Giant Laser Cut Map of Milwaukee

I’ve been on a laser cutting kick lately.  In the last two weeks, I made 9 travel coasters, two of which feature neighborhood maps of places I’ve lived.  Though I could have just raster cut these very small coasters, generating the vector version allowed me to create this big map of Milwaukee, Wisconsin!  This wall hanging map is the maximum size of our largest laser cutter: 24″ by 18″!  Boom!

Big_MKE

This map was inspired by a project made by my friend NJStacie a while back.  While she has both the infinite patience and the limitless awesome that allowed her to use an X-acto knife to cut out all the city blocks of Boston from an actual map, I used a laser cutter and software. To create images for my roadtrip coasters, I simply took screen captures of google maps, and processed them into vector files using GIMP and Inkscape.  There are so many extraneous details in google maps (lines for buildings, the text labeling street names, etc), that it was clear I needed an alternate approach for making this map.

Its easy to get a small google map without text labels, check out the url of this page.  My first approach to get more than 512×512 pixels was to use the Google Maps API, which is a toolset to imbed an interactive google map into webpages using Java.  The great thing about it is that the rendering style is completely configurable. Even better, there is a GUI to quickly configure your desired style, and automatically generate the JSON object to pass to the style property of the MapOptions on your webpage.  Instead of investing 10 or 15 minutes reading about how to integrate all these steps, I just created the style, and took a few .png screen captures.  I opened them as layers in GIMP and combined them to create the following grey and black image:

milwaukee_whole

I saved it as a .png, and imported it into Inkscape, selecting Embed Upon Import. I created vector data from this raster image by first selecting Path -> Trace Bitmap, opening a dialog box with many choices.  I really only experimented with the top two import choices, Edge Detect and Brightness Cutoff.  I found that Edge Detect gives two outlines, one of the streets and one of the city blocks.  For this reason, Edge Detect seems to be the best choice to create the widest streets, and therefore the strongest paper cutout.  It required some cleanup though, so I selected Path -> Break Apart, adjusted the Fill and Stroke, and then just deleted all the street outlines (thereby widening the spaces between buildings, which is effectively the streets).  As some of the streets were to narrow to really form one continuous outline, they formed a lot of smaller street segments that I deleted in five or ten minutes of fast and furious clicking.  After all those steps, a vector version of the following image was produced:

vector_lines_of_milwaukee

I did a few test cuts to find a power/speed that cut all the way though some colorful, 98lb, 25″ by 19″ acid-free archival paper I picked up.  The goal is to use enough power to cut though, without using too much power, which widens the kerf (laser cut width), thereby undesirably narrowing the streets.  This ended up being 100% power, with 52% speed. Check out the laser cutter in this real-time (not sped up) video.  Note that one typical problem of having both air assist and super-power fume-removal suction while cutting is that the laser cut bits tend to flip over into the cutting path, potentially resulting in an incomplete cut.  That meant when the laser cutting was complete, I had to carefully punch out the 15 or 20 stubborn city blocks that weren’t completely cut though.

I also cut this design into a coaster, and made one with my old Massachusetts neighborhood too.  Naturally this was a lot of data on a small surface, but the results are pretty good despite the vector cutting time approaching that of the raster cutting time! I cut these at 100% power, 100% speed, like the other coasters.

Map_Coasters_Improved

After I completed all these steps, I learned about a way to access vector map data directly.  The Open Street Map site allows export of .svg vector data just by clicking the share button on the right side of the page!  Even better, one can zoom in to Milwaukee, and press the big green Export button on the upper left to export an .osm database of the visible section of the map.  This OpenStreetMap archive can be opened in Maperative! and a style can be applied to the rendered map.  Maperative has several styles built-in, and I simply edited the google maps-like style to omit all the buildings, and draw all roads, highways, on-ramps, etc in a black with no border.  Maperative can export .svg files, but I found the content of these files are a bit of a wreck.  For example, each different road type is a separate vector path, meaning that there are many separate paths in the file.  Ultimately I found I’d taken the wrong approach, as I should have rendered all the city blocks as black vector outlines, and omitted the roads – as that is what I really need to laser cut.  With a bit more work, using Maperative would likely be a quite quick path from map to laser cutter. However, I abandoned this approach as I’d already created a somewhat reasonable workflow.

Where do I park!?

Parking!?

Milwaukee’s a great city, but like any large city, there are some parking regulations, and the one we have to deal with is “alternate-side parking overnight” which means that people who park on the street overnight have to all park on just one side of the street. Usually overnight parking doesn’t affect us that much, as we’ve got a small lot near the alley for about a dozen cars, but for public nights, or any other nights we have things going on, we need to try to park on the OTHER SIDE of the street as the residents do, as a courtesy to them, leaving them space to park.

Ron wrote up a nice wiki page explaining the parking, and our old pal reMMinderbot will also let you know where to park on a Tuesday or Thursday night, but like anything else at the makerspace, unless it’s over-engineered, it’s not done!

So I therefore present to you, makers and guests… MM Park! MM Park is a mobile-friendly web site you can view on your iOS or Android device. You can launch it when you pull up to the space and determine where you should park.

mkiemake.us/park

Just fire up the browser on your mobile device, and go to the handy short URL mkemake.us/park

Opposite

You’ll see SAME or OPPOSITE. If it says SAME you park on the SAME side of the street as Milwaukee Makerspace. If it says OPPOSITE you park on the OPPOSITE side of the street as Milwaukee Makerspace. This works for Lenox Street and Otjen Street.

Add to home screen

If you want to get all fancy, add an icon to your home screen so you can launch the app quickly and easily every time you pull up to the space at night.

Handy Icon

What could be easier!? Will the wonders of technology ever cease?

(Note: Thanks to Shane for the awesome logo, and to Audrey for piloting Lil’ Driver. This is an alpha release, and while fully functional at this time, the words and/or images used may change in the future. Check the project page for updates.)

Featured on Hackaday

Hackaday

The fine folks at Hackaday stopped by for a tour recently, and they made this fine video so you to can see the awesome power that is Milwaukee Makerspace all the way across the Internet-Tubes in your own home or workplace.

And if you’re in town for a visit and want to see the place, Tuesday or Thursday night at 7pm is a great time to stop by. (Those are the “open” nights.) Otherwise, hit up the mailing list and find a member who might be available some other time, like the weekend, or Wednesday at 2:45am. Or something like that.

(And yes, we do have a giant robot arm capable of crushing innocent metal chairs.)

Vote for us in the Hackerspace Challenge!

2013 Hackerspace Challenge!

As we mentioned back in July, Milwaukee Makerspace was selected to take part in the 2013 Hackerspace Challenge put on by RadioShack and Popular Mechanics, and now we can reveal it all, and we’re also asking for your vote!

Head on over to www.popmechnow.com/radioshack, watch the videos, and vote for the best project. I mean, we’re pretty confident you’ll prefer our project, but check out the awesome stuff that the guys from Inspiration Labs did. Hey, it’s got a TARDIS so those guys must be alright! ;)

I know you really want to see the Milwaukee Makerspace Morgifying Marble Manipulation Machine (aka: M6) mark your calendar for October 19th, 2013 because Milwaukee MakerFest will feature the M6 as for you experience in person!

(Oh yeah, we’re also running a Kickstarter Campaign to help make Milwaukee MakerFest ever more awesome. Help us out if you can!)