Bay Area Maker Events this Week

This is a fantastically busy week in the bay area for makers and hardware folk.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Hardware Innovation Workshop will be held at San Mateo College. Windell will be speaking on Wednesday afternoon; check out the agenda to see the full lineup of presenters.

On Thursday, we’ll be participating in Maker Faire Education Day with Super Awesome Sylvia and the WaterColorBot. If you’re a bay area teacher, you and your class should be there! If you’re a bay area student, make sure your teacher knows about this!

See us at Maker Faire!

On Saturday and Sunday, the Bay Area Maker Faire is in full swing at the San Mateo County Event Center. We’ll be there with Super Awesome Sylvia and the WaterColorBot. Windell and I also mentor FIRST Robotics team 3501 from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, and they will be there with their robot, Oddjob. I will be participating in the Parenting Young Makers panel on the Make: Education Stage at 2:00 pm on Sunday as well. The full Maker Faire schedule has been posted, and advance tickets are still available. If you’re planning on driving, check out the list of free parking lots with shuttles or in walking distance. 110,000 attendees were there last year— not a small party!

To spread the celebration a little further, we’re holding a DIY Fever sale in our shop now through Monday.

White House Science Fair Roundup

President Obama tries out the WaterColorBot. Photo credit: State Observer

 We’ve gotten to see Super-Awesome Sylvia and her WaterColorBot in a variety of news sources following her journey to the White House Science Fair on Monday:

Congratulations to Sylvia on her participation in this fantastic event! We’ll add to this list as we find more articles and links.

Robotics Week and Upcoming Events

We are right in the middle of National Robotics Week, which runs April 6-14 and starts a string of events all over the country for makers of all kinds. We’ve listed a few upcoming highlights below:

You can look for events in your area on the National Robotics Week Events site and the Maker Faire Map site—feel free to add your favorites in the comments. We’ll be exhibiting at RoboGames and helping Super Awesome Sylvia show off the Watercolorbot at Maker Faire. We hope to see you there!

The Exploratorium on the Bay

Exploratorium Banners on the Embarcadero

We have been visiting the Exploratorium in San Francisco again and again since we were teenagers in the early ’90s.  And with good cause: The Exploratorium is an unparalleled museum of hands-on science, art, perception, and exploration.  It’s not a children’s museum (although it is an amazing place to take children), nor is it a place where you admire giant fossilized skeletons, nor one of those museums that always seems to have a traveling exhibit with a name like “The Science of Jersey Shore.”

Instead, it’s a place full of simple, often-amazing yet not-too-flashy exhibits that (for the most part) you play with to learn about various phenomena.  For example, at the Floating in Copper exhibit, you can get a feel for the un-earthly effects that strong magnets have in the presence of a large block of nonmagnetic, highly-conductive material.  It’s one thing to read about eddy currents in an article; it’s quite another to release a chunk of metal in mid-air, only to find that it floats down to rest, more gently than a dandelion seed.  You may have seen this exact exhibit at other museums (here, for example)— and if so, that’s quite likely because the Exploratorium makes many copies of its exhibits for other museums and publishes plans for others to make their own.

Since moving to the Bay Area in 2005 and starting the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories blog, we’ve also been honored to present some of our own projects at Exploratorium events over the past few years, including the CandyFab, a Bristlebot workshop at the first Young Makers event, and some of our clock projects at the Open Make event on the theme of “Time.”

Palace of Fine Arts

Exterior of the Exploratorium, at the Palace of Fine Arts (2010).
Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid under CC BY-NC-ND license.

Reconsidered Materials

Interior of the Exploratorium, at the Palace of Fine Arts (2006).
Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid under CC BY-NC license

The Exploratorium has, since its founding in 1969, been located in the exhibit hall of the the Palace of Fine Arts— a huge arc of a building left over from the 1915 Worlds Fair, located in the Marina district of San Francisco, as pictured above. As the name implies, the building was designed to be a museum and was a remarkably suitable home for the Exploratorium. However, a few years ago, it came out in the news that they would be moving out of the Palace of Fine Arts, and into a space on one of the San Francisco Piers.  Of course, our hearts sank at hearing this, as we could not imagine any more perfect place for the Exploratorium. Nor could we imagine that they could possibly find a place as large and welcoming anywhere else in San Francisco. We were also worried about parking, as the Palace of Fine Arts was blessed with its own parking lots, a rarity in San Francisco.

We were wrong.

Pair of Vintage Street cars in front of the Exploratorium

Amazing space and lighting on the bay
On Saturday, we went to a member preview at their new location at Pier 15, which will be opening on April 17. We took a number of pictures as we explored, and in addition to sharing some of the highlights here, we have put up a flickr set from our visit.

The new location at Piers 15 and 17 on the San Francisco Embarcadero is right between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, in the shadow of the Bay Bridge.   A huge advantage of the new location is that it is much easier to get to by public transport than the Palace of Fine Arts was. There’s a MUNI train stop, and it’s just a few blocks from BART and the other public transportation that already comes to the Ferry Building.

