The We Make Health Fest took place on Saturday 8/16. The fest was hosted by the University of Michigan and encouraged creation of technology that could change how we stay healthy. Speakers from the community presented on many exciting topics and below you’ll find some of the exciting ideas that makers had to share.
e-NABLE showed off low cost 3D printed prostheses which can be manufactured for much less than the cost of commercial prosthetic solutions. They are focused on sharing information about the maker movement effort to produce a low cost prosthetic hand.
3D-printed prostheses by e-NABLE
Akadeum Life Sciences demonstrated technology to isolate samples of cells at a high purity rate. By coating specifically targeted cells, their glass micro-bubbles can attach to the cells and float them to the surface of a solution. The technology has applications for food pathogen testing and purifying cell samples.
This type of purification is often done using Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). FACS separates cells into different containers by examining cells one by one. It does this by first placing a cell in individual droplets of a liquid. The fluorescence characteristic of each droplet are measured and based on this measurement, the system decides how to sort the cell. The actual sorting is done using electromagnets.
Akadeum’s solution allows for sorting many cells quickly in a low cost manner.
Brandon McNaughton demonstrates the ease of using Akadeum’s cell isolation process.
Researchers with the University of Michigan School of Public Health developed IconArray.com as an easy way for clinicians to visualize risk in a standard way.
UM researchers have published multiple articles demonstrating that icon arrays (“pictographs”) are more effective than bar or pie charts at communicating risk and reducing cognitive biases in risk perceptions.
You can read more about the development and existing uses of of IconArray here.
Gary Olthoff demonstrated his invention to ease carrying of mattresses. When his father was placed in a nursing home, Gary observed frequent moving of mattresses would cause injuries to staff. The staff had difficulty maneuvering the unwieldy objects and the task required two people to complete safely. His original solution was built from a lawn mower handle and was well liked by staff at several facilities where it was on loan. After several iterations on the design, he prepared a commercial version called the EZCarryBed Mattress Carrier. The device allows a single person to easily hold and move the mattresses.
EZCarryBed Mattress Carrier
Duane Mackey showed off his DIY Mosquito trap. The traps started as a science fair project after he was inspired by Gates Foundation’s work to prevent the spread of Malaria. He set out to build a better mosquito trap and after several iterations has designs that performed better than commercial solutions during tests. He plans to make the designs freely available at openmosquitotrap.org (Note: At time of publication this link was not functional).
Iterations on an open source mosquito trap design.
Did you make it out to the festival? Let us know what technology caught your eye in the comments below!
Kris Kullgren discusses customizing bedside educational resources for patients at the CS Mott Children's hospital
Nate Yost (of All Hands Active) demos a Back Yard Brains 2 Channel EMG SpikerBox.
Solus had various mobility scooters designed for amputees on display.
While attending UCSB in 2001, Mike Hexter founded Hexcorp, a product design and consulting firm with a reputation for passion and for cutting edge technology. Over the years, the company has developed a wide array of specialized skills such as rapid prototyping, research and development, product design, manufacturing and business consulting. The company works with its members and clients creating a collaborative environment for new ideas.
Recognizing a real need in the community for access to this cutting edge technology, Mike created Hexlab in 2013 and recruited makers as staff and volunteers. By the end of the year, Hexlab officially opened its doors to the Los Angeles public giving makers access to technology previously unavailable to them such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and CNC machines. Hexlab transformed from an office space to a makerspace and co-working facility.The makers have created a home like atmosphere at HexLab fostering a collegial environment where people who may never have met before are now collaborating on new projects every day.
Hexlab offers classes including free 3-D printing and laser cutting intros on Wednesdays alternating between them every other week. HexLab’s other classes include intermediate 3-D printing and laser cutting classes, metalworking classes, mold making classes, intro to electronics classes, and Arduino classes among others.
Hexlab professional services division helps makers with product research and development and small-scale to large-scale manufacturing. Mike hexter, “I have always enjoyed guiding others to create successful business’ of their own.” This openness to new ways of doing things has evolved into a new approach to creativity. There are only a very few makerspaces in the world that offer similar services.
For more info you can find HexLab on their home page, facebook, twitter, or meetup.
Coco Kaleel and Annika O’Brien, a few weeks after Coco took Annika’s soldering class.
A few months back, I came across this Google+ post by roboticist Annika O’Brien, talking about the 12-year-old girl she has been mentoring, named Coco Kaleel. I was interested to hear more about their mentor-mentee relationship, so I got in touch with Coco and Annika to tell me a bit about how they met and what they’ve learned from each other. Here are their thoughts:
Coco Kaleel, the mentee:
Soldering! Really, that’s how it all started with us. Soldering usually helps connect an electrical component to a circuit board and that connection allows current to pass through, completing the circuit. For me, the skill of soldering connected me to someone really special — and much, much more.
Greetings! I am Coco and I’m 12 years old. As far back as I can remember, I loved to make things. When I was three I built a hand-cranked carousel with a flywheel and gear pattern from Tinker Toys for my stuffed animals. I later got into Legos and have loved them ever since.
