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Since the semester wrapped up at UWM and left me with a summer of no work or classes, I thought it best to get a job and return to the “normal” world of work. (I know, supposedly academics take summers off and don’t do anything. Kidding!)

I’ve accepted a position as “Technology Project Manager” at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. I’ll be working on developing a number of exhibits as well as a few other things, not the least of which is helping plan Maker Faire Milwaukee coming up on September 26th & 27th, 2015. This is pretty darn exciting for me. I attended my first Maker Faire just a few years ago and now I’m helping organize the largest Free Featured Maker Faire in the world. I’m passionate about people showing off the amazing things they create, so helping make that possible is pretty amazing. (Also, I’m now dealing with some of the folks I’ve known for years at Make in a day-to-day capacity. Neat!)

MakeShift MKE

I’m also helping out with things like MakeShift MKE, which is an adults-only event we have at the museum once a month which involves things like fire, drinking, making, and hacking. This takes place in BAM Space the “Be A Maker” Space within the museum. (Web site coming soon!) It’s basically a mini-makerspace that does programming for kids, but also caters to adults and families. It’s still in development, but it’s going to be awesome.

Oh, and because I never finished the multiple posts I started writing, this all came about due to some work I did with the museum last fall to develop a part of their Word Headquarters exhibit. At some point I will post more about that. I promise. Also, I’m working with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and doing all sorts of prototyping, at work, and they pay me. I think. (I’ll find out next week. Kidding again!)

Basically, it’s gonna be a great summer!

Laser Maze - Photo by Eric Schneeweis

You may remember the Laser Maze from Milwaukee MakerFest in 2013, or maybe you experienced it at Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2014. Well, it’s coming back! Somehow I volunteered to design & build the hardware for Laser Maze 2015!

Laser Pointers

Step 1: Acquire lasers.

I’ve got a big pile of laser pointers, so far so good. Now, I should mention I didn’t do the set-up in previous years, and I don’t have much to work from, so I’ll be making a bunch of decisions, and if they are terrible, let me know.

In the coming weeks I’ll be designing a 3D printed mount for the laser pointers. It will hold the front half, so we can unscrew the back half to change batteries without removing the laser from its position. There is a zip tie on the laser that slides and rotates into place to hold the button down. (A simple design, we’re going for simple on this whole thing.)

Scoreboard

The scoreboard is an Adafruit 1.2″ 4-Digit 7-Segment Display. I’ll probably use a Teensy 3.1 as the controller, and there will be a big green start button and a big red stop button. You press start at one end of the maze and the counter begins… and when you get to the end you press stop and you know your time from the scoreboard.

Oh, and the laser pointers… they bounce off some mirrors and hit solar panels connected to the Teensy. When you break the beam the voltage from the panel drops (which is recognized on the Teensy) and you get penalized. We’ll add time to your total as well. So if you’re 10 seconds into it and break a beam, the timer will suddenly display 20 seconds instead of 10 (or whatever, we’ll figure out the math later.)

There should also be a buzzer of some kind, for the start, stop, and breaking of the beam. I’m just using a piezo for prototyping, but we’ll make sure we have something LOUD for the event.

There are some notes about everything on the laser maze wiki page, but I’ll keep documenting here as I go.

Here’s a video of the Turndrawble in action… Also, as an added bonus you get to hear the strains of a DC motor moving a gearbox to spin the platter. Turn it up, man!

Don’t forget to check out the blog post and the Turndrawble project page.

Turndrawble

If you’ve been following any of my adventures since I first mentioned a Turntable Drawing Machine, this is the result. The Turndrawble is a machine that uses a spinning platter and a movable arm to create drawings.

Turndrawble

Unlike many of the things I’ve been working on lately, the Turndrawble leans more towards the “art object” side of things than the “here’s all the files/you can easily make one” side of things. That isn’t meant to say you could not make one, but the prime objective was to create an aesthetically pleasing machine that was unique. (I hope I did that!)

I also wanted to build a machine I could bring to events and allow people to use in order to create drawings. Often in the past I’ve brought drawing machines places but I’ve ether operated them or they’ve operated (semi-) autonomously. The Turndrawble presents a chance for the viewer to become a participant.

Turndrawble

(I’ll be posting photos of some of the drawings soon as well. There’s also a video.)

Check out the Turndrawble project page for more info, links to files, etc. if case you want to try to build your own. (I’ve been thinking of building a much smaller and simpler version as a kit you can purchase and assemble. Stay tuned for updates on that.)

The Badger: Waterproof USB Solar Panel

For the past nine months I’ve been working with Brown Dog Gadgets on a number of projects. It’s been mostly kits for the educational market, and I’ve done a lot of design work, and a bit of electronics prototyping, as well as writing code and lending a bit of advice about marketing. The most recent project is The Badger, a waterproof USB solar charger.

You may remember that two years ago Josh launched a campaign for solar chargers and it did pretty well. Since then he’s taken feedback and requests from customers and came up with The Badger, which offers a number of improvements, mainly the waterproof qualities, but it’s also a damn tough panel! We’ve run it over with a car, dropped a bowling ball on it, and shot at it with a gun. Oh, it also sat it water for two days, and worked just fine when we pulled it out.

8watt, 12watt, 16watt solar chargers

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, if you need a solar panel for any outdoor activity, these are pretty awesome. And, if you back the project, not only will you get a great charger, you will help fund my work. Yes, that’s right. Josh and I have a few projects we’d love to launch, but they depend on this Kickstarter campaign being successful. The more successful the campaign is, the more we can produce. What will we be creating? It may be programmable drawing machines, or creative robotics projects, or some combination of those (or something else.) Whatever is it, it will inspire kids (and adults) to learn and be creative and have fun.

So yes, get yourself a panel, or a power bank, or just toss a few bucks our way, and we’ll start cranking out some interesting kits. That’s the plan. Check out the video below, or head right to the Kickstarter page.

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