CanHaptics Lab 1: No-tech puppeteering

Task: Create three hardware sketches that move 1mm, 10mm and 100mm. No-tech materials only.

Rúbia Guerra
4 min readJan 29, 2021


The main goals for this lab are to understand the different levels of sketching as described by Camille Moussette, and to get acquainted with DIY sketching resources. We mainly focus on transforming crude ideas into “quick and dirty” low-fidelity prototypes, which fall into the “minutes to hours” level.


The materials used in this lab consisted of random objects found around my house: soda cans, candle and candle wax, cardboard corners from furniture packaging, used silicon earplugs and rubber bands. Craft sticks and yarn were the only two items bought at a dollar store.


Scissors, box cutter and a lighter.


Unma Desai and I had a 2-hour long brainstorming and building video call. Although we decided to create separate sketches, it was a great opportunity to have a work-social session with a classmate. We interchanged suggestions for each other’s sketches and shared ideas of how to create movement using only no-tech materials.

Original idea

Inspired by Rube Goldberg machines, the original idea for this lab was to create a chain of events that trigger movements at different scales.

Original idea. Steam leaks from a can of soda, pushing a small ball, which in turn hits a switch (10mm). The switch causes a paper weight to be released (1mm) into a popsicle structure, triggering an “explosion” effect (100mm).

After several attempts of sketching the release mechanism that is capable of triggering the popsicle structure, this idea was split into two parts, described below.

Part 1: Soda can steamer

The first part consists of a steamer that causes a pendulum to oscillate slightly (1mm). At the same time, the steam melts a wax bond between two strings, which is stretched until ruptured (10mm), releasing a small weight into a cup of water, which in turn, causes a splash (100mm).

Soda can steamer is a three part system that triggers 1mm/10mm/100mm motions. The steamer (left) consists of an sealed soda can with a small hole, filled 1/3 of the way with water. The pendulum consists of two strings held together by candle wax, and that holds a small weight in the lower end. Finally, the last part of the system consists in a cup of water, placed directly below the pendulum.

To start the chain of motion, I first used a sealed soda can, filled up to 1/3 of water, as show the figures below. The biggest challenges here were to guarantee that I had a small enough hole to create a strong flow of steam, and to make sure I would not start a fire in my carpeted basement apartment. The first challenge was conquered after the third try, with a diameter of about 1mm. For the worrying challenge was mitigated by keeping a large water bottle close by and by keeping the candles in a non-flammable encasing.

Soda can used as the steamer (left), non-flammable encasing (middle), final setup (right).

The process of iterating and building this prototype took a total of 2 hours. Since the steamer took between 30 to 40 minutes to melt the wax bond on a winter day (6ºC inside the apartment), the video below focuses only on the last 10 min of the process.

Part 2: Exploding stick structure

The second part of the original sketch was inspired by craft videos using popsicle sticks. The main idea was to create an “exploding” effect caused by suddenly releasing the potential energy stored in a series of intertwined craft sticks. A small object placed at the tail was propelled into the air (100mm) by the exploding motion.

Craft stick structure with a small object placed at the tail.

This prototype was fairly simple to build, and only took about 5 min to be fully assembled. To showcase this sketch, I also attempted in creating my first ever animation, which can be seen in the video below.


One of the most interesting insights that this activity brought to me was to become more aware of the variety of ways in which movement can be expressed. At first, I was very attached to creating things that roll, fall, or slide. However, as I worked through brainstorming sketches, I realized multiple other possibilities of movement effects: splash, explode, stretch, rupture, boil, fickle, shake, click.

And after spending almost a week trying to come up with ideas in isolation, I realize the value of a 20 min face-to-face conversation with a lab partner. Being able to explain my concepts out loud and getting immediate feedback — verbal and nonverbal — goes a long way when working with creative projects.