The LA Robotics Club
When I was around 8, I got a set of Lego Mindstorms, and that’s really when I started to get into electronics. The Mindstorms were really cool, but I wanted more flexibility. That lead me to the Arduino. I learned a little about programming it on the Adafruit Learning System tutorials. However, everything really changed when I went to the LA Robotics Club and met Annika O’Brien (who is currently Chief Roboticist and CTO at STEAMtrax).
Annika is the founder of the club, which now has over 1,800 members. I didn’t really plan on Annika becoming my mentor, but that’s what happened. It all started, though, because of soldering. I showed up at Annika’s first soldering class at the LA Robotics Club. Annika went through all the steps with me, the safety protocol … and I loved it!
Joining a Hackerspace
Annika then urged me to go see Rob Bishop speak (he’s the first engineering employee of Raspberry Pi). The presentation took place at a hackerspace in downtown LA. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to join (I think I was the first kid they let in). At my hackerspace I had access to equipment like an industrial laser cutter and tech experts (the members) who eventually challenged me to solder circuits to make fun blinky badges. They taught me microscope-aided surface mount soldering.
I Start Teaching and Presenting and Gain Another Mentor
Then, one of the members asked if I wanted to teach a soldering class at the Central Library during Teen Tech Week (a national event sponsored by the American Library Association). As a fifth grader, I got to teach a group of high-schoolers and community college students to solder, the thinking being that if I could do it, so could they. From there Annika connected me to the Loscon 40 convention where I presented a talk titled Girls & Robots. I got to be on two panels discussing the future of technology. Just before this, I assembled a 3D printer from a kit made by Deezmaker and at the Loscon 40 Convention, I demonstrated soldering and 3D-printing in the Make Room.
Throughout this journey, I also connected with another mentor, Joan Horvath, from Deezmaker. She’s an American astronomer and aeronautic scientist (with a degree from MIT). Wow, two awesome women mentoring me! Joan connected me to the 3D-Printer World Expo where I was honored to get to make a poster presentation about “What I Learned by 3D-Printing.” And now, this blog for MAKE. All this from learning that simple skill of soldering!
What I’m Up To Now
Currently, I use a Bukobot 8 Vanilla v2 3D-Printer from Deezmaker. I keep a website (veryhappyrobot.com) for reviewing electronic kits. I also blog on the website about many of my technological endeavors and tech news from around the world. I love going to the garage and taking old electronics apart and repurposing them. Knowing how to solder allows me to attempt anything my imagination creates.
I have many plans for summer vacation, like creating an air-powered hoverboard (if I can convince my mom it will be safe), making my own quadcopter drone, and working on perfecting my surface mount soldering. When I grow up, I want to become an engineer of some sort; both mechanical and genetic seem very cool. I hope to mentor someone someday, just like Annika mentors me. Having a mentor cheering you on, challenging you, and holding your hand along the way has made all the difference for me. As a roboticist who happens to be a woman, Annika inspires me. I am so glad we connected and to think it all began with soldering!!!
Coco Kaleel is currently in the 6th grade and secretary of her school’s student council. She created veryhappyrobot.com to review electronic kits and inspire others. She also fences, plays piano, drums, guitar, ukulele, and helps puppy-raise labs for Guide Dogs of America.
Annika O’Brien, the mentor:
When I was 8 years old, my father brought home a Commodore 64 for my sisters and me — a video game console! But, he quickly put the brakes on that idea and handed me the Programmers Reference Guide (along with some other BASIC and arcade game programming books). He insisted that if I wanted to play games, I’d have to learn to code first.
Much like my protege, Coco Kaleel, I wasn’t the daughter of an electronics maven. My father was a doctor and my mother was an aeronautical engineer who loved to race motorcycles and rebuild classic car engines in the driveway. But, they had a vision about my future. My parents would give me broken/outdated gadgets. It was the early 90s, so things were built to last a little longer than they are today and Moore’s Law wasn’t as quick to render everything obsolete. I had a boom box, which I had opened a few times to clean out with a dry toothbrush and re-solder a joint that had come loose in the process. Both of my parents were highly supportive of anything that pertained to learning. I wasn’t spoiled with an excess of trendy clothes or toys, but I was never denied a book. I benefitted most from my parents always encouraging curiosity and providing me with information.
One of my nicknames as a child was “Annika Britannica.” I read so much that when other kids asked questions like, ”Why is the sky blue?” I would give an entire explanation about gas molecules, wavelengths, and Rayleigh scattering.
I had a massive mental crush on Carl Sagan. In fact, he’s been a huge inspiration in my adult life more recently as I have moved from a career in robotics to a career in robotics education.
Getting STEAM into Schools
I recently co-founded a company with a focus on the STEAM fields (Science, Technology Engineering, Art, and Math). I am working to make the various engineering processes part of the regular school curriculum taught in every school in North America. It’s important that each child find where they fit into all of this. I moved to Houston at the end of last year to work with folks from Rice University who aim to make an impact in the current education system.
It’s also an extension of the work I did the last four years that I was living in Southern California. I was able to find over 1,800 people who enjoyed hobbyist electronics within the first three years of founding the LA Robotics Club. Robots today are what personal computers were in the 80s — like that Commodore 64 my dad brought home — and robotics needs to be integrated into all schools.
