We could not be more pleased with your response to our recent Projects Pack for Arduino giveaway. The contest opened for entries last Friday, and closed last night, and during those five days the comments on the landing page logged more than 600 entries. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time to tell us about either the coolest thing they’ve ever built with a microcontroller, or the coolest thing they dream of building, someday. We’re still collating all the fantastic projects and project ideas, but here are a few our faves:
I’ve already made a LEGO robotic K9 from Doctor Who, and I want to give him a voice. “Affirmative, master!” “Maximum defense mode!” — Colleen Johnson
My cat has FIV, and hence isn’t allowed outside. For the sake of giving him some exercise and brighten up his day, I’ve always wanted to build a motorised feeding bowl, that I can hide in a corner somewhere, and will then try and run away from the cat once he finds it. The bowl is covered to begin with. Navigation can be ultrasonics – it doesn’t need to know where it’s going, just move quickly. Once the cat catched up with it and gives it a good smack on top with his paw, it’ll stop and open the cover. — Tom Cryer
I always leave the garage door open so I recently built a garage door sensor with an arduino and ethernet shield. It uses a reed switch to determine if the garage door is open and it sends my wife and I a text message if it is open after 8PM. I also hooked it into the garage door opener so I can reply via text message to actually close the garage door. I can also query the current status (open or closed) via text message. It’s been working great and saved my butt a few times. — powdernine
I dream of building a salt water reef heaven, for many kinds of corals and fish. It will include pumps controlled by a microcontroller to simulate waves. Not only that but it will have an array of leds lighting the tank. The microcontroller will control each individual led to simulate day, night, dawn, and dusk lighting patterns. It will also control a moonlight which will follow the real time moon cycle. I would like to program to controller to simulate cloudy days and clouds passing by, and full blown simulated thunderstorms with intensified wave patterns produced by the power heads… There will be an automated feeding system, along with automated water changes, automated dosing of trace elements. Also temperature, ph, and salinity control through various probes attached to the microcontroller. — Eddie Groshev
Created a light-up Bustier for a community theater show. The actress could use pressure sensitive sensors inside the tips of her glove thumbs to control which sets of LED’s lit up and how bright. Press both down really hard to set off an animated pattern of heart shaped groups of colored LED’s. Built for the song ‘Gotta Have a Gimmick’ for the review ‘And the World Goes Round’. Arduino, flexiforce sensors, Lots of LED’s, and some lingerie. — JR Lewis
And on and on!
But we know you’re impatient to hear who actually won. So, without further ado, the winner, chosen by random lot, is Kelly Cooke. Kelly says:
I’ve been wanting to start working with Arduino. I’d really like to figure out an automatic system for watering and/or feeding my cat on. I’d also like to use it to figure out a way to keep said cat off of my countertops.
Congratulations, Kelly! Send us your mailing address and we’ll get the kit out to you. And thanks again to everyone who entered!
For more microcontroller goodness, visit our Make: Arduino page.
This past summer I had two great interns in my lab. As usual, they taught me more than I taught them. One in particular helped me refine my thoughts on the theme that pervades my every day.
When Geoff first arrived in my office, I described his summer project to him. I had written 2,000 lines of code in MATLAB to model the Ackerman steering geometry of a tilting (leaning) vehicle. He was to take that code, check it, improve it, and finish it, and we’d build the vehicle as a tilting, steering, cargo-carrying tricycle. He said, “It’ll take three days.” I countered, “I’ll bet it takes six weeks.”
Geoff dove into the code. He only looked up from his computer for two reasons: to hear instructions for using the vintage hand-pulled espresso machine, and to go stare at the physical prototype of the tilting trike to orient himself to the problem. He missed his own three-day target, but crushed my six-week estimate when he proudly showed me the first working computer model in just two weeks.
And that’s the theme pervading my whole life right now: computational modeling.
Why? Here’s how I see it: Galileo Galilei arguably did more to usher in the scientific revolution than any other. The quote “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so” is attributed to him. In my mind, 19th- and 20th-century science did exactly that, and the scientific method — the cornerstone of thoughtful progress in knowledge — is heavily dependent on good measurement.
We measured everything we could about the scale of the universe. We probed the atomic then subatomic structure of the elements with incredibly elegant, single-parameter experiments that isolated things like the mass of an electron.
This type of science has been so successful that now it seems the true frontiers of science exist less in the study of easily reducible, measurable things, and more in the study of complex, multiparameter systems — like biology, climate, metabolism, and ecology. In these systems, understanding is built with models that can be tested for their validity and correspondence to the messy, complex real world.
Like many physical systems, there’s no perfect answer to a tilting tricycle, only “optimal.” You can optimize the parameters, but because of the limits of physically realizable machines, it can only ever be “almost perfect.” Success is being closer to almost perfect than other people’s models.
But here’s the beautiful thing about modeling. Computational models are digital, and that makes them inherently shareable, independently verifiable, and easy to collaborate on and improve.
Whereas my inclination was to immediately start to build something physical, Geoff’s approach — the approach of a new generation of engineers and scientists — was to begin with a model. Start with bits. Make them perfect, beautiful, defendable, sharable bits, then render them physical once you’ve reached an optimum. Sure, someone might figure out a better optimum one day, but because they can start with working, executable code, they’ll get to it faster.
There’s an even more important reason to encourage this culture of shared models. The more people who have experience simulating the world with success, and making things from those models, the more people will trust in the models of our physical world that will guide how we shape our future.
I read once about the science of perception and the humble practice of catching a falling ball. A ball moving 60mph travels almost 90 feet in a second. The only reason we can catch it is because we have a mental model of where the ball will be when our hand intercepts it. Throughout the course of our lives, we’ve built a mental computational model, which we’ve refined thousands of times, that helps us predict the future position of a ball so we might catch it with our relatively slow reflexes.
We have enormous faith in the ability of a professional baseball player to model the future of a ball, under complex windy, rainy, and noisy conditions, and to catch it. It would be nice to build similar public faith in the ability of our professional scientists to model the future — the future of the oceans if we continue to pollute them with toxins, of the atmosphere if we continue to emit carbon dioxide, and of other problems that require humanity to have a faster response time than its cultural reflexes.
Saul Griffith is a new father, entrepreneur, and regular columnist for MAKE magazine. otherlab.com
This column is excerpted from MAKE Volume 24, page 13.
Check out MAKE Volume 24:
MAKE blasts into orbit and beyond with our DIY Space issue. Put your own satellite in orbit, launch a stratosphere balloon probe, and analyze galaxies for $20 with an easy spectrograph! We talk to the rocket mavericks reinventing the space industry, and renegade NASA hackers making smartphone robots and Lego satellites. This, plus a full payload of other cool DIY projects, from a helium-balloon camera that’s better than Google Earth, to an electromagnetic levitator that shoots aluminum rings, and much more.
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Scene from Maker Faire Detroit 2010, from RDECOM’s Flickr set
Dale Dougherty, General Manager of MAKE magazine, will be visiting Grand Rapids next Tuesday to meet with the region’s tech-design-arts community. He’ll be there to meet with local makers and to invite them participate in the Detroit Maker Faire 2011.
Here are the details:
When: Tuesday, April 26, a town hall meeting from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: GRid 70, 70 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapid, MI
What: Town Hall meeting in Grand Rapids, open to the public and free of charge. This is an opportunity to meet Dale and to discuss the maker movement and the upcoming Detroit Faire. Maker Faire Detroit 2011 will draw together inventors, craftspeople, artists, and musicians for two days at Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum.
We hope to see you there!