Sunday, May 11, 2014


Luma Droid

Several months ago, my friends and I built a bar-bot, a machine for serving alcoholic drinks.  The original motivation was a Robot Birthday party at my house; traditionally we have a theme drink for each party, but it turns out there really are not any "robot drinks" (bender not withstanding).  So the obvious step was a make a robot make the drinks :-).  I've wanted to make such a machine anyway since attending a barbot party in San Francisco about 5 years ago, at which about a dozen such machines were exhibited.  After looking into how expensive various components would be, I settled on using 12V peristaltic pumps used for aquarium dosing, because they are both cheap and food safe.  The biggest downside was slow - they pump about 80ml/min (don't believe 100ml/min claim), so realistically it's about 25 seconds/ounce.  That suffices for the booze, but for mixers I needed a higher flow rate, so I found a cheap way to make a valve (basically just using a servo motor to crimp close some tubing), and just gravity to drive the flow.  A friend of mine did all the design for the laser cut boxes, another did the coding, and a third helped me with assembly.  I did all the electronics design and the project management, plus all the actual buying of things (we love you plastic world and creatron).  It was super huge amounts of fun, and I've used it at three parties now, each time it was a smash hit.  The lighting (we used fully controllable RGB LED strip - the expensive stuff) is spectacular, that's why we called it the Luma Droid!   All told, the machine cost $470 in parts, took 71 hours of my time, and about 60 hours of my friends time.  So I estimate time payback (assuming 30 seconds of saved time per drink made) in about a millennium :-).    Financial payback, however, may take slightly less long - I've just been offered quite a bit of money to improve the machine (in whatever ways I want) and bring it to a very swanky party for a top-tier alcohol brand.  So that's exciting!  Check out the Luma Droid photo gallery.   Here's a video of Luma Droid in operation at the birthday party:

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Aerovelo Atlas World Record

I was super privileged to be allowed to observe the aerovelo team as they broke the world records for human powered helicopter flight (duration this time, they broke height a few months before this).  It occurred back in September, just after the Toronto Mini Maker Faire, in an indoor soccer field about a half hour north of downtown Toronto.  You can watch spectacular videos on their website of the machine in operation, but it's hard to tell from those videos just how fragile the whole thing is!  It weighs considerably less than a human - if memory serves, something like 90lbs.  This was vividly brought home once when a rider slipped on the pedal (fortunately before liftoff!), and the entire machine shook - it became very clear that one wrong move by the rider could actually destroy the thing.  And what a thing it is - super beautiful!  A marvel of engineering and craftsmanship, using space age materials.  For these duration flights, their actual limiting factor wasn't how much work it is (though I do believe you have to peddle harder than most people would be capable of), but a technical limitation in the machine: the ropes from the copters to the central bike are unidirectional, i.e. they are of finite length, and you simply pull them from one spool to another.  Once the rope length is exhausted, it's done, you can't fly anymore.  The main reason they did this is weight savings - the extra rope to double it back, and the hardware necessary to tension it in that case (against the flex of the machine, which is quite large!) vastly outweigh the unidirectional coil.  And that machine is all about weight vs lift!  Anyway, it was an amazing experience to watch a human fly like that, the machine is actually quite quiet, and very elegant, they are off the ground before you realize what's happening.  The level of design engineering they did is also incredible - apparently everything was modeled long before they built it, but even so there was a lot of variables they were swapping around in the actual machine, for instance, the type of rope between the bike and the copters.  I heard they actually repeated the flights the next day, using a different, much longer, stretchy rope, hoping to set a much higher record, but apparently that rope was a total bust - they couldn't get off the ground!  Another interesting fact is that if the rider stops peddling, the machine immediately falls to the ground - there is zero momentum, because the mass is so low.  There was also a lot of fussing about balance - there is no mechanism to control the relative speeds of the four copters, so the only control of movement/drift is by the biker shifting their own weight.  And of course the machine is bound by the soccer field, which as you can see from my photos, isn't a lot larger than the machine, so drift actually ends a lot of flights.  