Coco and Annika
The Mentoring Relationship is Mutually Beneficial
With teaching and mentoring, I’ve always felt it was important to learn from others and pay that service forward to the next generation. I’ll bring this back to Coco and soldering. I was good at soldering and on numerous occasions was asked to teach classes. I finally decided to do it. I invited about 50-60 people to an “Introduction to Soldering” class and said, “I can solder, but I don’t teach, so watch me and ask questions.”
I remember explaining at one point that you have to heat the pad and the end of the lead from the back of the board while you push the solder toward the hole and watch it pool until it forms a nice shape that resembles a slightly deflated bead. As the questions came, it forced me to think not just about what I was doing, but why I was doing it that way. I ended up going into oxidation, flux, how heat draws liquid, and so much more. Having to explain the principles of soldering forced me to reassess my methods and ultimately made me much better at soldering, as well as more organized when instructing a class.
Getting to Know Coco
During this soldering class, I met Coco for the first time. I remember apologizing to her father if she couldn’t understand most of what I was saying. Two weeks later she came back with a box full of microcontroller kits. I inspected each one, asking who soldered them. She said she had. Then I took a closer look and said, “These are really good! Who helped you?” to which she responded that she had done them herself. Impressed, I asked her “How many years have you been soldering? You’re about as good as I am.” She said, “You taught me for the first time two weeks ago.” Then her father interjected that he hadn’t been able to pry the soldering iron from her grasp since that class. I remember how embarrassed I was during the class that I kept making mistakes and felt like I hadn’t done a very good job at teaching. Yet a 10-year-old was able to not only understand everything I taught her, she was able to take that home with her and put it to immediate use, later fixing the dishwasher at their home by replacing a $1 part with her soldering iron.
Looking back over the past few years, I feel good when I think about how much I have learned from others and how much I have been able to pass on. I wish I had more time to work in mentoring roles one-on-one with kids like Coco, but I’ve found that sometimes the best I can do is point them in the right direction, like my parents did for me. The best thing for a child is having a parent who equips them with the tools they need. I would not have met Coco had her father not sought me out. She wouldn’t have learned to solder had her parents not been willing to support her.
I remember sitting down with Coco and her father and bookmarking every Arduino tutorial site I could think of. I listed all the websites I knew that offered free electronics courses. Coco went through every single one and learned more than many of the adults I have met who had attended my Arduino classes. I’ve mentored other kids, and as bright and promising as many of them have been, none stick out like Coco and only a few even come close. It’s important that no matter how knowledgeable you may be in a certain subject, you should always look to others to keep learning. And you have an obligation to pass that knowledge on to others. By gaining confidence through mentoring, I can no longer see myself NOT helping, NOT sharing, NOT being a catalyst for change. It’s sort of who I am now.
Annika O’Brien and LA Robotics member Jay O’Balles testing the resistance of a conductive heart.
Annika O’Brien is the co-founder of STEAMtrax where she designs projects for K–12 engineering curricula. She has a background in computer science and robotics, and designed electronics in Hollywood and various organizations that benefit underserved youth. She founded the LA Robotics Club, is involved in numerous community outreach programs, and is an avid maker.
Someone who read about the upcoming Cleveland Mini Maker Faire told me “that’s something your Dad would have loved.” They’re right. John Krouse would have loved the Maker Faire and I’m sad that he’s missing it. (He passed away too early from cancer, about three years ago.)
I’ve been thinking about why he would have loved this event and, really, this whole movement. Sure, he was the kind of dad that built go-karts and electromagnets and helped me create spaceships and robots out of trade show samples he brought home from business trips. He was also a graduate of the Case School of Engineering and the editor and publisher of Machine Design. His background helped answer my questions about why C3PO makes that whirring sound when he walks, how a torpedo really sinks a ship, and why the speed of light is such a big deal.
But makers don’t just make; they want to understand how something works and, perhaps most importantly, want others to understand how things work. Anyone who ever heard my dad talk about writing knows that description fits him perfectly.
He spent much of his writing career (at Penton Media and then as a freelance consultant) making complicated engineering relatable to anyone. He hated jargon and searched for succinct and meaningful language to communicate the fundamentals of how things worked. His piece The Sound of Legend is typical of his atypical approach to writing about something like sound and vibration software:
You know it’s a Harley as soon as you hear it, before you even see it. The throaty pounding and off-centered drumming beat are part of the signature sound that uniquely defines the persona of the machine and clearly differentiates the manufacturer from its competitors. Buyers don’t just want transportation to get from one place to another. They want a riding experience, a big part of which is the classic sound of the bike. It’s all about the thunder, roar and rumble riders expect when they rev up the engine.
I wanted to write this not only as a tribute to my Dad, but to all the people here in Cleveland (and everywhere else) that feel the same way he did: explaining how something works is just as important as building it, selling it, or buying it. If we lose that ability and desire to explain, then we lose the ability to truly innovate.
