500 Tindie Orders, 1200 Kits Sold!

When I started selling kits on Tindie, I made 50 Yet Another Programming Shield Kits, and hoped to sell half of them to break even.  The one thing I realized quickly was that I would need more than one kit offering if I hoped to make any money.

Three and a half years later, I've filled 500 orders consisting of more than 1200 kits of eleven different types.  This doesn't count kits I've sold for workshops and conferences, which would be at least another 500.  I'm making just enough money to keep developing new kits and buying PCBs from OSH Park without putting them on a credit card my wife can see.

I've been amazed at how many overseas sales I've had since the shipping costs seem prohibitive. I've sold to every continent except Antarctica (contact me and I'll make you a deal):

I've also sold something to every US state except Montana, North and South Dakota, Alaska, and Maine (contact me and I'll make you a deal).

I've got some great kits in the works, including an awesome low-cost robot and a Raspberry Pi Camera setup.  I can't wait to see where the next 500 kits go!

Girl Scout Girls Are Awesome

I got invited to do an electronics workshop at a Fall Girl Scout daycamp. I had been on a Maker hiatus since HP let me go back in February, and I was really missing the fun and joy of teaching. The camp was on the east side of the Oregon Coast Range, and although it was cool and a bit wet, the lodge was warm and dry and overlooked a serene pond.

The sessions were an hour and half which was more than enough time to assemble my simple LED kit and give the girls time to incorporate it into a craft project. Before starting, I talked about Ann Makosinski, a young lady who invented a LED flashlight powered by body heat, as an example of why you would want to learn to solder. I also gave the girls a "nanosecond" of wire and told briefly of the contribution of Grace Hopper to computer science.

The girls were positive and awesome and picked up the skills quickly. It always gives me warm fuzzies when I overhead comments like "this is fun" and see the girls helping each other! It is fun to learn, fun to do, and fun to teach others!

The final group was more advanced, and had purchased Adafruit LED goggle kits.  I pre-programmed the microcontrollers, and the session was just enough time to assemble and test them. Since the theme of the camp was Steam Punk, they fit right in with the costumes the girls had prepared.

I am always grateful that my girls are growing up in an age when they can be independent and do anything their heart desires. I am also grateful for opportunities to help others find their passion.

ChickTech Robotics 2015

I've spent a lot of the past year designing and testing a low-cost robot that could be assembled and programmed in a workshop. It has been, in one form or another, demonstrated at three Maker Faires this year. I finally got a chance to put the project to a full test for ChickTech's Portland High School workshop. 
The event was held at Portland State University. There were more than one hundred students that got to chose between eight different workshops. We had fourteen girls for robotics. We spent the first day building the robot and learning how to program an Arduino microcontroller.
The second day we finished the robot and learned how to program it. In my workshops I always emphasize that makers have to patient and persistent, and the girls, most of whom had no prior programming or electronics experience, did a great job in picking up those skills.
At the end of the event, the girls got a chance to show off what they had learned to family and friends. This is always the pay off for me as I hear them proudly explain things I was teaching them just hours earlier. It always makes all the time planing, preparing, and teaching well worth it.

3D Printing and Design STEM Academy Summer Camp

In addition to Outside the Box, I volunteered to lead a 3D Design and Printing class for the OSU STEM Academy this summer. This time I had Margaret Mellinger, the 3D print guru from the OSU Library, as a co-teacher. This class was 3 hours a day for 5 days and had fifteen students. I was told there was a wait list of at least that many more!
We started each class off with a short instructional or inspiration video:
We also had a guest speaker, Kevin, an intern working with Margaret who does model rocketry and is working on a 3D printed Ironman mask. The students started with some tutorials in the web-based Tinkercad. We followed that up with taking a look at 123 Design. Later in the week we also looked at OpenScad. All these projects are free to use, and students were encouraged to continue their design work at home.
The kids had an hour of print time to work with, and they came up with some creative projects. They learned how to design for efficient prints, how and when to add supports, and how to slice projects into smaller units for printing. We also uses a Makerbot scanner to scan in small objects, and an X-box Kinect scanner to scan in a student.
In all, I think it was a very successful class. We learned a lot, and we got a lot of good feedback from both students and parents. I can't wait to do it again! Here is to the future of 3D design. . .

My First 3D Design and Printing Class

For this summers Outside the Box pre-college classes at Oregon State University I pitched an idea for a 3D design a printing class. Based on my experience with 3D printing in the Maker Exploratorium, I knew there was some interest, but when the kids signed up and the choices were sorted, I had nearly 60 students signed up over four different classes.

We had two Printrbot Simple Metal printers on hand, one mine, and the other a loaner from the OSU Valley Library.
The students were given an hour of print time to do with as they which. This is about enough for an object 2 inches by 2 inches. Some students created a number of small objects like ear rings.
Others created large single projects using all their time. Several gals created mult-room houses with removable roofs.
On the final day, for the older class, we broke out an X-Box Kinect scanner and replicated a couple of students.
While there were a number of super-creative project, including helicopters, tanks, stealth planes, spaceships, Minions, Eva, and Wall-E, my favorite two were puzzles. One was a cube puzzle and the other an enclosed "black box" maze.
We learned quite a bit about designing to minimize support, using filament as design elements (whiskers, canes, axles). We also learned a lot about post-processing prints including support removal, hot-glue gun repair and shaping. I also learned a lot about file and print queue management. For a first-time offering, I think the class went well.  I can't wait to do it again!