There are also plenty of nearby parking garages and lots. We had no problem finding an inexpensive lot to park in for the day, and now taking the train is an option for us.

Looking down on plants and water exhibits

And it turned out beautifully. Here at the end of the pier, there are a number of new exhibits, many about biology and the bay.

Hall by the bio labs

The new location is much bigger: there is three times as much space. This view is looking down one of the corridors, from the location pictured previously. The museum is packed with exhibits as far as the eye can see.

So many exhibits!

All of the spaces are well designed, and extremely good looking, taking advantage of the abundant natural light.

Open areas between exhibits

There are many large open areas, as well as cozy corners and nooks. The Tactile Dome is being rebuilt on a larger scale (in a space with a higher ceiling than this) and will be opening this summer.

Carnivorous plants

Activity in the new bio labs is visible through large windows. In neighboring spaces, we saw them growing continuous replacement plants for the touchable plant exhibits and various organisms for people to look at under the microscopes.

 

The workshop at the Exploratorium

The new location has the same spirit, and despite our expectations, still feels like the Exploratorium. The workshop is just as prominent as before, and still out in the open so that visitors can see new exhibits in progress and old ones being repaired.

Playing with electricity

Our old favorites on electricity and magnetism (like Daisy Dyno) felt right at home, and were as popular as ever.

Generations exploring together

The acoustics are much more friendly, making conversations and discussions much more enjoyable.

Tidal exhibit

The one new building on the pier is the Bay Observatory, which has stunning views as well as brand new exhibits on bay topics such as geology, geography and tides. Above is a 3D tide table with the tides for each day represented by a the shape of each piece of plastic marked with the time and lunar information.

View of the city

Since this was an early preview, many exhibits are still in progress or yet to be installed. This outdoor space between Piers 15 and 17 will be opening soon and the museum plans to eventually develop additional space on Pier 17.

Bay Bridge

Congratulations to the Exploratorium on such a successful move and wonderful new home!

The museum will be opening to the public on April 17, and tickets will be available online soon. There are additional member previews coming up on April 6 and 9 as well— check the calendar for details and other upcoming events.

Field trip: 2013 Central Valley FRC Regional

Fremont in the pit

We spent this past weekend in Madera, California at the 2013 Central Valley FRC Regional, a FIRST robotics competition. We went with Firebird Robotics Team 3501 from Fremont High School, who we are mentoring and sponsoring.

840 frisbee in the air

The challenge of this year’s game, entitled Ultimate Ascent was to build a robot that could compete to score points on a team with two other robots by shooting frisbees into goals and climbing a pyramid structure while defending against an opposing alliance of three robots.

James Bond with Oddjob

The Firebirds named their frisbee shooting robot “Oddjob” after the James Bond villain who throws his bowler hat with lethal results. One of the green-shirted safety advisors at the event was coincidentally named James Bond, and he was a good enough sport to allow us to take his picture with Oddjob.

840 decapitation warning

We ran into a robot from team 840 sponsored by our friends at Skallops which had a wonderfully appropriate warning sticker on the frisbee shooter reading “DANGER: DECAPITATION HAZARD.”

Mascot Group Photo

We’re relatively new to the world of FIRST, which can be almost cult-like, with participants identifying themselves by team number like a code word or secret handshake. A smaller number means a team that was established earlier. Over the last 20 or so years, the organization has managed to channel the enthusiasm of teenagers which is normally directed toward athletes and celebrities instead toward engineering, programming, and building. The teams are fiercely spirited, bringing their mascots and supporters to cheer them on at competitions.  It is truly incredible to see this much energy directed towards a science and engineering event.

3495 Mindcraft sign

Robots are awarded more points for goals scored during autonomous play, and the highly competitive field is steered toward collaboration and mutual assistance by the alliance aspect. The teams work hard to make sure that their robot will be an asset to any alliance in the hopes that even if they don’t rank highly enough in qualification rounds to be a team captain themselves, they’ll be chosen by one of the alliance captains and advance to the finals. They actively share tools and materials with the other teams, as any of the other robots could be on their alliance during a given match. Parts request announcements in the pits are filled almost as soon as they are announced, although when we heard “Team #### needs an FTL drive” over the PA, we could only laugh.

One of the more visible ways we were able to share was with our yellow gaffers tape, which team 3495 used to make their engraved sign stand out with their team color. We were the beneficiaries of parts, too, with another team generously sharing a metal shaft when one of ours bent during a match.

mascot working in the pit

The teams are typically student driven, with mentors playing an advisory role, supporting the students as they work through problems of design, mechanics, building, programming, and team dynamics. The students work incredibly hard to design and build the robot during just six weeks allowed as the “build season,” and then during the competitions fine-tune, fix, and improve their machine. Even the mascot works just as hard on the robot as everyone else.

3501, 3970, 2643

Through a combination of determination, hard work and luck, our team came out of the qualifying rounds with the top ranking, and then made it all the way to the final game of the elimination rounds, with their ally teams 3970 and 2643. However, our friends from team 840, along with allies 295 and 1678 bested us to win the finals, 2 matches to 1, earning a spot at the championships.