There are moments at a maker event when you see beyond the technology and craft and realize that this isn’t just about demonstrating or exhibiting; it’s a movement that strives to make complicated things simple to understand. If we make technology (or anything, really) complicated, we put the power to innovate in the hands of a few. Makers strive to do the opposite, saying, “Here’s something complicated, but it’s really easy to understand if you look inside.” That’s what my dad would have loved most of all.
Maker Faire Rome, 2013
Last month was my first Maker Faire, in San Mateo, California. I knew what it would be, but I didn’t know what it would be like. The energy, the spirit of the attendees and the makers, gave the event that je ne sais quoi that made it unforgettable. It transcended, by far, any coverage — video or otherwise — you may have seen.
Now Maker Faire Rome is coming up, October 3-5. That may seem like a long way off, but if you’re a maker and want to show your stuff, now’s the time to apply. Fill out their Call for Makers by Sunday and they’ll be judged on relevance to the community, feasibility, innovation, and ingenuity, by a selection committee including Massimo Banzi, Riccardo Luna, and Costantino Bongiorno.
Yes, that’s this Sunday, June 15; you have just two days, and you’ll need to describe your project, as well as share some photos. If you can’t make it, check out our Maker Faire Map for other upcoming faires, in Europe and elsewhere.
Need inspiration? See Make‘s coverage of Maker Faire Bay Area.
Leading up to the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire Call for Makers, artist Brian Archer contacted me with a really neat illustration series. After attending a few local maker events, he was inspired to create his series, “You are what you make!” and drew some very detailed illustrations that really capture the spirit of some very active local Vancouver makers.
One of the most rewarding parts of being involved with organizing a Mini Maker Faire is hearing from new people who attend events and who want to contribute to future events. Brian is one of those people. Learn more about Brian, check out his illustrations, the makers that he drew, and how he got hooked on maker culture below.
Illustrations inspired by Zee Kesler’s Tiny Community Centre and Dan Royers Makelangelo Drawbot.
How did you learn about and then get involved with Vancouver’s maker community?
When I came to visit the 2013 Vancouver Mini Maker Faire, I was confronted with experimental visual artists on one side and hackers working on strange engineering problems on the other, and realized I belong somewhere here in the middle. I joined the Vancouver Maker Education Meet-Up because I’m fascinated with the experience of understanding and also the ways that formal education could become individual discovery.
What inspired you to draw these images for the posters?
I was invited to speak at the Maker Show and Tell at the Rio event. At that time I was toying with the idea of making portraits of people surrounded by the artifacts from their life. I was trying to create visual biographies, sort of like old portraits of royalty or maybe like ancient allegorical paintings of Apollo with a harp and a lion. When I tried to make portraits of the makers I saw at the Rio, they almost immediately started to blend with and become their creations. I realized this was an appropriate way to represent the sometimes obsessive mind of an artist or an engineer.
Tell us a bit about some of the illustration projects you’ve been working on.
I am working on a Universal Visual Language Interface. That’s a little vague, but in the spirit of Otto Neurath‘s Isotype, I’m trying to create a wordless cartoon infographic that can be understood by people from different cultures because it’s based on embodied cognition. Still not clear? Literal Visual-cy? No? Well that’s the problem with new ideas — it’s best to just try them. When you see it work, you will understand.
Featured makers include “Mr. Fire-man” of the Legion of Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra and Adam Barlev of the Symmetry Group.
What are some of the other non-illustration projects you work on?
I’ve been a musical instrument hacker since childhood. I made my own electronic drum pads and spliced broken guitars and modified some squeaky baroque recorders. The urge to modify, combine, and customize instruments is always richly rewarded when you get new sounds from a newly hacked flute or guitar.
What do you plan on bringing to Vancouver Mini Maker Faire?
In addition to my visual language illustrations, I will bring a bicycle sculpture automaton that is a functional, programmable, pedal-powered, three-track, drum machine! It is made completely of recycled bicycle parts and a few drums.
I can’t wait to see what else Brian has in store at the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire, happening this June 7th and 8th!
Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht creates futuristic fashion that celebrates the beautiful nexus of fashion and technology. The main image on her website boldly asks, “What does fashion lack?” and answers it with “Microcontrollers.” From the dress that emits smoke when someone enters the wearer’s personal space to the cocktail-making dress that challenges viewers to a game of Truth or Dare, Wipprecht plays with boundaries in order to blur them.
She’ll be at Maker Faire Bay Area this weekend, giving a talk on Center Stage titled “Robotic Fashion and Intimate Interfaces” at 11:30a.m. on Saturday, May 17. She’ll also be revealing a new design that she created during her artist residency at Autodesk, as well as collaborating with Tesla-coil-loving ArcAttack during their show at the Faire. We connected with Wipprecht to learn more.
1. What does it mean to be a “fashiontech designer”?
The intersection between fashion design, interaction design, and technology.
2. How did you first become interested in integrating microcontrollers, sensors, and 3D printing into your designs?
Fabrics and fashion seemed boring and “dead” to me, so I tried to animate them through the use of electronics. 3D printing gives the ability to create in much more detail, flexibility, stability, and pace than handcrafting sculptural pieces, and with modeling software like AutoDesk’s Maya and printing, I am able to integrate my electronics directly form-fitted into the designs.
