10 supercool gadgets from Maker Faire
28th May 2013 | 14:05
Crazy stuff you could be doing in future
Robots, 3D printers, Tesla coils spitting indoor lightning coils, stilt walking lessons. Solar-powered electric cars and a hovercraft made to look like a DeLorean. Leather jackets recycled from car seats.
Daleks, R2D2, exoskeletons and steampunk pedal cars racing past fire sculptures from the Burning Man festival. Mosaic-covered UFOs, cars covered in dancing lobsters, a human-scale version of the Mousetrap game and a cityscape made out of masking tape.
The line to learn to solder is longer than the line for garlic fries and you can go home with a compressed air rocket kit or a Christmas tree ornament in the shape of a caffeine module.
It's the gathering of the geeks; Maker Faire is a celebration of the open hardware making and hacking culture, California style. There are smaller Maker Faire events around the world, but the two-day event in Silicon Valley is where you can hear from the founders of Arduino, astronauts and the veterans of personal computing history, such as Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.
Here's our pick of the stranger ideas from the weekend that may or may not be the future. At Maker Faire you could:
1. Turn any car electric
Cars at Maker Faire range from the exotic - the hovercraft built to look like a DeLorean and powered by a lawnmower motor - to the experimental - CalSol is a solar-powered electric car that looks like a cross between a landspeeder and a stealth bomber. Rather more practical was the BMW converted to run on electricity, with a 100 mile range. Electric Motor Werks did the conversion, and it's also come up with two charging stations, both built with Arduino hardware. The 12kw EMW SmartCharge 12000 charges a car in three hours, and the lower-powered EMW JuiceBox will be available as a Kickstarter project.
2. Print fabric designs in the sun
If you want to put your own designs on clothing, Lumi is a new kind of fabric dye that develops in sunlight like a photograph - but unlike photographic chemicals, they're not dangerous to have around, and unlike silkscreen printing you don't need to cut out a stencil. You spread the dye - which comes in several colours - onto the fabric then put a negative of your design on top and leave it in bright light for 30 minutes. Once it's exposed, you wash off the dye and you have a permanent print. In a couple of weeks, Lumi will have an iPhone app that converts your photos to negatives and sends them to Lumi to print on a sheet of acetate that you can reuse to print as many witty T shirts as you want.
3. Launch your own satellite
If you want to put a tiny satellite in orbit, you can do it - for a few weeks at least. KickSat and NanoSatisfi ArduSat are projects that enable you to design a very small satellite and have it sent into space on one of the SpaceX flights that takes supplies to the International Space Station. The satellite will drop out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere after a month or so, but until then they'll run the experiments you've designed. ArduSats have gyros to stabilise them, and high resolution cameras, but you only get a share of the mission time - anywhere from three days to two weeks.
4. Turn heat into light and power
Only 30% of what a candle radiates is light; 70% of the energy is wasted as heat. We already love the $69 tPOD1, a giant heat sink that sits over a candle and uses it to power an LED light that's much brighter than the tea light itself (using the Peltier effect). At Maker Faire, Biolite showed off a $130 camping stove that burns twigs and charges your phone at the same time. It converts some of the heat from the fire into electricity that drives a fan that makes the fire more efficient - and puts out 5V of 2W power from the USB port on the side. And you can still boil water and roast marshmallows on it.
5. Recycle failed 3D printing
There was more 3D printing at Maker Faire than almost anything else. There wasn't just a variety of machines claiming to be the fastest, the most accurate or the cheapest ($300 rather than the usual $3,000) but there were also many different suppliers of 3D printing materials. Most 3D printing is done with filaments of ABS plastic that come on large reels (unless you have a specialist machine that can use materials like metal). But what do you do when you get bored of a 3D-printed object or when your design doesn't come out the way you hoped? The OmNom Project is building a 3D recycling system that will shred unwanted 3D printing and extrude it as filament you can use to print something else.
6. Use robots to cut wood
If you want to build your own furniture, canoe, submarine or garden dome (just a few of the projects on display at maker Faire), you need a precision cutting system such as a computer-controlled CNC router. Most of those are large machines that have to be permanently installed. ShopBot's new $2,500 Handibot is a portable CNC system that you can control from a PC or smartphone to cut, drill, machine and carve wood and metal or engrave patterns on metal and glass. If you want to cut paper, card and balsa wood, the Otherlabs Othercutter is a milling machine that controls a craft knife. Precision tools are getting small and cheap enough that pretty soon, you'll be buying them at the DIY store instead of a saw.
7. Check out Arduino's robotics and sensors
Arduino launched two new products. Yún is a $69 Wi-Fi-enabled motherboard with an embedded Linux-based access point (based on the Linino distribution) that you can program over the network for making sensors for internet of things. It's also launched a $279 robot kit, which is the first time Arduino has gone into robotics. The robot kit includes two Leonardo boards with wheels plus a compass, line-following sensors, speakers and a small screen that guides you through the dozen different projects you can build. You can also add extra sensors, such as an infrared remote control.
"In the same way an Arduino board opens up the world of electronics, we want to open up the world of robotics," said Arduino founder Massimo Banzi. The carefully designed packaging and the details of the projects you can make are also a new development for Arduino. "We spent a lot of time on the user experience, on what happens when you take it out of the box. We worked on how short the time can be between you taking it our of the box and creating something. The fact it is open source doesn't mean it has to be ugly; in fact it means it should be beautiful." Expect more boards like this; "This is the start of a new line of products that will be simpler, smaller and cheaper."
8. Get 3D augmented reality glasses
Jeri Ellsworth briefly worked on hardware for games company Valve, but now her company Technical Illusions is creating Cast AR, a wearable AR system with LCD projectors mounted on top of a standard pair of active shutter 3D glasses that send the 120Hz image from your computer onto a reflective surface (with embedded infrared LEDs tracked by a camera on the glasses to work out how your head is moving).
What you get is a game multiple people can play (as long as they have their own glasses), projected onto a handy wall. You could add props such as an infrared-emitting 'wand' or RFID tags that represent objects in the game. You'll have to wait a while though, since the hand-soldered glasses that Ellsworth showed at Maker Faire are an early prototype, and the company is planning a Kickstarter this summer to raise money to build final versions of the glasses.
9. Crush a car with your giant hand
We saw several fully articulated giant artificial hands around Maker Faire, made of wood or Meccano. The most impressive was the 8 metre (26ft) Hand of Man made by Christian Ristow (whose robots featured in AI, The Amazing Spider-Man and Thor), which is powerful enough to pick up a car or crush a washing machine. The operator puts their hand into an articulated glove, and hydraulics transfer the movement of their fingers to the giant metal hand - grasping, lifting, crushing and dropping large chunks of metal with satisfying rending and crushing noises
10. Celebrate the women of technology
Want to encourage more girls to get into careers in computing? Try sporting a T-shirt decorated with a portrait of Lady Ada Lovelace or Marie Curie.