Dr. Sanjay Gupta Of CNN Visits MAKE

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, of CNN, came to the MAKE HQ in Sebastopol today. He got to meet our team of interns and see our work at Make: Labs. He and I recorded an interview and we did several demos of making in action for the program. Dr. Gupta, who is a surgeon, said that he was a tinkerer as a kid and wished he had more of it in school. So, safe to say, Sanjay understood what’s happening at MAKE. We did the Squishy Circuits project and the Supercap racer as well as showcasing the MakerBot printer and other tools we use in the lab. Gupta met the students of the Project: Make class, which were in session. He could see how excited students were to be engaged in the process of making.

I showed Dr. Gupta old torn copies of Popular Mechanics and how MAKE is an updated version of what those old magazines once offered. When I said that today’s hackers were much like those tinkerers in the past — wanting to know how things work and taking them apart to do new things with them — he understood what we meant by “hacking.” He said that even as a surgeon, he needs to be able to hack tools. I was especially proud to show Dr. Gupta the current “DIY Superhuman” issue of MAKE, which features surgical roboticist, Carol Reilly and many cool projects that involve science and making.

Click to view slideshow.

Dr. Gupta is the host of the The Next List on CNN and an episode of the show about MAKE and me will air on CNN Sunday, February 5th.


The Pocket Factory Takes to the Road

Our pal Bilal Ghalib and Alex Hornstein have embarked on a fun, educational road trip. They’ve packed a Prius with 3D printers, dubbed it the Pocket Factory, and are traveling around the country exposing people to 3D printing and the potential of desktop manufacturing.

…[W]e’re starting a business designing, producing. and selling products made on these printers. We’re documenting our successes and failures as we go, with the intention of making it easy for others to replicate our efforts. In our dream world, the only barrier between a desire to make a living off of creative design and doing so is just a click of the “print” button. We hope this project helps bring that dream closer to a reality.

The Pocket Factory project now has four 3D printers on the road and they’re coming to a city near you! Above is a short video they shared with us introducing the team and the project. If you know of a cool place for them to set up an instant 3D printing factory, let them know. You can reach them at, or tweet @pocketfactory22.

Bilal and Alex will be posting about their exploits here on MAKE. We look forward to hearing news of their adventures.

Pocket Factory


Hexcopter Drone Platform Kit on Kickstarter

This looks cool — a flying robotic camera platform called the eye3. It’s on Kickstarter and is being developed by Kellie and Grayson Sigler.

eye3 is a project to create a professional quality yet affordable flying robotic camera platform, or Drone. Almost anyone attempting to build a platform like the eye3 will be stunned by the complexity involved and the years of hands on experience needed to create a functional, safe device. The incredibly steep learning curve combined with the high cost of failure has kept this powerful tool out of the hands of thousands of creative people.

We Can Make Aerial Photography Easy for You

My husband and I have been building, programming and flying these complex machines for many years, giving us the knowledge and experience to produce a high performance flying robot in a low cost kit that practically anyone can assemble. Cinematographers, journalists, scientists, hobbyists: eye3 has the power, stability, automation and precision you need to produce professional results.


The Making of a Truck Anti-Rollaway Device

Unless you’re scanning the web for this kind of information, you’re probably not aware that on a fairly regular basis huge trucks with no driver inside the cab roll away from where they were parked. This usually happens because the driver neglected to engage the parking brake or because someone either purposely or inadvertently released it. The so-called rollaway accidents that result are often both costly and deadly. In April, a tractor trailer rolled across 10 lanes of expressway traffic in Columbus, GA and plowed through a store, causing $200,000 in damage. In 2006, an eight year-old girl was killed in New York City after being pinned on the sidewalk by a runaway school bus. Witnesses saw an eight year-old boy entering the empty bus prior to the tragic accident.

Now a mechanic with just a year of community college under his belt has unveiled a system to prevent rollaways. 44 year-old Tom Accardi (right) managed to create the system and bring it to market without the help of venture capitalists or companies that prey on aspiring inventors.

Accardi lives in the village of Yaphank, New York in the suburbs of Long Island. He spent close to six years working on his device, which sells for $2,500, and comes with a lifetime guarantee. A patent is pending.

Here’s how it works: less than two seconds after the driver has gotten out of the seat, a sensor in the seat sends a signal to the system’s controller box, which also receives data on the truck’s speed. If the controller detects motion of between 2 and 3 mph, it sends current to a solenoid that has been installed on the supply line to the air brake, cutting off the air. That, in turn, causes the parking brake to kick in.

