by Glen Emerson Morris
The 2012 Maker Faire in San Mateo was
easily the most impressive of the Maker events to date. For many in Silicon
Valley the annual event, sponsored by Make magazine, has replaced
Macworld as *the* yearly event to look forward to. Maker Faire
has also replaced Macworld as the annual event most likely to
indicate the immediate future of the advertising industry, which is
why I attended it.
For those not familiar with it, the
Maker Faire is the do-it-yourself equivalent of the Consumer
Electronics Show. In just a few years the Maker movement has gone
from zero impact to become one of the driving forces in the
development of consumer oriented technologies. While it is true that
anyone familiar with Hollywood special effects technology would find
little new at Maker Faire, they would likely be shocked at the low
prices. Technology that only Lucas Film or Disneyworld could afford a
few years is now within the reach of the average SMB advertiser.
Want to make a window display with
lighting effects resembling a Michael Jackson concert? Want a robot
to make your sales pitch? Want an animatronic display with more
action than a Lionel train set with all the accessories? No problem.
This year's Maker Faire could provide them, and a lot more.
In the future, 2012 will likely be seen
as the year the interactive displays really took off. This year the
digital world broke out into the real 3D. Instead of using 3D goggles
to join a virtual world within the computer, new affordable
technology is allowing computers to break into the real world,
through control of lighting, 3D printing, robots and animatronics.
At the heart of this revolution is a
small computer called the Arduino microcontroller. Developed a few
years ago as an open standard by a small group in Italy, the Arduino
is designed to provide artists and engineers with an easy way to
program elaborate lighting artwork, animatronics and robotics.
One of the coolest things about the
Arduino is that it's designed to allow a wide variety of additional
expansion boards to plug into it, greatly extending its capability to
sense and control what is going on in its environment. It's the best
erector set an interactive display designer ever had.
March of the Robots
Nothing seems to
show off the capability of the Arduino more than the many robots
based on it. Robots were so pervasive at this year's Maker Faire one
had to be on constant alert to avoid stepping on small robots
scurrying along the floor, or running into larger ones that might
step on you,
The robots tended to fall into two
categories. The most common were small, four wheeled, robots that
wandered the floor automatically avoiding any objects they randomly
encountered, with price varying according to size. The other type of
robots were larger, and offered varying degrees of useful
functionality. Some even had the ability to speak, and one could make
a pretty good presentation.
Meet Roy the Robot
Roy the Robot is our Editor's Pick for Best of Show. It was easily the most impressive robot displayed at Maker Faire
2012. Even though Roy is still under development,
it made the best sales pitch I ever saw an animatronic make. Roy is
capable of basic facial expressions, a mouth synched to recorded
vocal tracks, and two arms capable of making a wide variety of
gestures with articulate fingers. And it's got personality people can't take their eyes off
One of the most attention grabbing
things about Roy the Robert is that it's primarily made out of wood.
To keep costs down, Roy is made of pieces cut using a computer
controlled laser cutter. The servos and other mechanical components
are low cost, off the shelf, items.
Roy's creator, Brian Roe, is funding
Roy's development through the Kickstarter website. So far, he's
attracted 66 backers raising $5577 of of $8000 needed to complete
development. If he doesn't reach the $8000 goal by July 3, 2012 he
says he'll stop development.
Currently, Roe is offering Roy
component kits as a thank you for donations. For a $100 donation, you
get a complete hand kit. For $850 you get, “Roy's Ultimate Arm
Display fully assembled, including everything in Roy's Arm Display
pledge plus all the control electronics, powers supply and animation
software. Everything you need to pull the arm out of the box and be
up and running in no time.”
Roe's project is worth funding. Over
the next week the members the Colorado Business Marketing Association
will likely spend more than $4000 on lunches they could probably
manage to do without. That money, donated to Brian Roe's project,
would open a new era in interactive advertising. Skip lunch. Invest in our industry's future instread.
Contribute to Roy's development instead at
Lighting Displays Without Limits
impressive as the robots at Maker Faire were the different lighting
technologies on display. In fact, there we so many lighting projects
on display this year that one of the fairground's biggest halls was
just dedicated to lighting projects. The main lights were kept turned
off to make the light projects stand out, and they definitely did.
development of the variable color LED, the potential to create
elaborate lighting presentations has become enormous. All that was
missing was a way to program the lights to create elaborate lighting
effects. Not surprisingly the Arduino turned out to be perfect for
the job. All you need now is an Arduino, a few of the right expansion
boards and lots of cheap vairable color LEDs (think eBay).