Wipprecht’s DareDroid 2.0 is a biomechanic cocktail making dress that uses medical technology, customized hardware and human temperament to provide you with a freshly made cocktail. Video.
3. Coming from a design background, how did you acquire the skills to work with electronics?
Thinking interdisciplinarily and the biggest one: going after my dreams. I attended both fashion design school and interaction design at night, and I partially taught myself to engineer back in the days. When the Arduino got introduced and openly promoted, I found out that one of the founders of Arduino, David Cuartielles, ran an interaction study lab in Sweden (Malmo//K3) where he and his team taught people to work with their open source microcontroller platform.
At that moment, I was studying fashion design in Amsterdam. I told my program that I was quitting for a year because I needed to learn more about this. Basically I packed my suitcase and moved to Sweden with no money but on a mission that later changed my life. It was one of the best decisions of my life, which changed my view on engineering. David and the Arduino family finally made engineering fun!
A collaboration with engineer Daniel Schatzmayr, the Spider Dress shoulders are animated robotic limbs that eerily crawl around the body.
4. A number of your designs integrate data captured from the wearer. What inspired you to make these designs interactive?
When I started combining fashion with electronics in 2006, I saw two things: from the technological side I saw technology crawling closer to the skin each day. And from a fashion design aspect, I saw the potential of having fashion being the closest and most intimate interface that we can possible have around us: both fashion and technology are created to communicate and help us to express. It was 1+1=2 for me.
5. You’re known for letting allowing the tech in your pieces be visible. Why do you prefer to show the inner workings rather than mask them?
I love robots, but I hate the fact that all the cool stuff (the mechanics and electronics) is always hidden and boxed in. In my robotic fashions, I like to project my systems externally, so you can see how and where everything goes and flows. People love this. As because I can explain to them in a simple way how the system runs along the body, it becomes educational.
Every time someone steps into the personal space of the wearer, the Smoke Dress automatically creates a veil of smoke. Video of first version.
6. What is the most exciting affect you’ve seen 3D printing have on the fashion industry?
That it will turn the fashion system 180°. The fashion system is still based on fashion houses, magazines, and “experts” translating, communicating, and forcing trends upon us. With both easier accessibility to easy-to-use design software and innovations regarding 3D printing in the realm of printable textiles and flexible design elements, additive manufacturing (3D printing) invites anyone and everybody to design and wear their own styles. And this goes beyond pre-produced patterns, defined shapes, and rated looks. I can have a party this evening: with flexible materials that already roll out of the 3D printers, I can model a shoulder piece in the morning, print it at noon, and wear it in the evening. True story.
Also, to open my design up for communication, if it turns out successful, I can open-source my design or technique by sharing it with the world on a playful site like Instructables or Thingiverse where, for example, my friends and followers can see, download, and respond, providing notations or even offering redesigns to my process. This creates an interesting new process because the world becomes your editor, not just your critic. While your dress will grow with you from your first to your final version, we will be continually busy upgrading our dresses and customizing our jewelery instead of shopping for new ones!
Wipprecht’s Pseudomorph dress features a neck piece with pneumatic valves that allows ink to flow through the fabric.
Scanning is another one: everyone can get their body scanned and order a dress that fits perfectly with exactly the specifications that they demand. I used 123D Catch last December while I was scanning a performer of Cirque du Soleil — it’s a free app on your iPhone that allows you to create 3D models from a series of photographs taken at various angles using photogrammerty. I had never used it before and had his full upper body on my screen within a few seconds, after which I could create the most comfortable design based on his posture and bone structure. When I got to Autodesk I discovered a just-launched application that’s useful for prototyping and simulating electronics with sensors and moving parts called 123D Circuits. Programs and apps like this are good to use as impressive engineering teams around the world are busy day and night making software playful and easy to understand.
A collaboration with Studio Roosegaarde, the Intimacy 2.0 series features dresses that become transparent as the wearer’s heart rate increases. Video.
7. Though your pieces are mainly high art, how do you see the concepts you employ being applied to mainstream fashion?
I throw out my ideas on possible wearable items for your own interpretation. They might seem radical but I see future fashion become more sensorial and reactive — customized interfaces that utilize technology as an extension of our capabilities. My designs are very extravagant, and for a reason: to raise questions, to entice, to activate, to make a difference.
What if one day we are covered in only a materiality like smoke? A shape-shifting material? Or having a system react to intruders who step into our personal space? These little stories spin my mind. Humans react more and more rationally and less and less intuitively. I would like to grasp back to this intuitive notion by creating systems around the body that encourage communication and expression, by whatever means — big or small.
Wipprecht collaboratively created Fergie’s outfit for Super Bowl 2011.
8. What do you think is the future of fashiontech?
Fashion finally gets a BRAIN.
9. Can you tell us about the two pieces you’ll be unveiling at Maker Faire?
I will give a 30-minute talk revealing much of my process to the maker community, and I’ll be part of the ArcAttack show in which we will electrify a new design of mine with two giant tesla coils — a dress that I created during my AutoDesk artist residency at Pier 9.
