SURFACE – Xbox controlled hot wire foam Cutter, 2017

Interaction Design

A 3-axis hotwire CNC controlled by Xbox controller that enables people to sculpt styrofoam intuitively in a real-time flow.

This work was presented at Expressive Sympossium 2019 : Link


Video of people cutting the foam during the exhibition

Surface is a sculpting instrument controlled by a game controller that allows anyone to exert their creativity in a real-time flow without an aid of  pre-drawn digital geometry.

As the machine is run by user’s instinct rather than a digital geometry, users can witness and make alteration to their shape as the cutting progresses. This explores the ambiguous boundary between analogue and digital and challenges the conventional method of digital fabrication where the involvement of CAD software is vital.


Musical Score or Gcode?

This foam cutting instruments aims to introduce audiences to the joy of designing shapes in a manner that does not require the users to have skills in digital modelling.  As the cutting happens, the computer records user’s command on the game controller and produces a notations that appear similar to a musical score. This notation better describes the geometry than using the conventional descriptions such as dimensions and angles or Gcode.

What has been cut cannot be duplicated perfectly but only through mastering the technique can the user repetitively produce accurate modelling, just like playing a musical instrument.

Building up of the notation


The Surface uses 4 keys on the Xbox360 controller: left
trigger (rotates the base to the left), right trigger (rotates the base
to the right), left stick (moves base in Y-axis) right stick (moves base
in Z-axis)


During the end of the year show surface was exhibited as a workshop for people to actively involve in the process of making. Since the controller for the CNC was familiar for most of the audiences, it was really entertaining to see how quickly the users grasped the technique and become playful with the instrument.




Display of the cut geometries by audiences from the workshop






This interface was programmed on openFrameworks serial writing to Arduino board for stepper motor control. Charles Veasey’s ofxXboxController was used to communicate to the program via Xbox controller.

The machine was built with ArduinoMega + Ramps board 1.4