Besides strict competition, there are additional awards and honors are given at these events to recognize technical ingenuity, good design and spirit. Our team received the Judges award, which was summed up rather accurately by one team member as being the award for “general awesomeness.” Congratulations to all of the participating teams, every one of which pulled off building a robot that could play an incredibly challenging game! Our team is headed next to the Silicon Valley Regional event April 4-6, but there are events every week all over the world leading up to the championships April 24-27 in St. Louis. All events are free and open to the public, so get out and cheer on your local robots!

If you have a chance, find a way to mentor, sponsor, or otherwise volunteer to help out your local robot team or competition.  FIRST, and its several associated programs directed at younger students, are some of the best ways that we have to inspire youngsters to pursue careers in science and engineering.  And that’s something that benefits us all.

ComBots Cup VII

This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, October 20-21, 2-7 pm is ComBots Cup VII at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. ComBots is the heavyweight championship for combat robotics and is one of the loudest, most entertaining robotics competitions there is.

Teams from all over the US, Canada and Brazil will be coming to California to fight for The ComBots Cup – the annual international robot combat championship now in its seventh year. The ComBots Cup is to fighting robots what the World Series is to baseball. The two-day event features robots weighing up to 220 pounds fighting to be crowned the world heavyweight champion.

To get a taste of it, check out the video above, which is one in a series from earlier events. You can get your tickets online now. We’ll hope to see you there!

Field Trip: Bell Labs Technology Showcase

Bell Labs

Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey is one of the sites that should be on every geek pilgrimage itinerary.

Bell Labs 004

Their Technology Showcase is a enshrined in a small exhibit area off of the main lobby. In the center of the exhibit, on a pedestal of its very own, is the first transistor. It looks like a very small piece of mixed media abstract sculpture, with geometric forms and wires bent in wonderful angles. If that were the only thing to see, it would still be worth the visit.

Bell Labs 003

Nearby, the first MOSFET sits in an impressive array of other firsts, including an early CCD and a micro-mirror array.

Telstar at Bell Labs

Telstar, the world’s first active communications satellite hangs overhead. This one is a flight backup unit that was never used.

Glass for fiberoptics

These fiberoptic preforms were placed under a polarizer so that the optical qualities of the cores would be more apparent to visitors.

There are many more beautiful objects, as well as interactive wall for exploring many world-changing developments that happened at and through Bell Labs.

Huge thanks go to Drew Fustini of Pumping Station: One for organizing our post-Maker Faire pilgrimage via twitter and driving us all up to New Jersey.

Open Hardware Summit and Maker Faire New York

Open Hardware Summit Logo

We’re very excited to be heading to New York for the sold-out Open Hardware Summit next week. There is another fantastic lineup of speakers this year, and it will be good to have the opportunity to catch up with the community after an eventful year for open source hardware.

See me at Maker Faire!After that, we’ll be going to Maker Faire New York, where you can find us demoing our kits in the Maker Shed.

We’ll be on the Make Demo Stage with the Egg-Bot on Saturday at 2:30 and Sunday at 3:00.

We hope to see you there!

Photos from the Shuttle Flyby

The crowd at NASA Ames waiting for Endeavour

This morning, we were on hand to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour make a low pass overhead, atop its Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, at NASA Ames Research Center.

As you can see in the panorama above (or at least, as you can see if you zoom in), we were deep in the crowd, out on the tarmac of Moffett Field, surrounded by the tower, Hangar One— presently stripped of its wooden exterior —and far off on the right, the two other blimp hangars.

Shuttle 009

The event organizers apparently hadn’t thought to announce it when the shuttle was getting close, and with the hangars, buildings, and crowd, we couldn’t scan the horizon either.  However, we figured out one way of telling when the shuttle was getting close: When the folks in the control tower started pointing and taking pictures.

The next thing that we saw was a pair of fighter jet escorts. And then, the main attraction:

Shuttle 008Shuttle 007

And what a view!

This modified 747 NASA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (there are two) has tail number N905NA.  It’s been doing this for a long while— here is a photo from 1978 —but this is one of its final missions.

Shuttle 004

From here, after 25 missions into space, Endeavour moves onto retirement at the California Science Center in LA; perhaps we’ll see it again someday. But, alas, never airborne.

Shuttle Endeavour Bay Area Fly-By

STS-126 Endeavour atop carrier aircraft

The Space Shuttle Endeavour will be passing through the Bay Area on Friday morning, September 21, and the NASA Ames Research Center has invited the public to come watch.

The shuttle is on its way to its new home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it will be on display starting in October. It is passing over Mountain View on the way as a tribute to the work that was done there on the shuttle systems, including wind tunnel testing and thermal protection systems design and testing. NASA staff will be manning booths to share information about their contributions to the space shuttle program.

Event details are available on the NASA Ames website. All of the available parking passes have already been given out, so taking public transportation is encouraged. Hearing protection is recommended, as the 747 will be flying at 1,500 feet above the viewing area. We’ll hope to see you (and the space shuttle) there!