"3D Printed" Tubes

Protopiper Device Physically Sketches Objects


Have you ever want to sketch in 3D? A team of researchers in Germany have created a device which can produce pipe sculptures of household objects to scale.

The team at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design created what they call the “Protopiper”. This prototyping device that lets the user turn tubes of tape into sturdy 3D structures. The device works like a handheld 3D printer and although there appear to be few practical uses, the suggestion of creating a volleyball court in your own home is tempting!

How Does the Protopiper Work?


The Protopiper is a computer aided, hand-held fabrication device that allows users to sketch room-sized objects at actual scale. The prototyping allows for users to make sure that objects fit with the room or their bodies.

The hand-held physical sketching device does not extrude plastic but creates tubes with connectors from adhesive tape. Since the resulting tubes are hollow they offer excellent strength-to-weight ratio, and scale well to large structures.

The tape is pre-coated with adhesive so it connects into tubes quickly and easily, unlike extruded plastic that would require heating and cooling in the kilowatt range.

Useful For Creative Exploration


The team show protopiper’s use through several demo objects, ranging from more constructive objects, such as furniture, to more decorative objects, such as statues. In their exploratory user study, 16 participants created objects based on their own ideas.

These participants rated the device as being “useful for creative exploration”, “its ability to sketch at actual scale helped judge fit”, and “fun to use.” In the future, the team want to explore tubes with variable different diameter and curved tubes.


You can read more about the Protopiper on Stefanie Mueller’s website.

What do you think of this design? Would you be tempted to create a 3D sandcastle in your own home?