has built a number of machines and systems like the “Modular Machines that Make”, which are widely influential in digital fabrication. She regularly presents to specialist and public audiences, including SIGGRAPH, Guggenheim Berlin, and the White House Maker Faire, and has given keynotes at Chaos Computer Congress, SolidCon, and H.O.P.E. Nadya advises a diverse crowd on manufacturing and making, from top politicians and technologists to major contemporary artists: the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; NASA Ames; the Shenzhen Mayor’s office; Spirit Aerosystems; Moog Aerosystems; and Jeff Koons. Nadya is also an active member of the global fab lab community, making digital fabrication more accessible with better CAD/CAM tools and developing open source hardware machines and control systems.

Nadya works in the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, a group at the intersection of the physical and the digital, and just finished teaching the MIT class MAS.865 “How to make something that makes (almost) anything”. She will be assisting with MIT’s supply chain and manufacturing bootcamp in Shenzhen this summer while deploying the world’s first fab lab 2.0 there, specifically tailored to machines making machines.

Nadya is equally comfortable eating street food in China or gathering mushrooms in a Siberian forest, but thinks McMaster-Carr is a great reason to take up residence in the US. You can find her contact information at http://infosyncratic.nl.

infosyncratic.nl is by nadya peek. she'd love to hear from you.