Can't find an electric scooter that suits your fancy? Do what Ben Katz did and build one of your own.
One of the things that struck me at the World Maker Faire was how many companies are trying to reinvent or improve on older projects, especially in the STEM/learning sector.
More years ago than I care to remember, I had Erector Sets, chemistry sets, and electronic experiment sets. Although they would be considered primitive by today's standards, they achieved their purpose - which was to engage and inspire young kids to get involved with technology through experimentation.
I built cars, tanks, cranes, and even a very crude walking robot. I also managed, somehow, to totally evacuate the house doing a chemistry experiment that involved heating sulphur in a spoon over a candle to see how it turned into a liquid. My parents weren't pleased, and I'm sure it took a lot of work before my mother was able to rid the house of the burnt rotten egg smell.
The electronic experiment set was the most intriguing and had the most lasting impact by far, even though the set was just a few dozen components arrayed on a thick board with springs for contacts, some jumper wires, and a very cheap headset. I remember putting together a simple burglar alarm, a light sensor, a Morse code key, and a crystal radio.
That experience triggered my interest so much that I started making regular visits to the library checking out back issues of magazines and books on electronic circuits. And I would collect old radios, TVs, and other gear to disassemble so that I could use the components to hack together some of the more interesting circuits I discovered in the books.
There were no electronics classes or clubs in my junior high school and later in my high school, though they did have wood and metal shop classes. So, using library books and magazines I taught myself whatever I needed to learn to put together the devices I wanted to make.
I'm not bragging, and I'm not suggesting that kids today should be forced to go through the same process. It was difficult, often frustrating, and there were many times when I almost gave up completely because I either couldn't understand something and there was no one around to help, or because the parts I needed just weren't available - or cost way to much for my limited allowance.
At the same time, I think we may be doing young kids a disservice by making things way too easy for them. When we simplify the learning process, and we try to remove any frustration or stress, then then we are 'dumbing down' the process - degrading the value that it gives to the student learner.
So many of the STEM type systems I've seen try to design out any difficulty or challenge out of the process. They often treat a project as if it was assembling furniture from IKEA dressed up with a bit of science or engineering.
Electronic and robot kits become niche market video game clones focused on instant gratification. "Plug this into that; connect this; turn on the battery; and you've created a functioning robot!"
But, actually, you haven't 'created' or designed anything. You've just followed instructions like a robot.
The challenge is to create learning systems that not only reward and provide satisfaction but also force the student to create - to stress their mental muscles - and to solve problems in ways that they didn't already know.
Some of the systems out there do a fairly good job at it while others fail miserably. All of them, including the most well known systems, still have a lot of room for improvement - at least in my opinion.
Of course Maker Faire is all about technology, sharing, hacking, and creating new things, but no matter how intense or serious things become, we should never forget to have fun, and even to laugh at ourselves.
Although Microsoft doesn't develop or sell robots directly, a lot of their technologies and products are used with robot systems. Without a doubt the most well known Microsoft robot technology is the Kinect sensor system that detects operator (and other object) position and movements. Originally developed to enhance the play experience for X-Box users, Kinect was rapidly hacked and adapted for use in applications that Microsoft never expected nor dreamed possible.
At the World Maker Faire, Microsoft demonstrated the possibilities and capabilities of the Kinect system using a couple of life sized boxing robots. Each robot was equipped with a chest sensor, two arm linkages with boxing gloves, and a head that popped up when the opponent managed to land a preset number of blows to the chest target.
If Rockem Sockem Robots, the kids robot game originally developed decades ago and marketed by Marx Toy company, comes to mind then you would be right on target.
Operators - typically kids - lined up for a chance to prove their boxing skill. After a minute or so for the Kinect sensors to find and map the operators, the bouts would begin. The operators motions were limited to taking a step forward or back and punching with their arms to make the robot attack their opponent.
All things considered, it worked fairly well. There were some tough challenges. For the most part the kids were polite and followed the staff's instructions, though there were a few exceptions. The biggest challenge, while I was observing, was the fact that the system was setup under a large outdoor tent with sunlight - often reflected - impacting the sensors at times during the day.
At the end of the day, I'm sure that Microsoft achieved their goal of demonstrating the technology while generating interest and enthusiasm among the kids so that hopefully some of them will pursue careers in science and technology - maybe even become a key Microsoft employee in the not too distant future.
In addition to the FormLabs Form 1 printer I posted about previously, the B9 Creator 3D printer from B9Creations also produces high resolution prints that look amazingly good.
According to the booth staff, the printer has proven quite popular with independent jewellery designers and other creators that need to produce small parts with an excellent surface finish. They find it to be a great replacement technology for the wax models used for jewellery casting, especially when there's a need to faithfully reproduce small detail.
The printer z-axis slices can be as small as 6.35 microns in height, while the overall print volume is 102.4mm x 76.8mm x 200 mm (obviously the printer designers thought in inches since those dimensions work out to 4" x 3" x 8".
The way that 3D printing technology is ramping up so quickly, instead of asking "What can you print?" we should be asking "What can't you print?". There's no better example than the jet engine turbine shown at the World Maker Faire last week by Kraftwurx.
Kraftwurx is essentially an online fulfilment company that enables designers to upload their creations, setup a storefront, and take orders, while Kraftwurx does all the 'behind the scenes' grunt work by processing the orders, printing and shipping the items, processing the credit card payments, and delivering a check to the designer. It's not a new or unique business model, and has been successfully applied to other markets, like photography and t-shirts, in the past. Kraftwurx's spin is to apply the business model to 3D printing coupled with a lot of applications and design know-how.
The jet engine turbine they had on display at Maker Faire was a good example. It's still in the prototype phase, and is intended for use in a model aircraft rather than anything life sized. Still, it was quite impressive to see first hand.