Consider it a handheld 3D printer of sorts—and not of the stringy-glue gun variety. The FreeD is MIT’s latest cool piece of tech that is essentially a handheld milling machine that allows a user to sculpt a pre-defined shape from a 3D model. As 3D printer manufacturers are moving towards higher resolution and accuracy in their prints, the FreeD’s aim is just the opposite: how do you add a handmade appearance to otherwise smooth surfaces?

‘Creativity is All About Error’

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When considering the differences between mass manufactured objects and those that are handmade, there are often an equal amount of benefits in context to what the object actually is: while I would prefer my iPhone to not look like it was handmade, I would most certainly take a dining table with various hand-carved imperfections.

“We’re developing tools that don’t have a direct physical, craft heritage, but are entirely new…creativity is all about error…we’re looking for creativity, for something that surprises us.”

This ‘hand-made’ mindset is what the researchers behind the FreeD at MIT had in mind when approaching their Smart Tool design. Consisting of motion sensors and a magnetic tracker, the computer is able to tell where the milling bit is in real-time—if a user rotates their wrist too quickly and moves over material that shouldn’t be removed, the bit automatically stops spinning.

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While 3D printers are most certainly useful in a wide range of applications, they are generally the only way of quickly producing a physical representation of a 3D model—something that looks far from handmade. In their project, the researchers explored the distinctive signs of handicraft while still being able to control the final outcome so that they object stays recognizable enough as the original 3D model. Ultimately, the FreeD is a sort of 3D Spirograph that allows the user to control certain qualities, yet ensures the same product every time:

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(Images via MIT News Office)


Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.