Robots n' Volvos Dreaming of electric sheep

NY World Maker Faire, Franklin Institute... oh, and college.

So I moved in to Stony Brook- 55 miles due east of the city on the 26th of August. Nearly two months have passed, and I have hardcore procrastinated on writing a blog post since then.

Now Charles senpai has asked of me to update this, finally giving me a reason beyond the (virtually nonexistant) forces of my own self-motivation. Hopefully this will overcome the “an object at rest stays at rest” inertial properties of my inhibition.

I’ll save boring college stuff for last.

NY World Maker Faire

Fortunately Stony Brook is only an hour and a half away from the city by LIRR, which puts me in a comfortable position to make weekend hops back to the city to do city things. Like eating 麻辣豆腐脑.

NY Maker Faire fell on the weekend of October first, so naturally instead of doing homework and studying for midterms I attended the weekend to meet up with Charles and his MITERS crew.

Cynthia was too busy to attend though. sad. :(

I went as a normal attendee instead of a presenter this year, so I had much more time to explore around the faire, though I still spent most of my time at the Power Racing Series pits.

Team Master Builders showed up to the NY race, a team that I’ve heard of before through the PRS facebook page and Mark Liu. And it was difficult to not notice them, I mean, their car literally looks like somebody used a shrink ray on an actual Honda Formula One car and sized it into the PRS league. Even their team name is styled after the iconic Marlboro logo as seen on the actual car.

If a F1 team somehow got lost attending a F1 race and wound up at Maker Faire instead, this would be that team.

MBR car

And you know what’s hiding under the pontoon-nacelle things on either side of the seat? … Ryobi power tool batteries. Yes, this thing is pushed with pixies that come out of repurposed power tool batteries.

and I thought you could only get so creative with using lithium in something like PRS.

Now the interesting bit came around when I started conversing with the MBR team.

Two of the MBR team members, Noel and Edwin Acquino, just so happen to be Stony Brook alumni working as engineers at Boeing in Seattle. I suppose seeing other SBU alumni in Seattle is a rare enough occurance that they were rather excited to find out that I am a SBU undergrad; not to mention Noel also attended the same high school I did. Noel happened to be part of the team that tried to form a Formula SAE team at Stony Brook back in the 90s, but never got past a running chassis. I’ve heard rumors from the engineering college machine shop people that there have been student efforts to start a Formula SAE teams in the past, but no attempt has gotten as far as to compete mainly due to the complicated web of state school bureaucracy that teams have to navigate- especially with a very resource and budget intensive team such as Formula. It would seem that the amount of nodes in this web share a cubic relationship with the amount of resources it requires from the school, which is a gross over exxageration but nevertheless fun to say for the purposes of petty complaining. There is an incomplete bare steel chassis of a failed FSAE attempt hanging on the wall in the shop stockroom, but it seems to have been done sometime after Noel graduated.

FSAE frame

:( Stony, that could have been so much more if you had just let it be.

MBR racing won moxie and took second place in race points for the weekend (behind Baltimore Hackerspace), enough for them to go on to win the series after the final race in Pittsburgh. Congrats! :D.

Here are pictures I took of all the other not-PRS-related-actual-NYMF-things while sightseeing the faire. Was ever so slightly disappointed that there did not seem to be as much free things given out by presenters as last year- free t shirts and the like, but that was just me setting unrealistic expectations again. wazer Wazer and nScope were two of the more interesting presenters I swung by, but after asking Wazer reps some questions about their product the more it seemed to confirm my suspicions that their promise of an affordable desktop waterjet in your home or office is riddled with (and very understandably so) technical limitations. Charles and I have both inquired about the nozzle pressure of the machine, a spec intentionally absent from their kickstarter campaign, is right around 10ksi. That’s about 6 times lower than the low-end industrial waterjets which usually start right around 60ksi. This puts some harsh limits on Wazer’s maximum material thicknesses and cutting speeds, which indirectly means that Wazer will also need to use boatloads of garnet. The issue with garnet was a popular question posed to the Wazer reps, but just like Wazer’s answer on their kickstarter page which I will quote below-

“Spent abrasive can be repurposed in other creative ways such as using it as an additive in concrete mixing, using it as fill in construction, or making sand castles.”

Put succinctly, unless you have something to sift and recycle the garnet (so the nozzle does not clog from the clumpy used garnet), you can expect to busy yourself with the unceremonious job of garnet disposable after every cut.

Well, until the nozzle breaks after n hours of operation where n is hopefully a number in the high double digits. Waterjets are inherently high and expensive to maintain machines, and I certainly do not expect Wazer to be any different.

The idea of Wazer is amazing and all- I really appreciate Wazer’s effort to do with waterjetting what has been done to 3D printing. But personally, I would stick to online waterjetting services like Big Blue Saw for now. Since the cost per part drops dramatically with big batch orders, it is entirely feasible that using a service like Big Blue Saw will be cheaper than owning a wazer even in the long run after you consider costs of garnet, maintenance, and material. On the plus side, you get to have your part cut by an industrial waterjet with better positional and stream accuracy.

nScope peddled a breadboard oscilloscope that hooks up to a laptop and controlled via a GUI. IIRC it has approximately the same bandwidth as a typical $250 entry level oscilloscope, but lacks in sample rate.

They also gave out PCB rulers with a electronics reference table solder masked on the back their logo silk screened on the front. Cute. ruler1


There were also numerous Shenzhen hardware incubator startup booths scattered around Zone 2, most of them touting products in the robotic toys department- hell even Taobao showed with some weird robotics kit-thing that I totally neglected to take a picture of. hexcopter Modular hexcopter thing that breaks apart the minute you touch it :3

A lot of the Shenzhen startup presenters were really cute so I talked to them in the best mandarin I could muster, pretended to be interested and took some pictures so it didn’t look like I was a total creep :/.

Oh, and I ran into Grant Imahara during my adventures and got him to autograph my ID card :> The sharpie rubbed off in a couple weeks though.

On the second day of the faire I got to drive two of the fastest cars in the power wheels series, Lightening Mcqueen and MBR 4/4. I don’t believe I managed to get Lightening to top speed, but even at ~75% throttle bursts that car was one hell of a thing to control. The steering is incredibly stiff and requires a lot of muscle to shove around even when the car is rolling at a good clip. The difficult handling combined with the less than satisfactory track conditions made me paranoid about eventually understeering into a barrier, so I stopped after the second lap. The acceleration on that thing is fucking insane .

I drove MBR 4/4 next, which handled like butter if compared to Mcqueen. That and the acceleration was gentle enough to not scare the shit out of me, which was probably why I managed to peg a few seconds of full throttle down the main straightaway.


Perhaps I got too confident, because this time I did end up understeering into a barrier just after my second lap. Maybe I carried too much speed or did not turn hard enough, or a combination of both, but I managed to turn and slide hard enough that the impact was mostly a side one. Sorry Masterbuilders. :(

Also had dinner with Charles and some MITERS people at Xi’an famous foods on Main st. that Saturday night- he bought me dinner there again…thanks Charles! ^.^ but this pretty much sums up all my NYMF shenanigans up until when my friends and I took the LIRR back to Stony Sunday evening.

I originally planned to cover Franklin Institute in the same post, but I suppose I’ll save that for part 2 as quite frankly I have grown bored of tapping plastic buttons with my fingers.

Now if only the DNS server can resolve my website properly on my end so I can see my post in proper CSS…