Let's Make Robots!

Maker Faire NYC 2011 Summary

The Let's Make Robots team had a great time at Maker Faire NYC. 

LMR received two Maker Faire Editor's Choice Blue Ribbons. One from Becky Stern and one from Chris Conners

That doesn't include blue ribbons awarded to individuals who are also LMR members, like the two given to RobotGrrl!

Here's a summary of the weekend.


Loading In

My wife and two kids started loading in on Friday afternoon. We had the back of our vehicle filled to the roof with robots, tools, signage and other needed stuff.

After some searching, we finally hooked up with Nick Normal, the area manager assigned to us. We had expected two long tables for our use, but it didn't work out that way. About seven robot-related groups were assigned to 'Robot Alley'. It was a glassed in lab on one side of the bottom floor of the main gallery. It seemed a bit out the way, but everything worked out OK.


Setting Up

Among the others in the room was RobotGrrl. It was great to finally meet her in person, and to see her very cool creations. That's my daughter again, feeding RoboBrrd. You can see Manoi with the hockey stick on the table to the right, and the new Mini RoboBrrd on the left.

Early in the evening, flummer arrived, having come all the way from Copenhagen. He was a huge help getting us unpacked. Then we needed to re-pack all the valuables and take them back to my car. (More on this, later.)


Checking Things Out

We got a chance to tour around and see some of the other makers stuff, especially outside.


Above: My kids checking out the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir car.


Above: Gon-KiRin, the fire breathing dragon!


There was also all the free paella you could want. The kids got to play mini-golf for free and the beer cart was pouring Sierra Nevada, so I was happy. Afterward, we dropped flummer off at his hotel and we went to crash at my sister's place, who lives nearby.



Unpacking - A Nasty Surprise!

As we unpacked on Saturday morning, we discovered something was wrong. I was missing a crate of power tools. This included all my drill bits, one (just one) of which I needed in order to build the SpurtBot kits with faire attendees. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but I didn't know it yet, and I was pretty annoyed. We weren't 100% sure we hadn't somehow left it in the car. My wife went to check, but the crate wasn't there.

Worse yet, as I unpacked all the robots we had brought, I couldn't find the Maze Solving Robot that Patrick McCabe had sent me! I realized it must have been in the same crate!

Now I was really getting worried. Nick Normal from the Maker Faire staff stopped by, just to check in. I informed him of the missing crate, and that we had already searched around Robot Alley for it. Nick took careful notes and assured me the staff would keep a look out for it.


Getting On With IT

Despite those setbacks, we got ready for the public opening at 10:00AM, and were ready to go in plenty of time.

Here's my daughter modeling one of flummer's awesome t-shirt designs, while he prepares more as we get our table ready.


Visitors and Helpful Guests

We had a visit from John (robotgoldfish), who dropped off his Robot Goldfish. He and his wife wound up spending considerable time at the table. They were a real help, and I was so glad to have them there. Honestly, I don't know if I would have gotten a bathroom break if they hadn't pitched in. ; j

Drew stopped by with his Walking Robot and spent some time demonstrating it. This thing is so darn cool and fun to watch. As Drew readily admits, it is no more than a robotic puppet. However, it is a fine piece of craftsmanship.

GeneralGeek and John Levous (aka jlevous) also stopped by. It was great to meet them in person. I think a few others stopped by too. By that time I was getting pretty worn around the edges, so if I forgot you in this post, please comment below and I'll add you to the narrative!

JoeBTheKing stopped by. He even bought a SpurtBot kit for his younger brother. Which reminds me of another thing I wanted to mention.


The Robots!

Here's a quick overview of the robots we had at the LMR table.

Yellow Drum Machine:

Easily the most recognized robot from LMR, the venerable YDM still knows how to draw a crowd.

Frits sent me his original YDM from Denmark. He's a real entertainer. The YDM inspired many people (me included) to join LMR and try to make a robot. I hope we'll see some new members joining from Maker Faire.

The YDM suffered a short on his power leads when I first received and tested him, so his original black battery pack was replaced with a new white one (the only color I could get on short notice). Frits tells me YDM has been repaired quite a few times by different people, and he's starting to become a collaborative build.