Accardi parks a truck in the driveway of his home in Yaphank, opens the driver side door, releases the brake and the truck starts rolling in reverse. He sits in the driver seat for a moment with his legs hanging outside the cab, watching the truck roll down the driveway, then quickly climbs out of the moving truck. A second or so after his butt is off the seat, we hear the air brakes hiss and the truck stops rolling. In another segment of the video a truck with the anti-roll away system is seen rolling down a steep suburban street. Then Accardi opens the door and jumps out of the moving truck, which quickly brakes seconds after he is out of the driver’s seat. It’s dramatic stuff.

In the video Accardi makes reference to the personal injuries, deaths, property damage and resulting insurance claims from rollaway accidents and then declares: “The system we have is going to put an end to all of that.”

A self-taught mechanic who says he never had the money to go to mechanics school, Accardi has worked on trucks since he was 15 years old. He worked his way up from mechanic to administrator at Waste Management, the giant private carting firm. While he was there, Accardi says, he got weekly safety updates that indicated between two and five rollaway incidents took place almost every week. In one, a Waste Management employee was crushed to death between two trucks, causing Accardi to remark, “There’s no need for this to happen. I can make something to prevent this.”

When a colleague dared him to go ahead and try, Accardi spent the next two nights in his garage making a tabletop model of his anti-rollaway system. The Craftsman tractor he sat on as he mowed his lawn was something of an inspiration.

“Look at your standard garden tractor,” Accardi said in an interview. “They all have a seat switch so that if you get up out of your seat, it shuts the motor off.”

Which is why he pulled the seat off the lawnmower and attached it to a used beer delivery truck he bought for $5,000 solely for the purpose of perfecting his anti-rollaway system.

Accardi resisted the overtures of a firm that describes itself as America’s leading inventor service company. He says it wanted him to cough up $10,000 before it would help and took months to return one of his calls. He also spent many months doing a dance with venture capitalists, who he says “wanted almost the whole company. If I would have given every VC what they wanted, I’d be working for them for the rest of my life.”

Accardi says he had some promising meetings with the giant auto part manufacturer Delphi but there were personnel changes and no deal was reached. So he reluctantly decided to market the device himself. They key engineering challenge was an electronic one: programming some sort of controller with a microprocessor that would use inputs on the truck’s motion and absence of a driver to make the air brakes go on.

“Everybody wanted large amounts of money to do engineering before they got involved and did anything,” Accardi recalls.

Initially he was told there would be between $200,000 and $500,000 in engineering costs to launch the business. But eventually Accardi found a firm called Electro Motive Designs on Long Island. The firm does work turning garbage trucks and buses into hybrids, so Accardi’s project was right up their alley. Instead of a six figure tab for programming the controller box, Accardi paid Electro Motive Designs in the low five figures.

“They told me they would hack right into the truck’s computer, and then bing, bang, boom, they did everything we wanted,” Accardi recalls.”They had already done the hard work on their previous jobs.”

Dana Demeo, Electro Motive Designs’ VP of Engineering, says, “I was impressed with Tommy from the get go. He understood the problem and how to solve it.”

Demeo says Accardi can now connect the controller to his computer with a USB cable and program it on his own. Thus, the amount of time that the system allows before engaging the brakes can be varied. Because the box has flash memory, it can record incidents where the anti-rollaway system was activated and store the data for later download to a computer. Future programming and hardware tweaks would enable truck owners to get a GPS reading on exactly where such incidents took place and either email or text the data to management.

The 3″ X 4″ programmable controller box is about an inch thick and was purchased “off the shelf.” The controller can be installed in either a truck’s cab or under the hood, as long as it’s no more than four feet from the vehicle’s diagnostic port. Accardi says that installation takes between two and four hours and can be done by truck manufacturers, companies with a fleet of trucks or “anyone who can fool with air brakes.”

A volunteer fireman for more than 20 years, Accardi’s day job is supervisor of a waste transfer station. He is clearly proud that all but one part of his anti-rollaway system was manufactured in the US.

“It’s a great country,” he says. “I want everything made here.”

With a $2,500 price tag, the system may seem pricey for the prevention of accidents that are somewhat rare, but as HTK Engineering’s marketing director, Victor Yannacone III, points out, a rollaway accident can be quite costly for an insurance company: a single accident involving a fatality can result in millions of dollars of liability and injuries or property damage can cost hundreds of thousands. HTK expects insurance companies to offer premium reductions around 5% to 10% to truck owners who install its anti-rollaway system. For owners who shell out $20,000 to $30,000 a year for insurance, such savings would pay for the cost of the unit in two or three years.


