Hacked Formlabs 3D printers repurposed for real-laser version of Spacewar

Jan 13, 2016 | By Benedict

Been wondering what to do with all those spare Formlabs Form 1 and Form 2 3D printer components you have lying around? Perhaps not, but read on anyway, because genius engineer and programmer Matt Keeter has performed one of the coolest 3D printer hacks we’ve seen in recent times. Using a Form 2 optical engine and the translucent orange cover from a Form 1, Keeter has created a Frankenstein version of the classic video game Spacewar—using real lasers!

For those who weren’t frequenting arcades in the 1960s, Spacewar was one of the earliest digital video games. Originally a two-player game, Spacewar allowed each player to take control of one “starship”, with the aim of destroying the other with “lasers”. The game inspired a host of imitators and has since developed a cult status, with ex-players still paying homage to the classic galactic shooter. Perhaps it was inevitable that the burgeoning ship of 3D printing would someday come crashing into the Spacewar phenomenon, with Keeter now overseeing that collision in a most spectacular fashion.

Keeter used the Haskell programming language to create spacewΛr, his take on the legendary interstellar battle game. The relatively simple code is back-end agnostic, and adaptable to any vector-drawing device. In a burst of creativity, Keeter set his eyes upon the most unusual vector-graphics system in his possession: the laser-scanning optical engine of his Form 2 3D printer. Finally, Keeter thought, Spacewar could be played with real lasers.

The game station, equal parts 3D printer and space battlefield, starts with the Form 2 optical engine, which controls two galvanometers and a laser. The laser, normally used to draw shapes in a vat of resin for 3D printing, has been repurposed to visualize the spacewΛr gameplay. A real-time control board allows players to play the game by precisely steering the two galvos, each held in a machined metal block. Each galvo controls one axis of motion, with the laser bouncing of both galvos on its way to a mirror. For easy manipulation, Keeter wired his computer up to the control-board, which is normally connected to the Form 2 motherboard.

To take full advantage of the mountains of Formlabs junk littered around his lab (probably), Keeter also used the translucent orange case of a Form 1 to act as the display surface for the game. The effect is breathtaking—lasers bounce off a mirror onto the case, with the blue-violet laser spaceships given a greenish tint from the orange plastic. The best part of all? Ambitious hackers can recreate the game themselves using Keeter’s code. Although the engineer discourages 3D printing enthusiasts from tearing apart their Formlabs 3D printers (and voiding their warranties), all the necessary information is there for keen gamers to bring Spacewar back to life. Keeter has released the game with an OpenGL-based backend for users to try out at home on different platforms.

We’ve seen many a weird and wonderful 3D print come out of a Formlabs 3D printer, but never have we seen the printer itself manipulated for such an unlikely purpose. Good job, Matt!

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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