Maker Faire Detroit: Interview with Peg Upmeyer of Arts & Scraps

Arts and Scraps Xylophone

Detroit has an impressive number of makers who are passionate about their community and dedicated to making a difference. Our second Maker Faire Detroit, taking place this weekend, July 30 and 31, at The Henry Ford in Dearborn will showcase many of them. One maker on a mission is Peg Upmeyer of Arts & Scraps. In 2010, they recycled 28 tons of material donated by 184 businesses into learning opportunities.

1. Tell us about Arts & Scraps and about the project(s) you’re bringing to Maker Faire.
Arts & Scraps is a Detroit nonprofit that uses recycled industrial materials to help people of all ages think, create, and learn. When we arrive, so does the fun! Arts & Scraps does activities at events all year. One of my favorite things is designing a center like this, creating opportunities for others to play and be creative. It’s an exciting way to learn.

We’re doing several activities:
1) Build a working paddle boat and try it out in a 6′ swimming pool
2) Create the prototype of an invention that meets a need
3) Build a path with rubber bands and giant peg board in a 8′x8′x8′ room
4) Play an 8′ junk xylophone made with PVC piping.

2. This is your second year of participating in Maker Faire Detroit. Please share your experience last year with us.
The maker group had so much energy, it almost vibrated. Everyone was anxious to share their experiences and learn from each other. The attendees were interested, curious, and NOT in a hurry — families spent an average of 45 minutes at our location. Parents, as well and children, invented and played.

3. Is your project strictly a hobby or a budding business? Does it relate to your day job?
Arts & Scraps is my day job.

4. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
Watching the internet and social media evolve and learning things about technology in general is exciting.

5. What is your motto?
It’s from a child’s song: “You can’t make a turtle come out.” Think about it.

6. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?
Experiment, analyze, learn, and move on. You learn more from errors than successes. Henry Ford went bankrupt three times before he started Ford Motor Company.

7. What do you love most about Detroit?
The huge number of people that are working hard to lift up other people and the city.

Thanks Peg!

For all the information you need to attend this weekend’s Faire, head over to the Maker Faire website.


Meet the Makers from MAKE Volume 27: Hobby Roboticist Gordon McComb

Gordon McComb, who’s been dubbed “the father of hobby robotics,” has been building robots since the 1970s, and wrote the best-selling Robot Builders Bonanza (the new 4th edition is available). For MAKE Volume 27 Gordon wrote a how-to article called Teleclaw: Remote Robot Gripper, which is controlled with an ordinary TV remote.

Tell us a bit about yourself — where you live, what you do for a living, what you are interested in?

I come from San Diego, California, best known for its climate, but it’s also a great place if you’re a robot builder. That’s thanks to the US Navy, and all the military surplus it generates. Cheap parts for projects are never far away.

When I’m not building, I’m usually busy writing about something. It might be a book — I’ve done over 60 so far, and new things keeps coming out that I want to write about. I did a 13-year stint as a weekly newspaper columnist, all about computers. I’ve written all kinds of articles for magazines like Popular Science, and I’m jazzed about doing builder projects, like the Teleclaw, for MAKE.

I also do technology consulting, though none of it is about robots. My eclectic specialties are document automation, professional film making, and video. For example, a few years ago, I worked on numerous projects for Technicolor, including some early development in the area of digital facial capture for animated movies and video games. I’ve written software from the ground up to create subtitles for foreign language movies, and I was active in creating subtitling standards for high definition DVD.

Above: Gordon’s ArdBot, designed as an expandable project robot to teach fundamentals using an Arduino development board for robotics.

How did you become interested in robotics?

I think it was because I wanted to be a mad scientist. Many of the movies of the 1950s and 60s that I grew up with had evil or scary robots, built and unleashed by some deranged professor. These guys always had great laboratories located somewhere at the outskirts of town, unlimited resources for cool equipment, and at least one pretty lab assistant. I didn’t want my robots to hurt anyone, of course, maybe just terrorize a few bullies.

By the late 60s, I started tinkering with simple motorized gadgets using old parts I’d find in my stepfather’s junk bin, or I’d spend my allowance money getting goodies from mail order places like Fair Radio or Edmund Scientific. My first attempt was a Kronos robot, from the movie of the same name. It didn’t work very well, and it fell apart in minutes, but it was a start.

The computer craze of the 1980s had everyone saying robotics would be the next breakthrough. The breakthrough didn’t happen, but that didn’t bother me. Robotics has always been a path to learning and inspiring. In 1985, I took the ideas and experience of my first real custom robots and wrote a book, Robot Builder’s Bonanza, published a few years later. That book is now in its fourth edition, which came out last May.