Last year was a record year for Maker Faire events and attendance — with 530,000 attendees visiting 100 faires around the globe — and we’re now less than a week away from the premier maker event in the UK, Maker Faire UK, which will be held at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle-upon-Tyne this weekend.
The car crushing Robohand.
The first Maker Faire UK took place in March 2009, and was held under canvas in Times Square in Newcastle. Although there were just 30 makers exhibiting, they drew a respectable crowd of 3,000 spectators during the day. Last year’s faire was a much larger affair, with ten times as many makers — almost 300 — drawing a crowd of 10,000 people.
This year’s faire will be the fifth Maker Faire to be held in Newcastle and it’s expected to be larger than ever, featuring 350 makers and a crowd at least as large as last year.
This year the faire will feature the giant car-crushing Robohand — whose creators brought it over from Amsterdam just for the faire — while the eerie Spacedog and the percussionists Spark! will entertain on the music stage. A pedal powered cinema will roll its way around, and there will also be a giant robot made out of 33 pink rubbish bins, a fire breathing dragon, and a robot wars arena. So book your tickets now.
Next year, Maker Faire UK and the smaller Mini Maker Faires scattered around the country — including Edinburgh, Brighton, Manchester and London — will be joined by a full scale faire: Our third flagship event will join the Bay Area and New York Maker Faires as one of our largest, and will be held in East London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at the Here East complex.
Growing up in the Danish countryside, in the wild west of Jutland, I had no idea that I’d end up pursuing a calling in robotics engineering and development at Lego. I currently work with Lego Mindstorms, a programmable robotics construction kit that enables kids of all ages to make their own robots out of Lego.
Lasse Lauesen at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013, holding the Lego Mindstorms DINOR3X that he designed. (Photo by Gregory Hayes)
I really love my job, so I wish that I could tell you all about it. However, working in the domain of highly classified development hinders me from doing so. One thing I can tell you is about my journey up to this point, my maker story, which happens to involve quite a bit of Lego building.
Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been addicted to creating stuff. My father was a mechanic and my mother a florist, so I grew up with a large amount of creativity and craftsmanship. During most of my childhood we were renovating our house, and I was always there to give a helping hand, which is probably where I got my passion for building. I was introduced to Lego Duplo at an early age and quickly started creating high towers and houses.
Lasse as a child, next to one of his Duplo towers.
I moved on to the Lego City sets, where you could make much more detailed models. I would follow the instructions for a model once just after I got them, but they would quickly be destroyed and turned into something else in combination with my other Lego toys. Even though I really enjoyed my Lego City sets, there was a need for something more, and that need was satisfied with the Lego Technic sets — the axles, the gears, the pneumatics, and last but not least, the motors. I was now able to make my Lego creations move, which opened a whole new world to me. With these sets I was able to replicate many of the farming machines that I was surrounded with.
Now, my childhood wasn’t all about Lego, growing up, I also enjoyed spending time outside. You could say that Lego was my evening and rainy day activity, so thank God Denmark is a very rainy country. But when I was outside, I was playing in the woods and fields that surrounded our house. I enjoyed building cabins in the treetops with Tarzan tracks between them. My mom has this story she likes to tell people, which describes me pretty well. I once came running into the kitchen and asked her how far up in the trees I was allowed to climb. She gave me a response that the has regretted so many times, she told me that I was allowed to climb upwards as long as I was sure that I could climb back down. The next thing she saw was me hanging on to the very thin branches at the top of a tree where normally only birds would be found.
Lasse’s cabin in the trees
I Discover Lego Technic
In 1997 something very special happened with Lego that blew my mind: they launched one of their first programmable Lego Technic sets. Most of you might think that I’m talking about the Mindstorms series, but no. I’m talking about a set called the Code-Pilot. This set contained a programmable brick that could be programmed using an integrated barcode scanner. Along with the set came a big cardboard card with the barcodes that represented instructions that would be executed in the order they where scanned. This was truly amazing to me; I was now able to combine my Lego Technic bricks and motors with a programmable brick and sensors to make my Lego creations come to LIFE!
The Code-Pilot set
This set introduced a new concept to me, something called programming. All the play that I had with this set is really what shaped my passion for automation and robots. It created a hunger in me for technology, that just grew bigger and bigger. For some reason, I didn’t discover the Mindstorms series at that point, so instead I moved into the computers and left Lego behind.
Welding, Coding, and Mindstorms
I started welding and went crazy in our garage. I created stuff like horse wagons, trebuchets, and go-carts. I had also spent some of the rainy Denmark days teaching myself how to program websites with HTML, PHP, and MySQL. Back then websites were one of the easiest ways for people to learn about programming by themselves. Although I was able to weld, do electric circuits, and program websites, there was still something missing. In my eyes I had been creating cooler stuff with my Lego set in the garage.
