As a kid, there was nothing worse than building through my small collection of Lincoln Logs and realizing I was done for the day. My Pilgrim city would never expand into a major metropolis (a piece of revisionist history that, in retrospect, was probably a really positive change for Native American populations). If only I could bring in some reinforcements—maybe those Tinkertoys that sat on the high shelf in a package that’d been rotting away since the Great Depression…
There’s no way I’m alone in this. Whether you were a K’Nex fan or a duplo man, everyone ran out of pieces sometime.
If only we’d had the Free Universal Construction Kit created by F.A.T. Lab and Sy-Lab. It’s a 3-D-printable collection of 80 parts that function as a a Rosetta Stone for young builders, essentially bridge blocks that speak any language to connect pretty much any type of building kit to any other type of building kit.
Lego, Duplo, Fischertechnik, Gears! Gears! Gears!, K’Nex, Krinkles (Bristle Blocks), Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Zome, and Zoob—through the kit, each brand can be connected to any other brand, so that "the specific form and a function and aspects" of each can "be leveraged in order to create a network of toys," explains the project team. "That’s really what every kid wants, an unrestricted set of tools to express their imagination physically."
The kit’s design took several months. At first the team tried to use digital calipers to measure each toy’s connective points, but they weren’t offering the needed precision, so the team turned to micrometers and optical comparators. Even so, accurate measurements alone weren’t enough; each kit is built of varying materials that affect its give (consider the distinct feel of a Lego versus anything else in existence), so real-world experimentation won out over computer modeling. "We would model, then print, see how it fit, occasionally break one, and do it all over again," the team explains.
Thankfully, now all of that work is available free through Creative Commons licensing (at least in part because selling such a kit would be a legal/licensing nightmare). If you have a 3-D printer of your own, the piece templates are downloadable in .STL format. And if you don’t, well, maybe it’s time to buy a bigger set of Lincoln Logs already.
[Hat tip: The Creators Project]