Free Universal Adapter Kit Pushes Creative (And Cost) Limits

As a kid, did you ever try to connect a Lego piece to a Duplo? It is now possible thanks to 3D printing technology and the “Free Universal Construction Kit“, which is a matrix of free-source adapter bricks that allows total compatibility between ten different popular children’s toys. With 3d print files free to download, it opens up a totally new frontier of creativity when it comes to ‘child’s play’ by allowing interconnectivity between otherwise closed systems of play and experimentation.

The over 80 working adapter between Lego, Duplo, Fischertechnik, Gears! Gears! Gears!, K’Nex, Krinkles (Bristle Blocks), Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Zome, and Zoob can be downloaded for free from various sharing sites as a set of 3D models suitable for reproduction by personal manufacturing devices like the Makerbot (an inexpensive, open-source 3D printer). In so doing, the Free Universal Construction Kit brings forward questions about intellectual property, open-source culture, and reverse engineering as a mode of cultural practice.

Prior to modeling, the dimensions of the various toy connectors were reverse-engineered with an optical comparator fitted with a digital read-out accurate to less than one ten-thousandth of an inch (0.0001in., or 2.54 microns). The resulting precision ensures that the Free Universal Construction Kit “actually works”, enabling tight snap-fits between custom and commercial components.

According to its creators, opening doors to new creative worlds is one major reason they created the Free Universal Construction Kit. Another is that they toys shouldn’t become obsolete each Christmas. By allowing different toy systems to work together, the Free Universal Construction Kit makes possible new forms of “forward compatibility”, extending the value of these systems across the life of a child.

Like many grassroots project, the Free Universal Construction Kit provides a public service unmet, or unmeetable by corporate interests. As its creators say, it is not so much a product, but rather a provocation!

The Kit was conceived and developed by Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, and released through the Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab and Synaptic Lab collectives. It was developed with support from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, and is represented, for legal purposes, by Adapterz, LLC.

The Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab (US) was an arts collective dedicated to enriching the public domain through the research and development of creative technologies and media, often at the intersection of open source and popular culture. Golan Levin released works through F.A.T. from 2010 until the group disbanded in 2015. Synaptic Lab (US), founded and directed by Shawn Sims, is a research and design group dedicated to the creation of new technologies [ and/for/with ] form. Sims is a graduate of the CMU Computational Design Lab, from which he received a Master’s in Tangible Interaction Design.