Maker Exploratorium 2015 Edition

We finished the third round of my offering for Oregon State's Adventures in Learning pre-college program. Here is the course description:
We are all makers at heart. We just have to find our passion. Explore electronics with Arduino microcontrollers. Learn how computers work with Raspberry Pi. Learn how to program in Scratch, JavaScript and Python. Incorporate computing in textiles with soft-circuits. Take apart an appliance to see how it works. Create art from junk. Explore and utilize online maker resources. Go home with the skills and confidence to follow your passion.
For this session we had seventeen young makers age 10 to 12. I had one college assistant, a mechanical engineering student named Jeremiah. This was the first class of the day and met for eighty minutes, Monday through Friday, for two weeks.

I like starting classes by showing showing short videos each day.  We start with Dale Dougherty's TED talk entitled "We are Makers".  He points out that there are lots of different types of makers, and that everyone is a maker of some sort or another.  I also showed videos about how everyone should learn to program, and that sometimes it is frustrating but worth it, and how you have to be persistent.

This time around we broke the kids in to four groups, and assigned a different activity for each group. Each group rotated to a new activity every day. This made it easier to monitor the intensive activities like soldering and required less hardware for activities like Arduino.  The first four projects were:
  • Blinky LED circuit where we learn a little bit about electrical circuits and how they work.
  • How to blink an LED with a programmable Arduino.
  • Some simple programming in Scratch.
  • 3D design with Tinkercad.
The 3D printing has come a long way since last year, when all they did was customize a coin which we then had the Valley Library print out for us. This year we had our hands on two printers, one mine and the other a loaner from the Valley Library. The students were given 15 minutes of print time, enough to print out an object about one square inch in size, and allowed to design anything they wanted. We had lots of MineCraft objects, a chess piece, and a replica of the Parthenon. I also taught dedicated 3D printing classes which you can read about here.

 Projects for the second series of rotations included:
 I also brought in my Maker-Faire turtle robot for the kids to play with and a Raspberry Pi.

The final two days we finished up the soldering projects, dissembled a laptop, created junkbots from the parts, and had the parents in to learn what the kids were doing. It was an exhausting and exhilarating week. I learn new things every time I teach. Hopefully the kids do too!

Turtle Programming in Real Life

For the 2015 Eugene Mini-Maker Faire, I want to try something a little different and a bit more interactive. I had been toying with the idea of a low-cost, 3D printed robot. Using Python code to create real-world "Turtle-like" graphics sounded like a killer application.

The history of Turtle robots goes back a bit farther than I originally realized. William Grey Walter created a pair of light-sensing robots called "Elmer" and "Elsie" in the 1940s! These were designed to explore artificial intelligence at very simple levels and while not controlled by programmable digital computers, they exhibited some very distinctive life-like behaviors.

Walter's 1948 robot named "Elsie".
MIT's 1970 robot named "Arthur". In the 1960 and 70s, professors at MIT, most notable Seymour Papert, explored using robots and the programming language LOGO to teach computer science. The idea that complex algorithms can be executed using simple instructions is a powerful concept common to a number of fields of study.

Enter the 21st Century. 3D printing is hitting the main-stream. Open Source projects like Python are making programming easier for everyone. And Open Hardware philosophy have us sharing both code and design files freely. Time for another era of Turtle!

I will post more about the robot's construction elsewhere. It suffices to say that it is powered by a Raspberry Pi Model A+ running Linux with code written in Python! The beauty of this is that you can write and test your Python Turtle commands on your computer or in a browser before they even get to the robot.

Lets look at what it takes to create a box in Turtle:

Don't just sit there. Try these out for yourself at www.skulpt.org! With any luck, you will see something like this:
You will have to add a t.shape("turtle") command if you actually want to see the Turtle.
Python powered, 3D-printed, yet to be named Turtle robot.

If I've got you hooked, your next challenge is to figure out how to change the "square" code to create a hexagon. I'll give you a hint.  For the square, 360 degrees divided by four sides equals 90 degrees. Those number should look familiar. Next, how would you create a star pattern? That one took me a bit to figure out, and there is certainly more than one way to do it.

Your next hurdle, if you want to print your name, is to create letters using Turtle commands. Let us look at one way to create a letter "A" in a 2 x 4 grid (that keeps right-angle math simple).

One tidbit that is helpful is that the distance across the corners of a 10cm block is 14.1cm.

Well, there you have a preview of my Maker Faire booth. Hopefully participants will go home with a piece of paper containing their first initial created by a program they wrote and executed by a robot while they watched! And new-found appreciation for programming!

Update, April 2016:
I've documented two versions of the robot, one with a regular Arduino, and the other with a low-cost Arduino compatible board from Adafruit.com:
I've also documented how to use the robots with the "Hour of Code" tutorials: