Fixing on the fly at Maker Faire

Maker Faire can be a pretty demanding environment for a project. Outdoor locations expose many projects to the weather, prototypes may have been unpacked and repacked by the TSA, and curious visitors may handle projects in new and unexpected ways. Or maybe ambitions were greater than preparation time, and the project just didn’t quite get finished before the fair opened. No matter what the reason, Maker Faire is a great place to see people in action fixing, troubleshooting, and finishing their projects. Below are some beautiful projects I caught in progress at Maker Faire New York.

Pick n place

The FirePick Delta pick and place machine was a victim of the TSA, and arrived less functional than when it had been packed. The team was working on it valiantly, which also provided opportunities to get a closer look at many of the components.

Pick n place

Components not in use were repurposed for holding down business cards in the breezy aisle of 3D village.

Fixing robotic soccer

The maker of this robot arm soccer game was opening up one of the control boxes to check on a malfunctioning knob.

Robotic soccer (after repair)

He had no shortage of willing testers after the repair.

Tiny 3D printer under repair

This half-scale 3D printer assembly was at least as charming in its disassembled state as it would have been all put together. It is great to see the components along with the kinds of tools that are used to assemble and repair projects like this one.

Gertie the jumping robot

Gertie the robot had seen quite a bit of action, first at the Bay Area Maker Faire and then in New York. Her actuators were apart and in the middle of repair when we came by.

Gertie the jumping robot

This let Alonso show us the mechanism and demonstrate how the internal frame worked to lean and make Gertie jump in different directions.

Maker Faire exhibitors are generous with sharing tools and materials with each other, and visitors are treated to what are typically hidden activities. No one whisks away a broken prototype to hide it out of sight. Instead, the guts are happily spilled out for everyone to see and learn from.

Making Makers Book

AnnMarie Thomas has just released her book Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation. She interviewed many notable makers for this book, including Dean Kamen, Leah Buechley, Luz Rivas, and Nathan Seidle. I’m thrilled to be included in this group of fascinating people. It is available through Amazon for Kindle now, and paper copies are shipping September 25.

A template for BristleBot Competitions

Aesthetically Interesting

For the robotics team that we mentor (FRC team 3501), we created an “Advanced Bristlebot Competition” to serve as an off-season team building exercise. We are publishing our competition template (PDF download) here so that anyone can use it as a starting point for their own events. The goals of the competition are to provide a self-contained, resource-constrained and time-limited introduction to a robot competition environment, and to get new and continuing students working together on solving simple engineering challenges.

Arenas

The competition consists of three challenges: sprint (distance time trial), mountain climbing (same, on an inclined plane), and sumo (a two-robot competition that rewards going in circles).

Working together

The group of students is split into teams of two, trying to pair new students with team veterans.

Distributing supplies

Each team is given a set of rules and a small pile of toothbrushes, motors, and batteries.

construction supplies

Beyond this, one table is designated for tools and supplies, and has an assortment of craft supplies including things like coffee stir sticks, wires, twist-ties, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, and tape. Building tools include hot glue guns, scissors, bolt cutters (for cutting the heads off of toothbrushes), and wire strippers.

Ready for competition

After a building period, the robots are “bagged and tagged” prior to competition. For the BristleBots, this means they are placed on paper plates marked with their team number for inspection to ensure that they meet the competition requirements.

Practice match

The competition takes place in two rounds, separated by an interval of building time between them.  The extra time allows the students to redesign and implement changes based on what they learned during the first round of matches.

Vrooom...

We witnessed a couple of great moments during our event. We overheard some students watching our original BristleBot video on a phone, and when they noticed us watching them, they defended themselves, saying, “The rules don’t say we can’t!”

Go!

One of the most technically inclined students on the team, after building several prototypes and studying the performance of his BristleBots on the ramp for about 10 minutes asked, “This can’t actually be done, can it?” Minutes later, a veteran student from another team, proudly set his robot on the ramp and it whizzed up in one solid go in about 10 seconds. Later, during competition, another student watched her BristleBot zoom up the ramp in 3 seconds flat, using a variation on that successful design.

Materials & Resources

KQED on Extreme Learners

Redhead with backpack looking at San Francisco skyline

By Jane Mount/MindShift

I recently talked to Linda Flanagan from KQED‘s blog on learning, MindShift, about extreme learning and her post What Makes an ‘Extreme Learner’? went up today.

It’s the hunger for learning rather than raw intellect that distinguishes Extreme Learners from the gifted. Intensely motivated and harboring a breadth of interests, they also consider ignorance a temporary and reparable condition.

I previously posted about the extreme learning workshop at the Institute for the Future.

BAMF2014: BreadBoardManiac

BAMF 2014 23
BAMF 2014 22
Part of our continuing coverage of highlights from the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire.

Not that I’m normally one to get excited about electronic breadboards, but I’ve had to change my mind after seeing these at Maker Faire. These breadboards by BreadBoardManiac are some of the finest electronics accessories that I’ve ever seen.  Not only do they snap to Lego bricks (making one heck of a cool building set), but they are also super-thin and double-sided, so that you can insert components from both sides. They suggest that you can use that feature to make multi-layer breadboards with vertical interconnects, but perhaps that is a bit of a stretch.

BAMF 2014 24

Their handmade limited edition wooden breadboards are perhaps even cooler, and were made available as part of this kickstarter project earlier in the year. This is what I’d expect kids in school to learn electronics with, and it sure would be nice if a production version became available in the future. It looks like there’s also a flexible breadboard under development, amongst other types.  I can hardly wait to get my hands on all of these.

Cameo on CNN Explains 3D Printing

Our friend AnnMarie, who is an engineering professor, wrote to say,

I keep showing the short CNN explains 3D printing video in talks I have to give to students, and always love that you and Windell are walking through the MakerBot store in it!

We were highly amused as we had never seen the clip, which was published in 2013. The footage must have been shot just after the 2012 NY Maker Faire. Having been featured in Wired Magazine for our own 3D printer, it is perhaps appropriate that when the video cuts to us, the narrator says,

The people at the forefront of this movement, they say they want this to be as common in peoples homes as the toaster oven.

(We show up for about one second at 1:35.)

From the Mailbag: on STEAM Education

Evil Mad Scientist STEAM T-shirt
Trevor wrote in:

I’ve probably said it a million times, but I don’t think I’ve told you guys. You’re amazing. When it’s time for a new project I jump over to EMSL first. I use your projects to demonstrate a lot of STEAM principles at my Makerspace, and proudly wear my EMSL STEAM shirt every Saturday morning when I’m teaching our Makerspace Cadets class. (It’s a fun sciencey/makey/artsy class for kids). Keep up the great work. :)

Thank you for the kind words, and for your dedication to your students!