One young woman who stopped by was facinated by the YDM. She said, "I have to have him in my band. I really want to build a robot now!" Flummer informed her that YDM has his own single on iTunes, which I think just about blew her mind.


Maze Solving Robot:

Patrick McCabe's maze solving robot never got displayed, since it turned up missing. It deserves to be included here, because Patrick sent it to me from Florida.

Patrick did a great job designing, building and coding this robot. He even wrote a walk through on how the code for maze solving works.

At this point on Saturday, I was feeling really stressed that it was missing. I spoke with Bob Smith,  the NY Hall of Science Director of Security. He was very helpful. I described where and when we had last seen the crate of missing stuff. We reviewed video from their security cameras together, then I went back to the table while Bob continued to search for any sign of the missing items.


Robot Goldfish:

John's Robot Goldfish was really cute. I was so glad to have it at the LMR table.

He uses two pairs of IR emitter-detectors for obstacle avoidance. He also has a line following sensor board underneath, but it's not operational yet.



The SpurtBots are prettty cute. I consider them to be a BEAM robot design. Their simple behavior is driven by an IR reflective sensor. We had one or more running on the table pretty much full time. I liked to place one inside the track and one outside, running in opposite directions. The near misses were fun to watch. The occasional collisions even more so.


Ro-Bot-X Boards:

One regret I had from the faire is that I never had time to assemble and display Ro-Bot-X's new Robot Builder's R-Duino.

In fact, he offered to send it to me fully assembled. I thought it would be fun to build at the faire, but in hindsight...

I will build the new kit at home and write up a review sometime soon.

I did break out my own robot Penny, which uses another fine Ro-Bot-X board, the Robot Builder's Sheild.

After replacing Penny's worn out tires, she came back into service on Sunday. So at least I got a chance to talk to people about Ro-Bot-X's boards, which I really, really like.



Guibot's Farrusco kit looks really good. I managed to assemble it 99% of the way without looking at instructions; that should give you an idea of how well laid out this kit is.

He was a big success at the faire. Many people stopping by didn't know anything about LMR. We would explain that LMR is a community of robot builders, but plenty of people were looking for a robot to buy. Luckily, we could point to kits from members like guibot.pt, robotxdesigns.ca, and propellerheadgeek.com.

Gui, I'm totally keeping this robot. 

Gui also sent along some nicely printed cards with info about the Farrusco kit. The cards included an LMR logo and URL, which was good, because we ran out of flummer's LMR Postcards on Sunday. Essentially all of the Farrusco cards when by the end of the show as well.


Eric the TurtleBot:

Propellerheadgeek sent me a fully assembled robot based on one of his kits.

He's posted a nice Instructable on this robot too. It was so nice to have robots to just place on the floor and send off running. It made it very easy to draw a crowd!



Though the YDM was the most recognized, Chopsticks was no less popular. He is just so entirely original and cool to watch.

A few kids were initially intimidated by Chopsticks, but after a few moments watching him in action, the were drawn to interact with him. There were many questions about how he was built, how many servos he had, what board was being used to run him, and how his eyes worked.

I told people about how a robot hobbyist from Australia called OddBot wound up working for a robot manufacturing company called Dagu in China. Chopsticks is OddBot's creation end-to-end. I believe Dagu is planning a laser cut acrylic kit based on his design.

Part way through Saturday, Chopsticks started limping. His right rear leg seemed to be failing. One of the servos was dying. We continued to demonstrate Chopsticks, but we didn't let him walk around on his injured leg.

I repaired him Saturday night and had him back in service on Sunday. Another servo on the same leg began to fail before the end of the day, but he got plenty of attention. I was so glad to have Chopsticks at Maker Faire!


Selling and Building SpurtBots

I had brought enough parts to build 50 SpurtBots. I didn't imagine we'd go through them all. In fact, I was expecting to take many back with me, because I have a class I'm teaching soon and I need the parts.

I was charging only the $8 it took me to buy the parts in quantity. I had foolishly not followed the advice of my wife (and several other sage persons) and pre-bagged them into kits. Since I was expecting to sit down and help people build them at the faire, I didn't think it was necessary. Was I wrong. They sold like hot cakes.

