Cool Idea

Strange Lenses Brings Together Community with Interactive Art Display

Cool Idea Award helps create injection-molded lenses to encourage human interaction

Developed by artist and engineer, Robb Godshaw, Strange Lenses is a public art piece intended to foster interactions between strangers.  The installation, located in San Francisco, provides a space for strangers to interact with one another in a playful manner.

Participants stand opposite each other and look through one of the many lenses on the installation. As they look through the lens, participants see their partner’s face visually affected. Each lens has a different visual effect—some give users the appearance of having dozens of eyes, while others reshape the face into a cube.

“Strangers open up—they become completely disarmed and start acting as friends,” said Godshaw. “Seeing people in a socially interactive art installation can create an impact on the way you see and interact with your community.”

Godshaw, who is also a resident at Autodesk’s Pier 9 workshop, first attempted to 3D print the lenses with other manufacturers but was left unsatisfied with the quality he received. He then explored machining the lenses out of acrylic blocks. Both methods led to less than stellar results that required more than 10 hours of hand polishing and sanding to achieve the necessary level of clarity. Knowing this labor-intensive process would not be scalable, he searched for other manufacturing options.

“Seeing people in a socially interactive art installation can create an impact on the way you see and interact with your community.”

After some research, he found the Protolabs Cool Idea Award and decided to submit an application. The project won the service grant for its potential to bring people together from all walks of life.

After winning the Cool Idea Award, Godshaw leveraged Protolabs’ rapid injection molding service to manufacture lenses out of optical liquid silicone rubber (LSR). The molded lenses provide two key benefits. First, the level of clarity eliminates the amount of time spent polishing lenses. And second, optical LSR is able to withstand the two-year, outdoor installation.

“Designing something to be on the street for two years is a very different challenge than designing something to be up for a few days,” said Godshaw. “Optical LSR is robust and durable. You can’t scratch it, crack it or melt it, so it’s perfect for my installation and for the millions of people who will interact with it over the next two years.”

Strange Lenses made its debut in San Francisco at The Market Street Prototyping festival in October 2016 as one of the event’s premier incubation projects. It’s located on one of the city’s busiest sidewalks and will entertain millions of people during its two year installment.

To learn more about Strange Lenses visit