There was more I needed to learn, so I signed up for a technical high school in Denmark. During that first year I was introduced to the Mindstorms RCX for the first time. This incredible toy brought back my love for Lego. I found a friend at the school that had the same passion for programmable Lego, and together we spent some of our weekends creating Lego robots and machines. With the RCX I was introduced to embedded programming using the C language, and I moved on to programming microcontrollers and creating my own PCBs during my studies.
I Study Industrial Automation and Computer Engineering
After high school I was sure that I wanted some work experience before I started studying engineering, so I enrolled in a four year Automation Technician program, working in industrial automation with machines and robots. The program gave me a lot of experience of designing control systems for industrial machines and robots. I traveled Europe setting up and configuring production lines, and I received two awards for my efforts during this study. This was very exciting, but I always felt that I was lacking the full understanding of what exactly was going on through the whole system.
Therefore I started studying Computer Engineering at the University of Aalborg in northern Denmark. This gave me deeper insights into computer systems, and I now had knowledge in all layers of automated systems. I’ve always found the best way for me to understand the theories and methods is to play with them and experiment, as I’ve never been good at reading thick theory books. Using Lego Mindstorms, that was exactly what I did. It helped me to play with a lot of the theories that I was being taught at the university.
Lego Notices Us
I was lucky enough that my Lego friend from back in high school also studied at Aalborg university, so we reunited and started creating amazing stuff with the Lego Mindstorms. We kept making robots and machines with Lego, and our creations started to catch the attention of some Lego employees.
In 2010, Lego reached out to us and asked if we wanted to create a model that we could show for Lego World in Copenhagen. We created a booth that included 8 Mindstorms robots out of our own Lego collection, and went without knowing what we had signed up for. Our booth was a model of a cargo terminal, where we had an automated conveyor belt and two autonomous cargo trucks. The booth also contained two Mindstorms forklifts, each of which was controllable by a joystick made out of Lego Mindstorms. This was a huge success at Lego world, and Lego quickly asked us for a list of parts we would need to make a copy of it.
Then they invited us to show off the cargo terminal at the Lego World event in Holland. This event opened our eyes to a whole new world, a world with others like ourselves, who had a passion for robotics and used Lego to bring their ideas to life. We both got included in a group called MCP (Mindstorms Community Partner), which is a group of selected adult Mindstorms users that discuss the product and its future with developers at Lego. Through this program, we also got the chance to be supported by Lego on our projects, so if we had a good idea, we could ask Lego for the pieces we needed and they would then send us everything, if they found the idea interesting. We felt like Charlie at the chocolate factory, as we now had a chance to realize some of the projects that we had always wanted to do. We also got informed about Lego’s plans to launch the third generation, now known as the EV3. In the closed forum we got access to pictures and videos of early prototypes and we were discussing different aspects of the product during the development. This was very exciting time for me, it made me feel very special to be a part of a select few that knew about the project.
Dynaway Asks for Our Help
But Lego wasn’t the only one who had noticed what my friend and I were doing with our spare time. We were approached by a company called Dynaway, that makes specialized software to help control large manufacturing facilities. They had a hard time demoing their software at exhibitions, because it needed to integrate to a factory to show its full potential. This became a part-time job for my friend and I while we were studying at the university. We created Lego models of two different production plants, each one by one meter with four and eight Mindstorms NXT bricks. We created a server that helped Dynaway’s software talk to the Lego factories as if they were real factories. This is still to date the biggest Lego project I’ve ever taken part in, and also the most complex. This required a lot of design, both physical and digital, and we would not be traveling with it when it was to be shown to the public. Therefore we needed to make sure that both the models and the software were very stable and easy to restart. Here my experience in industrial automation really paid off.
Traveling the World with Lego
In this period of my life, the Lego sponsorship took my friend and me around the world with other enthusiasts to showcase our creations and inspire others. Among our destinations were the World Robotic Olympiad in Abu Dhabi (2011), Kuala Lumpur (2012) and Jakarta (2013); and the yearly FIRST championships in St. Louis, Mo. At these events we would mostly bring some of our bigger creation like the Lego Mindstorms Blimps. Those are flying Lego models that use helium balloons as the main source of lift and have propellers that enable control of lift, propulsion, and steering.
My Lego Internship
When we were at the event in Abu Dhabi, Lego called us in for a meeting with all the Mindstorms enthusiasts that they had sponsored to go there, and announced that they were looking for 12 people that would become the Lego Mindstorms Expert Panel. This would be a group that worked closely with Lego on the development of Mindstorms EV3 product. I got included in this select group, and started collaborating with Lego on the future generation of Mindstorms. Through this close collaboration with Lego, I was also able to get a Lego internship.
I had my first day in at the Lego headquarters in Billund on the 11th of April 2012, where my task was to investigate how to integrate the new Mindstorms product with smartphones. I really can’t describe the feeling I had that day when I sat down at my own desk inside Lego headquarters, knowing that I was going to be a big part of the team that created a new version of the product that had helped me throughout my whole life up to this point. Even better, it turned out that my manager was one of the creators of the Lego set that kickstarted my interest in robots, the 8479 that I mentioned earlier. During my internship, I created a lot of different prototype apps, two of which are what came to be the official Lego Mindstorms Robot Commander app.
