Field report: Polycon workshop at ThingsCon 2015

Field report: Polycon workshop at ThingsCon 2015

For ThingsCon 2015 I gave the first public workshop for the Polygon Construction Kit. We started by putting together a few of that most classic polygon: the tetrahedron. The tetrahedron is probably the easiest Polycon to put together – all the connectors are the same and all the struts are the same length. The resulting Polycon is remarkably strong and stays together really well. Each kit had a different length for the struts, showing how it’s possible to change the size of the model just by changing the lengths of the struts. Want to make your Polycon twice as big? Just double the size of the struts!


A humble, yet sturdy, tetrahedron

With our “Hello world” Polycon completed I showed how to design a simple polygon using SketchUp and run it through the Polycon software (inside FreeCAD) to generate the connectors for printing and the strut cut list. Laydrop printed the connectors ahead of the workshop using some of the great filament from and we marked and cut the struts at the workshop. I made some improvements to the connector / strut numbering system before the workshop and got some great suggestions on how to improve it even more.

Bruce Sterling x mangtronix

After the workshop we had the chance to set up a booth in the main exhibit area with the models made during the workshop by participants. There was a lot of interest in Polycon – nice meeting you all! I had the chance to show Bruce Sterling one of my Polycon models (ok, a bit of a fanboy moment) and we started riffing on some really interesting possibilities.

Tweetonig giving the low down on injection moulding, and/or pulling dance moves under the disco balls

Cost breakdown for a wearable device in very low volume

Other highlights from the conference included the Design for Manufacturing workshop by the “Concept Engineers” from Tweetonig. These guys can take your product concept to mass production. For example if you’re running a Kickstarter campaign they can bring your product through the initial production run of a few thousand units. One example from the talk was how little differences in your plastic enclosure design can make a big difference when you go to get it injection moulded, and how the tooling cost affects the final cost for the product. They weren’t shy to talk costs and money. In a 10-minute consultation we were able to break down the cost to make 20 units of the wearable light sensor for my Light Catchers project. 20 units is not mass production, so the answer was expectedly high (“small numbers suck”). The difference between estimated and actual costs is a leading killer of Kickstarter projects (even after you raise $500,000). A short consultation could save you a lot of pain!

Internet of Things Design Manifesto

The Internet of Things Design Manifesto was unveiled at ThingsCon. These “guidelines for responsible design in a connected world” take on some of the issues of the increasingly connected devices in our lives. Good to read, support, and demand – both as designers and users.

Bruce Sterling showing Robochop #0000

Bruce ended the conference with a call to arms to build a humane connected home. His Casa Jasmina project will be a live-in testbed for an alternate future of the Internet-connected home that isn’t based on an extension of corporate control into our private homes. His writeup of ThingsCon is worth a read. 

Overall the conference was a fantastic opportunity to meet people who are working on creating the Internet of Things but also mindful of issues like privacy and personal control. Quite the interesting mix of practitioners, activists and futurists. The future will be a little brighter if they succeed.

Polycon using designer filament from

Big thanks to for sponsoring the filament used in the workshop. People were impressed that you can order custom colours using Pantone or RAL colour codes! Thanks also to Laydrop for providing two i3 Berlin printers for the workshop and printing the connectors. Sebastian Graf was a great help running the workshop. Finally, thanks to the ThingsCon team for a great conference and particularly Peter Bihr for inviting me to hold a workshop on the Polygon Construction Kit!


Smaller models were built during the workshop

Fresh-made Polycons on display


Workshop sponsored by:     Laydrop


(We Are) Light Catchers is commissioned by the Connecting Cities Network / Public Art Lab and supported by the RWE Foundation and European Union