Friday, April 18, 2014


Toronto Mini Maker Faire

So I've been super AWOL on the blogging, but I've resolved to catch up with one post a week for awhile.  I've got about 10 events I want to blog about :-).  The first is of course the Toronto Mini Maker Faire 2013, which was a huge success!  4000 people came through over 2 days to see 40+ makers exhibiting their work.  As co-organizer I was super busy keeping all the logistical details working, and getting interviewed by the media.  But really I was mostly excited to have so many awesome things to see, as is typical at mini maker faires.  My favorite things were the chocolate 3D printer, Natali's glass fish, and the R2D2s, but there were so many great other things, like the illegal aliens (wicked metal sculptures), all the 3D printers, the advanced laser tag (with 3D printed laser guns, and wearable vests with lots of electronics!), the lockpick village, etc.  Pictured is the photo shoot at the end of the Robot Cavalcade, where every robot in attendance paraded through the barn, which was super fun.  Our learn how to solder workshop was super super popular, we taught 700 people how to solder, and could have done way more, except that we ran out of kits (because I totally underestimated how popular it would be :-().

For next year, we're already secured the Toronto Reference Library at Bloor & Yonge for next years faire - it will be about 3x as big in terms of square footage, which should hopefully allow us similar growth in maker numbers and people in attendance.  I'm very excited about it already, but planning is really on just beginning.  Mark your calendars for Nov 22 & 23, 2014.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



BevLab was soo much fun! We did at least four different experiments (depending on how you count), including:
 - drinking a cloud, basically: add some essential oils to water, then use one of those ultrasonic humidifier gadgets to make flavoured "cloud". It's amazing how strong the flavor can be!
 - liquid nitrogen cooled salsa and guac. We squeezed syringes of salsa and guac into a pool of liquid nitrogen, freezing drops of it very quickly. Then we eat those frozen drops on scoop chips. Very cold, but fun!
 - frozen sphere of fruit juice, we used syringes again to remove the unfrozen fluid in the center, then added our own back, giving a two-flavor mix
 - make our own soda. Combine up to 12 different flavors into a 300ml beverage, carbonate it, then pour into soda bottle and cap. I made a blackberry / lemonade / hot pepper soda, it had a real zing :-)

There was also a super cool demo of a beverage mixing robot which used twitter feeds (e.g. #food) to decide on the ratio of the ingredients.  Taste data indeed!

Check out my complete flickr set of photos of the event. I originally got tickets via the design offsite indiegogo.  I hope a lot more things like this come to Toronto!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Toronto Mini Maker Faire 2013

I'm organizing the Toronto Mini Maker Faire this year! It's a gathering of "makers", people who DIY technology. Traditionally it's all the kinds of things in my world - hackerspaces, electronics, 3D printers, quadcopters, etc. It's been really interesting to be behind the scenes in the planning. I've been basically doing maker coordination - making sure that all the coolest people are coming, coordinating with them about what they need, informing them as our own plans develop, etc. It's also been interesting to watch the marketing - I've never been involved in an event at even close to this size, but we have a team who have done all kinds of events at this scale, and marketing an event like this is a huge task. Speaking of which, I've got my own personal discount code: eric, get 20% off tickets :-). I'm super excited to have the faire happening in Toronto again - it was sad when it didn't happen in 2012. Come see hacklab at the faire, Sept 21 & 22, at Wychwood Barns here in Toronto.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Waterloo Mini Maker Faire

