Broadening Horizons at ITP

Founded in 1979, New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) has become synonymous with innovation in art, technology, and new media. Part of the renowned Tisch School of the Arts, the program’s mission is “to explore the imaginative use of communications technologies.” The homepage lightheartedly touts, “Perhaps the best way to describe us is as a Center for the Recently Possible.”


Roughly three months ago, ITP acquired an Othermill, and while the buzz is just getting started, students and faculty alike have used it for a variety of projects. For now, the Othermill lives in ITP’s Soft Lab, where students are allowed to check it out and bring it to their workspaces to use.

Designer, engineer, ITP Fellow, and adjunct professor Ben Light has been using the Othermill extensively in-house, and wrote a detailed review for Tested last month. Light was first introduced to CNC mills 20 years ago, and has even built a few machines of his own, both using kits and from scratch. He says, “I find the Othermill to be one of the most user-friendly mills I’ve ever used. Works right out of the box. Zeroing the Z-axis is a pleasure. Otherplan is so straightforward, but has a great balance for both experienced and inexperienced users.”


Delrin parts cutting in Otherplan.


Delrin parts being milled on the Othermill; fully assembled.

Light has personally used the Othermill for a number of projects, including milling plastic pieces for a kinetic sculpture, creating the packaging for Gabe Barcia-Columbo’s DNA Vending Machine, making small metal parts for robot toys, and milling glow-in-the-dark plastic inserts for a candlestick project. Light has mostly been milling aluminum and Delrin, and says, “At ITP, we haven’t had a machine that could accomplish this so easily before.”


Ben Light’s candle project, Glow in the Spark — a turned walnut tea light holder with glow in the dark plastic inserts. The candlelight “charges” the plastic and they glow after the candle has been snuffed.

As an adjunct professor, Light teaches Introduction to Fabrication as well as a course on Subtraction, which covers digital milling and machining. He’s assigned his students to work with aluminum on the Othermill, in hopes of getting them over their fears. He says, “I think the biggest win from the Othermill will be getting students, who are comfortable with the laser cutter, milling material. CNC machines are pretty foreign to most of our students, except for the laser cutter. I feel the Othermill is a great next step.”


Aluminum parts milled on the Othermill.

ITP masters candidate Kina Smith is using the Othermill to make the PCBs for his thesis project, titled Compost Sensor, an open-source network of temperature and moisture sensors for small-scale commercial composting operations. Smith says, “The Othermill itself is an absolute wonder to use. I think where it stands above and beyond other offerings in this market is on the software side. No other desktop CNC mill has a software component that is as easy to use or as well designed. It’s really easy to just plug in files and press cut, but it’s also deep enough where you can adjust all the complicated stuff if you know what you’re doing, and extensible enough to be able to do custom hacks efficiently.“

He continues, "It’s also a complete game changer to be able to make a custom circuit board in a matter of minutes and do rapid iteration on design concepts without the cost and wait times associated with board houses.”

With word getting out about the capabilities of the Othermill (and a second mill on its way to ITP), Light predicts, “The tipping point hasn’t happened yet for the Othermill at ITP. It’s coming, I assure you. Every time a student is using the mill, two or three other students come up to ask what is going on. The curiosity is there, but the great projects haven’t had enough exposure yet to the ITP public. We have a big student show in late May and I expect things to change after that.”


Light foresees much student engagement with the mill in the future, predicting that it will be used for unique project enclosures, durable and more precise mechanical parts, and adoption of materials that haven’t really been used at ITP before, like metal, machinable plastics, and exotic woods. Considering ITP’s reputation for creating the unexpected, we can’t wait to see what students make with the Othermill.