Thursday, May 27, 2010

Maker Faire, part 1

I'm still behind getting my pictures sorted and writing up the trip to the Maker Faire last weekend.  There's a lot to talk about.  I'm really inspired by a lot of the creative projects we saw.  But until I get to all of that, Jonathan Burton, one of our local members, has a bunch of great pictures up on his blog:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Headed to Maker Faire tomorrow

Three years ago, I went to my first Maker Faire.  If you haven't seen Make magazine, you're missing out.  These are definitely my people.  And the Maker Faire in San Francisco is a huge gathering of think for yourself, do it yourself, hack it, re-adapt it, figure it out and do something cool and unexpected with it people.  It's sort of like Burning Man without the extreme heat, dust, and camping.

So on my first visit, Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, gave a talk and slide show about prop building.  And I was totally inspired.  I already idolized the guy, and after he showed his years long quest to build a perfect Maltese Falcon, an Indiana Jones whip, and the badass gun from The Fifth Element, it opened new doors for me.  I had been craving for a project, and his example gave me the courage to tackle it.

Shortly after that, I put two and two together and started thinking about R2D2.  I must have seen the R2 builders there that trip, and I had seen Michael McMaster's R2 at the California State Fair a few years before that.  I've always had a serious robot fetish, and a huge sci fi (esp. Star Wars) fan, so taking on the R2 project was a natural fit.   I started my R2 in earnest shortly after that, and finished him a little over a year later.  But I wasn't done in time to take him to the Maker Faire last year.  So this year, I'm going to be on the other side of the table with a fully functioning droid.  I'm psyched.  Chris James took the lead on this one and got us all set up, so it should be a great two days for the Bay Area R2 Builders.  I'll post a full report when I get back, or maybe even during.  If you're there, stop by and see us in the Fiesta Hall.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

R2D2 Dolly

A while back I had a brainstorm when I was thinking about how to haul R2 around on his back in my SUV.  So I quickly threw together a cart that fits him custom and that carries his weight without damage when he's on his back.  I've made a few improvements on it and a number of builders have been lusting after it.  So here's some video to give you an idea of what I did.  Eventually I'll try to get some real dimensions up, but chances are, if you're tackling this, you're good enough with wood tools to be able to figure this out from the video.  I'll probably do a small run of these too, but I'm busy getting ready for the Maker Faire this week.

The other huge advantage to having this cart around is how easily I can flip him on his back and work on the drive system.  That would be impossible without the cart.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

RoboGames 2010

Chris James and I met up with our R2s at the RoboGames in San Mateo this year.  People show up from all over with battle bots, soccer bots, walking robots, and all manner of other robots.  After watching this amateur movement for a decade or so--I went to one of the first Robot Wars that would become Battle Bots in San Francisco in 1996--I am just amazed at the level of sophistication and technology that is available for amateur projects.  The sort of robot that would have taken a whole research team, millions of dollars, and advanced corporate sponsorship 20 years ago is being built by hobbyists in their garages now.  I was really psyched to not just be a spectator this year, but to have my own robot to put on display.  And predictably, the R2s were a huge hit.  Chris, my son Max, and I got to hang out, relax, talk, and just drive the R2s around and draw huge crowds of fans.  Lots of fun.  Here's a couple of pictures.  Thanks Chris for sharing these.

This little girl, Maggie, was thrilled to meet R2D2.  Most little kids her age (3 or so) have some trepidation, but she kept pulling her mother back again and again.  And when I gave her one of my sound remotes, she was completely thrilled.  

My sound system was glitchy on this outing.  The Think Geek circuit board works, but it's obviously really  cheaply built and it tends to go on and off without provocation.  And it's much too soft for this big venue.  The hall here is the same one that the R2 Builders will be in for the Maker Faire in a couple of weeks.  And the sound of R2 just gets swallowed up.  I tried running the signal through my little 15 watt amplifier again, but it's very noisy and makes the circuit board shut down for some mysterious reason.  So even though the Think Geek system has been working fairly well, and it was pretty easy to install, I'm thinking about upgrading to the more expensive CF III sound unit.  Those are more weight, and some more money.  But Chris has written some good code for his that gives him a lot of control and versatility with his remotes.  I've got that issue and some other electrical stuff to maybe work on before Maker Faire.  I need to update here soon about my radio transition too and share the details.  The short story is that the Futaba 6 channel is working out better than the Vex for several reasons, but a few glitches persist.  Details soon.