Yesterday three other members of hacklab and I road tripped to the Waterloo Mini Maker Faire, a gathering of about 40 makers showing their work to the public. It was free entry, so they didn't charge tickets or even keep track of attendance, but there was a very steady crowd of people at the "Hacklab Propaganda Booth" (I titled it that as a joke, I figured the organizers would edit it, but apparently they liked the joke too!), so I figure several thousand people made their way through the faire. They had a wonderful venue, the big lobby of Kitchener City Hall. They basically filled the downstairs area, and a little of the outdoor area, but there was an entire second level overlooking the downstairs which had lots of space but no exhibits - plenty of room for growth for next time! Hacklab showed off our Ultimaker 3D printer, Fumon's flipdot display playing the game of snake, my electronic jewelry and North Paw compass anklet, a mecanum wheel robot (sadly not working), and a really cool USB microscope which you could use to look at some old UV-PROMs that we had, as well as various coins, skin, hair, etc - microscopes are very cool and playful! Much fun was had by all!

Some of the great things I saw outside of our booth (in order of the Waterloo Maker Faire 2013 Flickr Set): awesome wooden mechanical models and contraptions, cairo coat wearables jacket with cool diffusers, cheap LIDAR using home etched circuits, various light sabers, Replicator 2X 3D printer, Mascot Heads by Agnes, MYO prototypes, miniatures figurines including one I made for free, heart circuit with 4 blinking modes, amazing steampunk / mad science sculptures and machines by Russel Zeid, super cute recombinant bicycle for a 3-year old, cyber-netimals: stuffed toys with circuit and computer stuff attached; sadly no active electronics :-(, the hacklab booth (pictured right), wooden puzzles, some general shots of the space, people learning how to solder.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Tron Jacket!

For a recent video-game costume party, I made a Tron Jacket! I've always wanted to make one, and things finally came together for it. I got an awesome (fake) leather jacket at a RoboCop remake props sale, and then this party popped up on my radar, and I knew I had to do it! There are lots of interesting examples of Tron Jackets on google image search. I tried the reflective tape idea, but I didn't like how it looks close up, and it's also highly dependent on the illumination in the room (works best in black light!). I also played with EL-strip, which is awesome because it's wider than than the EL-wire, but I found that the lamination was so inflexible that actually working with it on clothing was basically impossible. Despite hints here, I couldn't figure out how to cut and resolder it (basically the interior is made of paste, so soldering to it directly certainly doesn't work), and it doesn't bend, so I think it's basically only suitable for long linear strips, like on a car or bike or something like that. Anyway, with those two options out of the way, I settled on EL-wire for sure. So I bought 2x 10 foot lengths of white EL wire at Creatron, and associated inverters/battery holders.

At the insistance of a friend, I decided to do it non-destructively, meaning: I can't sew the EL-wire into place using clear thread, which is the best way to hold it in place. I walked in a local sew shop and asked the owner there about how to attach things to leather, and he sold me what he called "leather double sided tape". I tested it on the fake-leather and it does indeed stick things good, but comes off without leaving a mark (or even sticky patch, it kinds of rolls up under heavy friction). Then I traced some patterns on the jacket with reference to some of the images online, and started putting the EL-wire unto the jacket. I put the inverters in the front pockets and had to make six holes in the end: out of battery pocket, then up and around to back of jacket, then into the interior, and back out for the circle on the back, that's half, double it for the other side.

Over-all the effect is great, I got a lot of compliments at the party, in the dark it's super convincing. In better light, you can totally see the glue, and the black tape I used in places to make the circles stand alone (with no connecting light). And the glue proved to be more temporary than would be really desirable - the EL-wire starts to lift off in places after a couple of hours, and by the end of the night it was getting impossible to have it not lifted somewhere. Still, I'm happy to have my jacket mostly non-damaged, so it was the right choice. If I ever get a second leather jacket though I totally want a full-time Tron Jacket!

You can see many shots of the jacket, including in-process shots, at my Tron Jacket Flickr Set. Total cost of this project: about $100, and 10 hours of time (of which about half was design/prototyping, once I was going with the double-sided tape & EL-wire, it was pretty quick). Plus jacket, of course :-)

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