LEDs weren't the only lighting
technology shown evolving at Maker Faire. Jon Beck from CLUE, the
Columbia Laboratory for Unconventional Electronics, demonstrated a
technique to silk-screen EL displays with electroluminescent ink
manufactured by Dupont. A few hundred dollars worth of raw material
could make dozens of 8 ½ x 11 inch EL displays. Likely we'll see ink
jet printers that can make EL displays within a few years.
Bicycle wheel advertising – a well
One of the booths at the Maker Faire
demonstrated a bicycle light that can be programed spell words, and
form simple images like logos, as the wheel turns. The trick is a
small gadget about the size of Bic lighter that clips to a wheel
spoke. It contains a string of different colored LEDs a
microprocessor and a replaceable battery. The microprocessor has
built in light, orientation and motion detectors so it can be
programmed to automatically come on only at night, and only when the
wheel is in motion. Once activated, the microprocessor creates the
illusion of words by displaying a sequence of LED patterns. The human
eye remembers the lights briefly so the sequence of LED patterns is
perceived as an image or word. Amazingly, you can buy the
non-customizable versions of the lights for dollars on eBay (from
China of course). The programmable versions will cost a bit more, but
will be well worth it.
While designed for bicycles, the lights
can be adapted to window and in-store displays by attaching them to a
motor driven rod or stick. With a licensed electrician, an outdoor
display for night time could easily be created.
Electrically conductive paint &
One of the more “popular with
teenagers” exhibits at Maker was an electrically
conductive paint that allows you to place LEDs and other light
devices in places never possible before, like all over the human
body. It's low cost, and it's used just like normal paint. There's
also a daisywheel Arduino model designed to be woven into clothing,
using conductive thread.
Quad copter cameras
One of the hottest toys at Maker Faire
was the quad coptor, the latest incarnation of the popular remote
controlled helicopter. The quad copter is driven by four motors
independently driving four propellers. Direction is determined by
varying the speed of the motors. Slightly slowing the speed of one or
motors will cause that side of the copter to drop, causing the copter
to move in that direction. The result is a very stable and precisely
controllable platform that, I believe, will inevitably be adapted to
serve as a remote controlled camera platform.
The emphasis is on “remote
controlled.” It will be possible to program quad copter cameras to
automatically move, following the action live, much as a live
cameraman would. In the three camera shoot, requiring three different
cameramen, could be replaced by the “dozen camera” shoot
requiring one computer operator. The equipment costs would be
marginal. The quad copter platform could sell for under $150 each,
including a HD remote controlled digital camera. Quad copters are
available that use the Arduino combined with a shield (expansion
board) that can calculate air speed, altitude, 3 axis acceleration,
magnetic orientation, and many other data points.
3D Printing for under $1400
3D printing systems were back with
record low prices. A team from 3D Objects led by industry veteren
Cathy Lewis demonstrated the new Cubify 3D printer, with prices
starting at $1350. The Cubify is
designed to be a civilized 3D printer fit for the living room and not
the garage. It has an elegant design, and looks good next to a Mac
Printing objects with powdered wood
Unusual objects tend to get attention
and a team at Berkeley has figured out how to print some very unusual
objects with powdered wood in a 3D printer. The resulting objects
could not be created economically any other way. The team has also
figured out how to print building components.
This could be the dawn of truly low cost housing. And that would be
some real revolution.
Lessons from the Maker Movement
It's no accident that Silicon Valley,
cradle of the movement that made computing power available to the
masses, is also the home of the movement that is making manufacturing
available to the masses. It's a revolution happening just in time,
too. Digital manufacturing is rapidly eliminating manufacturing jobs,
much as automation replaced over 96% of all farm labor. It worked
then because out of work farm laborers became factory workers. The
problem now is out of factory workers don't have any place to go. The
Maker revolution takes the digital revolution to its logical
conclusion, self-sufficiency. Everyone personally owns all the
manufacturing hardware and software to make everything they need to
survive. SMBs will be able to provide the rest; the luxuries, the
entertainment, the fashion, travel and everything else that makes
going outside your front door worthwhile.
The SMB community can learn a lot from
the Maker movement. The most important lesson is one of empowerment.
All of a sudden we have the ability create interactive 3D real-world
advertising like no one has ever seen before. And we won't owe Apple,
or Adobe, or anyone else a fortune for the privilege of creating it.
We just have to decide to start using the new tools available to us.
Based on what the Makers are already doing with them, it shouldn't be
that hard for us.