Designing the DINOR3X
Even though I was working full time at Lego during my internship, I was still a part of the expert panel of fans that also got different tasks. One of the big tasks that we were asked to work on was to create bonus models. This would be models created by fans but posted on the official Lego website and promoted by Lego as extra models that could be built with the new Mindstorms EV3 set. I had, as I bet most who have played with Lego, always dreamt of being a Lego designer, so being asked to do a model for Lego was like a dream come true. When I had to decide what the model should be, I was very determined to create a walking four-legged robot. And I even had a specific walking mechanism that I really wanted to implement using Lego: Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest.” This mechanism has always fascinated me, as it has such a lifelike movement to it. The biggest challenge was to build this mechanism using the limited parts that came with the set, but after a lot of trial and error, I managed to make it work. With this mechanism I created the DINOR3X bonus model.
My internship eventually ended and I had to go back to the university for my final exams, but I got a part time job at Lego so that I could continue the work I had started there during my internship.
When I got my degree, I was hired as a full-time employee. My work in computer engineering on Lego Mindstorms involves working with our existing product, the Mindstorms EV3, but also peeking into the crystal ball, thinking about creating the toys and tools, that will inspire the innovators of tomorrow. Still very much feeling like a kid myself, I wish I could tell you more about that last bit, but as I said … I’d lose my job if I did that. And that is something I really don’t want to! See, getting to play with Lego and robots at work feels pretty goddam cool…
DIY satellite builders have been at it since 1961. Left: AMSAT’s amateur-built OSCAR-1 satellite, in orbit since the Kennedy Administration. Right: CubeSats being deployed from the International Space Station, 2012.
It’s been four years since MAKE Volume 24, the first “DIY Space Issue” went to press, when in 2010 we first presented readers with a glimpse of the start of a new “Maker” era of space satellite development. This new era was being driven by the invention of smaller and smaller “CubeSats” and the realization that compact, high-powered computers and sensors such as those found in smartphones were providing incredible new opportunities for the development of satellites.
It is now 2014, and the space satellite is still firmly in the hands of the maker community. During these four years, satellites made of smartphone parts and even Arduinos have flown and burned up on fiery reentry to earth. New companies now exist to accept makers’ payloads and launch them into space. Today, multiple fleets of satellites stand ready to be deployed in constellations never before dreamed of being possible, much less affordable.
Even with the advent of inexpensive technology ‘repurposed’ for satellite development, space exploration is still hard and it is still expensive. Some DIY satellite developers have been able to leverage crowdfunding platforms to help overcome the financial barriers to entry, a fact that has not gone by unnoticed by the venture capital community seeking to turn these makers’ projects into the next big profitable investments.
But Makers crowdfunding satellites actually isn’t a new phenomenon. Dennis Wingo, guest speaker at the 2010 Maker Faire Bay Area and mentor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville Space Club, points out that his students built and flew SEDSAT-OSCAR-33 in 1998 and used the Internet before the existence of the World Wide Web to collaborate and raise funds. He noted that
“the very first non-government satellite was built by volunteers using what we today would call crowdfunding and distributed engineering. The history of innovation in crowdfunding and distributed engineering began over a half century ago here in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.”
Dennis points me to a 1962 article by United Press International that highlighted the success of the first crowdfunded, crowdsourced satellite ever launched, OSCAR-1:
Association Chairman Mirabeau C. Towns Jr., a rocket engineer from Saratoga, Calif., witnessed the launching at Vandenberg. He said the satellite was designed and built by San Francisco Bay area radio amateurs, most of them associated with electronics firms.
“The idea was conceived a little more than a year ago,” Towns said. “Getting government approval proved to be pretty simple.”
A volunteer effort was needed to absorb the cost of the transmitter, estimated at about $18,000. Pieces of equipment were donated by amateur radio operators from throughout the country.
Adjusted for inflation, $18,000 in 1962 dollars would cost $136,811.77 in 2013; dollar amounts well within reach of even modest Kickstarters today.
We must recognize however that satellites are but the most recent expressions of makers’ explorations of outer space. My friend, Dr. Alex MacDonald duly observed that “for hundreds of years prior to the Space Age, we explored space through the telescopes.” He continues to point out that:
… even before the mid-twentieth century, space exploration projects of comparative relative magnitude to small-to-mid-sized robotic spacecraft were relatively common. [For] most of its history, space exploration in America has been principally funded by private sources. The re-emergence of this trend, in both astronomy and space exploration more generally, may be robust and long-lasting.
It is with that said that we can point to a great irony that NASA is returning to humanity’s space exploration roots as a means to try to save it from the destruction of unseen asteroids. The Agency is leveraging its tradition of inspiring and facilitating makers through its newest sets of challenges to build robotic telescopes to hunt asteroids and optimize code to find asteroids in existing space imagery.
DIY Space is yet another example among many in the Maker Movement where old ideas are made new thanks to wider access to lower-cost technologies. Over the course of the next few days, in celebration of the space geek’s favorite holiday, Yuri’s Night, we’ll not only highlight some of the Maker Movement’s forays into space, but also future opportunities for you to explore space yourself.