Maui Makers at TEDxMaui 2012

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading and for the past 25 years has presented a 4 day conference of amazing speakers and performers. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. To get a flavor of TED and TEDx, check out the videos of past TED and TEDxtalks.

Maui Makers at TEDxMaui

The producers of our local TEDxMaui event, Katie McMillan and Sara Tekula, graciously invited Maui Makers to show some interactive artwork and have an information/display table outside the event on Sunday January 22, 2012. This was an opportunity we could not pass up. I (Jerry Isdale) had been working on an interactive LED art piece for the Source Maui event in February (its our local burning man inspired event). That piece would be incomplete and inappropriate for the TEDxMaui venue, but a prototype would be a great talking point.

Brian Thomas with help from Cole Santos put together a great display board with pictures and text to show and explain the Makers. Ziz Seykota brought down a whole selection of tools and projects, including the solar rechargeable battery pack he created using batteries harvested from the discards at Community Work Day. Ziz uses a 12v inverter to run various AC powered devices, including his guitar & bass amplifiers. Ben Ward brought his cool multi-touch table with DJ software.Crystal Jean Baranyk brought in some of the art she made with laser cut parts. Evelyn Zayas brought in some samples of the soft circuit/sewable electronics her Kihei Charter School kids had made. Aside from the LED art piece, I brought out our Eggbot, Makerbot Cupcake CNC and a number of sample pieces from these devices and the laser cutter. A good number of makers stopped by the booth to chat and help out (like Chris Taylor in pic above). All in all it made a great display table.

We had a fair number of people come round to check things out. Many remarked that it was the first they had heard of the Maker movement and were quite interested. I expect we will have a good number of people stopping by our blog here and at our Thursday Public Meetings. If you are one of our new friends, please check out the ABOUT page, come to a meeting and read up on our google group.

A week or so ago, Katie uploaded a pic of the what I thought was the goodie bag to Facebook.  I commented it needed EL wire. I brought some with me to the event and sewed it on while listening to the speakers.

TEDxMaui gave these nylon bags to attendees. I though they needed ELwire

EL Wired TEDxMaui bag in dark

Here’s a small Flickr set of pics I have from the event:

[slickr-flickr tag=”MakersAtTEDxMaui” descriptions=”on” flickr_link=”on” sort=”title” use_key=”y” ]

A little bit more about that interactive LED piece… It used 5 meters of RGB LED tape from, controlled by a PJRC Teensy 2.0 (one of a half dozen or so sent to us gratus by PJRC for maker projects. See me if you have an idea for one.), with interactivity provided by a FreakLabs HackerMom’s FredBoard topped by an AdaFruit Proto-Screw-Shield and connected to a wind vane, an anemometer, a pair of Sharp IR Distance sensors (one short range, one longer), MaxBotix Sonar Range Finder and a lighted push button from AdaFruit. Interconnects are waterproof screw-cap 4 wire connectors from Cool Neon. The cage around it is MicroRax. I did some quick laser cutting of cardboard for the bottom, back and top, with hand trimming and hole making as needed.

I plan to write up more tech details in a future post.

The piece currently has two modes, controlled by the button. Demo mode simply cycles a rainbow pattern across the length of the tape. This comes from the AdaFruit LED Belt project. Interactive mode uses the wind vane and IR sensors. The IR pair controls the length of the tape that will light up. Two sensors are used because the long range one gives flaky results when the target is less than 25cm away. The short range one lets us compensate for this response curve. The Wind Vane (from SparkFun’s weather kit) controls the color of the lights… Colors change with the wind… or hand turning. I plan to investigate more sensors an modes of operation for the Source installation.

The use of both the solderless breadboard on Freakduino and the soldered connections on proto shield allowed me to make some quick changes during the late night development leading up to TEDxMaui showing. It also showed the fragility of solderless breadboard connections… There were some 30mph wind gusts during the day and they wrecked havoc on our and other display tables. The connections microRaxx box blew over and a couple of the wires came loose. In my haste to get it back together, I miss wired a couple and did not catch the error for a couple hours. Solderless breadboard are great for experimenting and prototypes, but for any sort of even semi-robust demo setup, you need soldered connections.

Playing with MicroRAX slotted aluminum framing

MicroRAX is a mini-slotted aluminum building/prototyping material, similar in concept to 80/20 and MakerBeam. Extruded aluminum beams are formed with an X shaped cross section and bolted together using nuts and other fasteners that fit into the slots. This sort of T-Slot is common in machine shop tools and other fixtures. It is a great way to quickly build a frame without having to custom cut and drill parts.

MicroRAX cross section 10mm x 10mm

I was putting in an order to Sparkfun and decided to add a MicroRAX Medium Kit to build some frames. Shipping on my order was already expensive (once over $100 it HAS to go UPS, which is roughly $50 to Maui), so I figured adding in the microRAX would be offset the expense. The box arrived yesterday and today I got a chance to play with it.

MicroRAX Medium Kit

MicroRAX Medium Kit from SparkFun

There isnt a lot of documentation on how to use it – none provided in the kit. MicroRAX just recently (late 2011) opened up a MicroRAX Wiki which may build up more info over time. Their YouTube channel has a few decent videos. They have an ok overview and another on how to do joint assembly – and some other treats…

Basically you join the beams together using a cover plate, a nut plate and several M3x5mm screws. The kit came with three different types of cover plates – L, Corner and Truss. There are two ways to put these together. The videosays to screw the nut plate to the joining plate and then insert into the beam….

Inserting a nut plate screwed to L-Joining Plate into a MicroRAX beam

This works ok sometimes. However I found that the nut plates can be difficult to get into the slots. Perhaps its a tolerance issue, perhaps its some flashing left over from the press cutting of the nut plates. When dealing with multiple corners, it can be REALLY hard to maneuver the assembly to get the nut plate to line up right. This is especially pronounced when dealing with something like a box. You only have so much freedom of movement and its nearly impossible to get all the plates slotted up before pushing it together.

So the alternative is to put the nut plate into the slot first and then line up and screw the joining plate onto it. Pretty easy.

Joining two rails, inserting nut plate first, then screwing together.

I decided to try building up a quick box using a few of the parts in the kit. It didnt take very long and brought back memories of playing with Erector Sets. One trick is noting the direction the L-Joining plates will go, and being sure you are putting the nut plate on to match properly. I had to flip over one to learn this. There is another video showing how to make a linear slider with just the basic parts, so I added one to the box to give it a try. Pretty easy if not elegant.

Completed box with slider

It should be fairly easy to put MDF or Acrylic sides on a box like this. It wont be water proof but it is a nice quick way to make a small frame. For larger projects I would definitely use 80/20. The MicroRAX folks recommend it for projects over 18 inches.

Here’s a flickr set from my first night building….

[slickr-flickr tag=”microRAX” descriptions=”on” flickr_link=”on” sort=”title” use_key=”y” ]