Why do you like making robots?

I like the process. It’s not unlike a model builder, who might spend 100 hours crafting a perfect replica of some vintage WWII airplane, only to put the thing on a shelf when it’s done. That doesn’t mean my robots end up on display or in the closet. In fact, most of the parts for my bots are recycled for the next generation. I like reusing things.

As part of the process, I enjoy getting other people interested in robot building — I call it infectious enthusiasm. I like it when they take an idea and run with it, doing things no one else has thought of. That’s the greatest reward I can imagine.

Tell us something about the Teleclaw robot (above) you made for MAKE?

The Teleclaw I designed for MAKE grew out of a small kit I used to sell on my hobby website, Budget Robotics. It’s just a small plastic woodworking clamp attached to a radio controlled servo to make the clamp open and close.

For the MAKE project, I added a $3 PICAXE and an infrared receiver module that’s tuned to receive commands from any ordinary TV remote control. Press buttons and across the room the claw opens and closes. The PICAXE is a terrific little microcontroller that comes with built-in support for decoding the Sony format of remote control signals.

A complete parts kit for the Teleclaw is in Maker Shed, and includes a preprogrammed PICAXE, remote control, and even the batteries.

Above: Gordon’s Tunebot is operated by music: wave your hand over the infrared piano keyboard on the top of the tunebot to control its behavior, which includes finding things to “kiss” with its trio of touch-sensitive sensors.

What kind of robot do you dream of making?

The dream robots of my youth were fanciful and completely unworkable. Ray gun and atomic pile stuff, like Iron Giant. Today I like to think about robots that provide motivation for the person building it. Maybe it’s a little bot that senses changes in the weather, and as it explores, a room it plays MIDI tunes that have been composed by its creator. Or it might be a completely autonomous flying blimp that looks for people and greets them in some annoying — yet entertaining — way.

Whenever there’s a robot that teaches a new skill, adds to a person’s experience, or explores a fresh approach to an old problem, that’s the quality of inspiration. Robots that have inspired their builder always have a “so what does it do?” reason for existence.

Can you tell us about one of your favorite tools?

Without a doubt it’s my CNC router. I use it to turn CAD files into finished cut pieces. It greatly reduces the time it takes to make and perfect the panels, mounts, and other parts of the typical robot.

My CNC isn’t very large — the biggest piece it can cut is about a foot square. But that also means it doesn’t take up a lot of space.

CNC cutting is a messy process, though. I use it primarily to cut expanded PVC plastic sheets, which when milled produces lots of dust. Even with a vacuum system I get covered with tiny plastic bits whenever I work on the machine. I leave a trail of colorful red, blue, and black dust throughout the house!

From the Pages of MAKE

MAKE 27MAKE Volume 27, Robots!
The robots have returned! MAKE Volume 27 features a special package with robotics projects for every age and skill level. They play music; they outwit your pets; they learn from their mistakes! In addition, we’ll show you how to build a special aquarium to keep jellyfish, create pre-Edison incandescent lighting, spy via the internet, and make a go-anywhere digital message board! All this and much, much more, in MAKE Volume 27.

On newsstands July 26! Buy or Subscribe


Android Open Mini Maker Faire call for makers is now open

Android has become more than just a mobile OS. With the release of the Accessory Development Kit it’s become possible to bridge the physical and mobile world. We want to celebrate this with a Mini Maker Faire at Android Open.

We’re looking for makers, hackers, and DIY-ers to be part of the Mini Maker Faire on Tuesday, October 11 at Android Open. All submissions due August 22. We’re interested in any hardware project that is based around an Android device or embedded board running Android. We only have so many spaces, so we’ll be particularly looking for projects that appeal to a DIY crowd that feature:

  • Kinect/Computer Vision
  • Arduino/Lilypad/ADK
  • Processing for Android
  • Beagle Board/Panda Board
  • Gadgeteer
  • Wearables
  • Makerbot/Reprap created accessories
  • ROBOTS!!!!

Android Open Mini Maker Faire call for makers

We’re also celebrating Android DIY with a discount for Makers; get 20% off your registration with the code an11make: Android Open Registration


News From The Future: Heating Homes With “Data Furnaces”

Pt 101370

News From The Future: Heating Homes With “Data Furnaces”… Harry writes -

Rather than build server farms that produce a lot of waster heat, why not have distributed Data Furnaces, that heat home and offices at the same time as providing cloud computing?

I was reading an Asimov Sci Fi short story recently and was chuckling about the fact that he had the computer as a huge central machine in a building with huge power needs and cooling by the gallon. Of course he got that wrong how could have have possibly foreseen our tiny personal computer revolution…. and then I remembered the data centre. Huge buildings with not one machine but thousands all eating power and needing even more power to keep the whole thing cool. Perhaps Asimov was right after all!