Shape Memory Polymer Demo

Shape-memory metals get a fair amount of attention, but shape memory polymers exist, too. In fact, heat-shrink tubing is a familiar example of a simple shape-memory effect in a polymer. This video uploaded by MIT researcher Vikas Srivastava back in 2009 is a more impressive demonstration of heat-induced shape recovery. The plastic material is tBA / PEGDMA, which has a shape-change temperature that is close to human body temperature. It’s under investigation for use in medical implants. The referenced paper is freely available as a PDF.


New Wearable Electronics Platform – FLORA

I’m really excited about this new sewable Arduino compatible board called the FLORA:

Adafruit created the FLORA from scratch after many months of research and we really think we came up with something that will empower some amazing wearable projects.

The FLORA is not the first wearable Arduino/Arduino-compatible. Leah Buechley’s LilyPad was developed in 2007 – we wanted to also make something that’s wearable, but it needed to be a completely new platform for our accessories/modules and goals for the project.

The FLORA is small (1.75″ diameter). We wanted the smallest possible board for our wearable platform.

It’s based on our experiences shipping our own, shipping, customer-tested Atmega32u4 Breakout Board.

Many more details highlighting key features at the FLORA announcement post. The FLORA is in beta, and they’re seeking feedback for future revisions.


Detecting Dirty Dishes with OpenCV

While I’m no slob, I’ve left my fair share of dirty dishes in the sink, much to the chagrin of my former roommates. But who hasn’t left a plate, spoon, or glass in the sink when you’re in a rush to get out of the house every now and then? What happens in a shared space like a hackerspace, where you could have as many as fifty people passing through the communal kitchen in a given day? All those cups start to pile up quickly, I’m sure. Not one to let things get out of hand, London Hackspace member Tom created a solution to combat the problem. True to hackerspace form, he combined different open source technologies to alert the members in the space when a dish has been left in the sink for more than a few minutes.

To create this so-called Great OpenCV Washing-Up Detector, Tom mounted a PS3 Eye camera pointing down at the sink, connected to a BeagleBone running Debian. He used the HoughCircles function in the OpenCV library to detect the circular shape of glasses and plates from each frame. When a dish has been in the sink too long, it sends a signal over the network to an Arduino. The Arduino controls a set of relays to turn on the lights inside a traffic light, signalling to everyone in the space that someone needs to suck it up and put on the dishwashing gloves already. The system even utilizes London Hackspace’s IRC bot to alert chatters in their channel.

For those of you who want to implement a similar plan in your shared space, Tom uploaded his code to Github. In the meantime, he isn’t letting up in his crusade to give the lazy members a free pass. He plans on wiring red LED strips above the sink as an alert and even a camera to catch mug shots of the offenders. And what about cutlery and non circular dishes? Tom hopes a Kinect version of this system will help him detect those as well. So if you think you’ll be able can cheat the system by using square plates, you’ve got another think coming.


New in the Maker Shed: Digit Shield

Need a simple, low cost way to display digits using your Arduino? Look no further than the Digit Shield now available in the Maker Shed! This easy to assemble shield uses a bright green 4 digit, 7 segment display to give you the data you need. Use it to make clocks, timers, display sensor data, or anything else you can dream up for your next project!

  • Easy-to-use open source library makes it very simple to display integers and floating point numbers.
  • Multiplexing of digits is implemented using a timer overflow interrupt handler for flicker-free display.
  • Only uses 4 Arduino pins (2,3,4,5).
  • All through-hole parts for easy kit assembly.
  • Cool, crisp, green display.
  • (Arduino not included)

Also, be sure to stop by the Maker Shed to see our newly refreshed site!


NXT-Based Brick Sorting Robot

This monster Lego sorting robot, built by Kenneth and Lasse of BrickIt, organizes bricks by size as well as color. It uses 28 motors, 7 NXT microcontroller bricks, 7 muxes, 22 sensors, and 37,500 Lego elements total. The NXT bricks communicate with each other via bluetooth and are programmed in leJOS, a Java-based firmware replacement for NXT-G, the noob-friendly but less powerful environment NXT ordinarily ships with. (The model was created as a promotion for a company called Dynaway, hence the name-dropping in the video.) [via the NXT Step]


Life Size Junk Mammoth

Junk artist extraordinaire Jud Turner is an old favorite here at MAKE. He’s just moved into a bigger studio and completed his largest piece, ever—a life-size Columbian Mammoth skeleton made from “95% recycled materilas, mostly old farm equipment and agricultural tools.” He’s also posted some cool work-in-progress shots here. [Thanks, Jud!]


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