Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Interactive Musical Tire Swing

logo courtesy of Maker Startup Weekeend
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in MAKER Startup Weekend sponsored by Techshop and Autodesk.  In the midst of social & mobile startups, this was the first Startup Weekend event geared specifically towards the "Maker" community.  I was part of the team along with Christina Chu, Bill Thomasmeyer, and Ace Shelander, who designed, fabricated, built, programmed and integrated, the Interactive Musical Tire Swing all in 1 weekend! 
Photo courtesy of Techshop
While it was largely an experiment for the Startup Weekend folks, who mainly focus on startups in the social & mobile space, it was a success from a teaming, mentoring and leveraging the tools and facilities at Techshop perspective. It was refreshing for me to get out of the office my regular day job and truly make something on a grand scale.  Props to my teammates who combined engineering, electronics, project management, fabrication, and business skills to get the job done! 
Photo courtesy of Techshop
The Interactive Musical Tire Swing is an 
 interactive, Arduino-powered invention that can be placed in child friendly areas, backyards, museums, and other public places.  The way it works is, the "brains", or Arduino microprocessor board selects various mp3 musical tracks and/or beats and flashing LED lights based on the position of an accelerometer mounted inside the tire, thus interacting with the user.  The Arduino programming and electronics design were done by Christina Chu with a detailed write-up of the business end of the Interactive Musical Tire Swing on her blog, ThinkLoveCreate.  I loved wearing many hats on this project, working with Ace on the fabrication and build, sourcing many of the mechanical parts including the perfect tire and helping Bill with the presentation.  There is a pretty nice writeup describing all of the projects and the overall weekend on the Make Magazine Blog.
Photo courtesy of Techshop
The entire weekend was an amazing experience culminating in presentations to an audience of makers, geeks, VCs, VIPs, and the generally curious.  By the end of the weekend there were 8 teams left pitching the potential business value of their respective projects/products.  Our idea was to transform the way way people relax and play using a simple tire swing by making it interactive.  Our commitment was to get as much feedback by having people use it.  A couple of weeks ago Christina submitted an application to the the Bay Area Maker Faire; lets see what happens.
Photo courtesy of @andybot

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Developing an Obsession with Re-purposed Stuff.

Continuing my obsession with re-purposed materials, I wanted to design a new type of hanging pendant light made out of glass insulators scavenged from old telegraph/telephone poles, dating back to the 1850s. There are literally dozens of varieties, shapes, sizes and styles with many cool colors.

There many collectors around the world, and several very informative web-sites devoted this colored glass piece of history.  I am mesmerized by the antique look and feel of these things especially when lit up.  As project and potential product I would sell on Etsy, I wanted to design a handing pendant light.  Its not a unique idea, you drill a hole in the top, thread a light bulb sprocket with electrical cord and it pretty cool.  Many have tried this and some variations look well made.  
 Then my wife, Xenia, owner of uses tea lights and votives in her events, suggested inverting the glass insulator (ie hanging it upside down some how).  Great idea, but how to do it without drilling a bunch of holes in the glass.  Anyway, I started to sketch out a couple ideas I had.

For this design I would need some kind of customized fabricated bracket to attach to the piece of glass and secure a light bulb socket, and still look nice.  But after tinkering around with some lamp parts that I had laying around I discovered that a lamp shade fitter (2-1/4") fits perfectly on a smaller type of insulator.  As it turns out glass shade fitters work perfectly with these glass insulators.

Ahhh ok progress, that even looks pretty cool adding to the vintage sort of look.  The final prototype assembled with all the hardware and plugged in.  Ready to add to our Etsy portfolio?  Not yet... I have more designs in mind and more proto-types to build.  Stay tuned....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nixie Clock Enclosure Project

One of my more recent projects was to design and build an enclosure for a Nixie clock kit purchased from Dave at  At the heart of the kit clock is PIC micro-controller surrounded by 6 Soviet era IN-14 Nixie tubes that illuminated by LEDs.  I purchased all the components based on Dave's BOM, had the circuit board made, and fully assembled the working kit:
Completed Nixie Clock kit, (photo courtesy of Dave Thorpe
Dave includes .dfx files for a cnc-based enclosure, and I have seen a variety including wooden boxes, laser-cut wood and plastic, and aluminum - most very cool and well made, but I wanted something different.  A common themes in many of my projects is the use of reclaimed/re-purposed material, particularly metal and wood.  And so I decided to take a piece of old-growth 2x4 I had and make an enclosure out of a solid block of wood.  I created a design in Google Sketchup which allowed me to visualize the final product and incorporate specific dimensions, make changes, and experiment with various decorative edges.

Design done in Google Sketchup.

Based on the drawing I began to fabricate a prototype enclosure out of the wood by drilling the holes out and carving out the middle piece into the box shape.  All of the sides were cut to spec, finished with linseed oil.  I drilled holes for the clock buttons and added a pvc plastic piece with rubber stand-off feet.  The fabrication details are as follows:

Old-growth redwood is really nice to work with; it is soft, gives off a nice aroma, and really shows off the tight grain with the linseed oil finish. I can many more projects using re-purposed redwood from remodelling jobs.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hello world

Open box, assembly required, batteries not included, mumble_mumble_mumble, reassemble, trouble-shooting, customize, hack, hack, plug_it_in, and voila!  A blinking cursor on the screen.  Success.