A new paper from Microsoft Research suggest a radical but slightly mad scheme for dealing with some of the more basic problems of the data centre. To put the problem into perspective it is worth mentioning the estimated 61 Billion kWh of electricity (3% of total consumption in the U.S) that servers consumed in 2006.

Read more & PDF.


$300 Digital Oscilloscope

I can’t vouch for this oscilloscope because I have not tried it, but at $300, I’m impressed by its feature set. When I was an engineer in the 1980s an oscilloscope that could do all this cost thousands of dollars.

These newest instruments achieved the quality, speed and functionality of world leading brands, yet sold for the fraction of the price. ADS series of oscilloscope feature 25 – 300 MHz bandwidth, 2- 4 channels with a 500M – 2GSa/s sample rates as well as a 7 inch color TFT-LCD screen. Models marked with the letter M in the model number offer huge amounts of memory up to 10Mpts. All devices in the series come with USB and some with the additional LAN interfaces, allowing control of the device from the PC, as well easy flash storage support.

32 Automatic measurements functions don’t just make these devices smart but also functional. For example, these oscilloscopes can detect the peak and average values of a waveform and store as much as 5000 waveform points on each channel. Besides peak and average the list of automatic measurement functions includes: Vpp, Vmax, Vmin, Vamp, Vtop, Vbase, Cmean, Mean, Vrms, Crms, ROVShoot, FOVShoot, RPREShoot, FPREShoot, Freq, Period, Rise time, Fall Time, +Width, -Width, +Duty, – Duty, BWid, Phase, FRR, FRF, FFR, FFF, LRR, LRF, LFR and LFF.

These smart oscilloscopes could be utilized for electronic circuit debugging, design and manufacturing, maintenance and testing, circuit testing, education and training. More information can be found at


2011 Makey Awards Nominee 09: iRobot Roomba, “Most Hackable Gadget”

Founded in 1990 by a trio of MIT alums, iRobot’s first big break came in 1998 with a DARPA grant that lead to the development of their now-famous PackBot. The automatic vacuuming robot Roomba, the company’s flagship civilian product, was launched in 2002 and has become a resounding commercial success, with more than six million units sold to date.

Each Roomba includes a Mini-DIN connector for a TTL serial interface used for programming at the factory. This connection is incompatible with standard PC/Mac serial protocols, but inexpensive aftermarket adapters quickly appeared providing Bluetooth, USB, and RS232 interfaces.

iRobot courted the growing hacker community from the beginning, openly publishing the Roomba serial command interface protocol and, in 2007, releasing the iRobot Create. The Create is a Roomba-style mobile platform with an empty cargo bay in place of the vacuuming components, designed and manufactured solely to cater to the hobby robotics market. The Create also provides a greatly expanded 25-pin interface that allows for bidirectional analog and digital communication with attached devices.

The Roomba/Create family has gone beyond “hackable” to become a versatile, respected, and ubiquitous development platform for new robots and robot applications. Entire books have been written about Roomba-based bots and Roomba hacking. The company started with a hacker-friendly design, and actively courted and catered to the Roomba-hacking community as it developed. That’s exactly the kind of thing we like to see, and exactly the reason that iRobot is our latest nominee for the 2011 Makeys. Congratulations, ladies and gents!


If you have a suggestion for a company to be nominated for “Most Hackable Gadget,” or one of the other three 2011 Makey awards, please send an e-mail to or just leave a comment, below.


Musical Lava Lamps at Maker Faire Brighton

Jason Hotchkiss’s cool lamps will be on display at Maker Faire Brighton, September 3rd, in Brighton, England.


3D Print a Zoom Hot Shoe Mount


The hot Thingiverse thing on my radar this week is this hot shoe mount for a Zoom audio recorder for the top of your camera. Matt Richardson reminds me that it’s actually a “cold shoe,” since no signal is being transmitted. We’re fans of the H4N for capturing field audio for Make: Live, and this 3D printable widget makes it easy to plop it on top of the camera.


Top 10: Binder clips

In the Maker Shed: Serial RFID Card Reader

The Parallax Serial RFID Card Reader, from the Maker Shed, is a great way to add hardware based authentication into your next project. This easy to use board requires only 4 connections to your PC or Arduino. The RFID Reader Module can be used in a wide variety of hobbyist and commercial applications, including access control, automatic identification, robotics, navigation, inventory tracking, payment systems, and car immobilization. Check out Make: Projects for Riley Porter’s great RFID tutorial! (note: RFID tags and jumper wires not included)



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