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All About Cardboard – Workshop by Niklas Roy + Cardboard Plotter

plotter_total_hires copy


Last week Niklas Roy tought the electronic media class at the School of Art and Design Offenbach. He proposed the students to build computers out of cardboard, not knowing at all where this will lead to. Results included an information distribution knot, a mechanical NAND gate, a Speedway PRO 1000 racer game and to keep him self busy, as instructed by students, his own digital cardboard plotter (above).

How do computers work on their fundamental levels? Can we build communication networks from scratch – with rubber bands, rope and cardboard? How do analog metaphors for Drag & Drop look like?

Those were some of many questions which Niklas asked the design students at the HfG Offenbach. Their aim was to answer those questions with limited materials: They had cardboard, welding wire, glue, rope, rulers and cutting knifes available. And they tried to build computers – or some of their parts – out of that material.


The core part of any digital computer is a clock which synchronizes all logic processes and communications. Tilmann Aechtner built this beautiful time piece. It uses rolls of adhesive tape as weight. On a connected barrel display, you can watch the mechanism counting.



Carolin Liebl and Lisa Hopf were interested in fundamental digital logic: Over several design iterations, they managed to build a very clever and well working NAND gate. It compares two binary inputs and calculates one binary output. Several of those mechanical gates in combination can be used to build a complete computer! Although a working computer out of cardboard would probably become a bit large. In addition to their NAND gate, Carolin and Lisa also came up with concept drawings forNOT, OR, NOR, XNOR, and an AND gate mechanisms. 
Cardboard logic FTW!


Speedway PRO 1000

Jonas von Ronström brought some good old arcade fun to our workshop: He built a racing game which worked pretty well – although the steering turned out to be a bit wobbly. No problem for Jonas, though. He quickly adapted his concept to the behavior of his machine and named the game „Speedway PRO 1000“, where the „PRO 1000“ stands for the German „Promille“ (permille in English), the unit for blood alcohol content. His drunken driving simulator was definitely a hit at our final party!


Ab geht’s („Let’s go!“)

Anne Euler and Nikolas Schmidt-Pfähler challenged themselves by building a complete communication network with four stations and an information distribution knot. Each station consisted of rotary dial to select one receiving station, a signal transmitter and a signal receiver. All of the stations were connected to a central knot via ropes. This central information distribution knot transmitted the rope pulling forces from the transmitters to the selected receivers, pretty much like an old school strowger switch. „Let’s go!“ was the most ambitious project in the workshop. And despite some minimal mechanical problems, it worked well for remotely ordering beer at the bar!



Joonsun Kim built this minimalist Angry Birds like shooting game. A counterbalanced collapsible shelf construction mimics the Angry Birds physics engine. With a slingshot and ping pong balls, you could shoot on targets inside the shelf.


Arbeit („Labor“)

A cardboard computer is not much worth without an appropriate data storage device. Philipp Medrala was fascinated by punch card technology and decided to build his own crank operated punch card reader!


Cloud Player

Shaowei Jia was interested in wireless information and energy transmission. His „Cloud Player“ consisted out of a hifi amp and induction coils. The visitors could connect their smartphone to the minijack, play music, and watch the LED’s blink to the beat.


Since students asked Niklas to build a machine as well, maybe to prove such things are possible, he always wanted to own a plotter and this seemed like a perfect challenge. Besides making a working machine, Niklas used the process as a way to teach students different techniques working with this material.

The cardboard plotter Niklas created is made out of Finnish cardboard, very durable, but also easy to cut with a hobby knife. The axles and slide rails are made out of welding rod. Everything is connected with super glue, adhesive tape and tie wraps. As an interface, Niklas built two rotary dials and a switch. One of the dials moves the pen in y-position. The other dial moves the table under then pen in x-position. The switch lifts the pen or puts it on the paper. Once he was done building the plotter, he also compiled a little code book with coordinates for several drawings. They are written down as a list of numbers from 0 to 9, which makes it effectively a very simple digital storage medium for low resolution vector graphics.

Project Page | Niklas Roy

Previously on CAN:
Perpetual Energy Wasting Machine by Niklas Roy
Lumenoise [Objects]
PING! Augmented Pixel [Tutorials, Games]
My little piece of Privacy [Processing]