Saturday night, I counted up my parts. I only had enough to make up 9 kits for Sunday. I bagged them that night and got ready.


Can't I Go Sleep Yet?

Back at my sister's apartment, I decided to repair Chopsticks busted servo. Luckily OddBot had the foresight to include a few spares along with his robot. The repair went smoothly, and Chopsticks was back in service on Sunday.

After bagging parts and fixing Chopsticks, I realized another thing I hadn't planned well. I had received kit from three members. These were the Farrusco kit from guibot, the Robot Builder's R-Duino board from Ro-Bot-X, and propellerheadgeek had sent me a mini tank chassis kit in addition to his assembled TurtleBot. My brilliant plan was to build them with others at our table, whenever we had some spare time. If folks stopped by and wanted to watch or even help, that would be cool too. Nice plan.

In reality, we bearly had time to breath, let alone build. I will know this better for the next event. Now at my sister's with the hour growing late, I knew I wanted to do all I could to get some of these kits done so I could display them.

Since the Farrusco was the only complete robot kit, I set to work on that. I didn't have Internet access at my sister's house. So I assembed it all without any instructions. It was surprisingly easy to do. I figured I could check the instructions the next morning and finish the last few details and download code to it.

I already had one robot from propellerheadgeek, so I didn't feel too badly not to complete his. I really wanted to get Ro-Bot-X's kit done. I had an RC toy I had planned to convert. However, I decided that soldering at 2AM in my sister's kitchen was a recipe for disaster.

I turned instead to one of my robots that I had packed, but not brought out during the day on Saturday. She was Penny, and she uses Ro-Bot-X's Robot Builder's Shield. I had also brough along a kit to upgrade her motors to add encoders; that never happend.

At about 3AM, I packed up everything and went to bed. Four hours later, I was up and getting ready for Sunday.



I had gotten a bit burned out on Saturday. I really needed to take some time away from the table, and I just didn't do it. I had been frustrated by the lost crate of equipment, my inability to build any SpurtBots, the loss of Patrick's maze solver, and was just generally worn out by the end of the day.

I returned on Sunday with under four hours sleep, but with a fresh attitude. Today, we were going to build some robots!

Having learned a thing or two on Saturday, I leaned a bit more on my assistants today. Flummer took over the Farrusco kit, which needed to be completed and programmed. He got that job done very efficiently. I recall him catching my eye as I was talking to some visitors, and he placed the Farrusco on the floor and got it running. It was great to see.

I had a couple of friends show up on Sunday to help out. Steve isn't an LMR member, but within a few minutes he had the spiel down and was handling the crowds while I dealt with other stuff. My wife Linda was equally adept at demonstrating robots she had only just gotten to know. My thanks go out to them for all their help!

John (robotgoldfish) came by again on Sunday, and again was a real asset. I really don't know how we could have succeeded without all of his help. He and his wife helped pack us out on Sunday too.

Flummer was at the table almost the whole weekend. He took a couple of breaks to see a few sights and attend some talks at the Faire that he's wanted to see. I should have done the same, and will do so next year. Thanks for coming and being such a great partner at the Faire!

That's John and his wife in the picture below during wrap-up. Flummer is on the right,and those are my two kids William and Anna (I think you can figure which is which). You can just bearly make out RobotGrrl and her father wrapping up her own table in the background.


Conclusion and Aftermath

Maker Faire was a simply spectacular event! It was very well organized, the crew were great, and things generally went smoothly. My wife, kids and I said goodby to everyone, and headed home to NJ, tired but happy.

The next day I started following up with Nick Normal about Patrick's maze robot. I hadn't had time to talk to the Director of Security before he left for the day on Sunday, and I wanted to know if there was any progress, though I had little hope.

A few hours after I emailed Nick, I got a text message from him. They had found our missing crate, with all its contents intact. Someone had picked it up, and it wound up in the production tent on Saturday. My guess is with all the power tools, someone thought it belonged to the crew. When no one recognized it, they eventually put it together with the report of our missing stuff.

As I write this, the crate is being shipped back to me, and I'll get Patrick back his robot. I've apologized to him profusely about losing track of it. I felt aweful that it never got displayed, but I'm so happy it is safe and not stolen.  

So... who's coming next year?

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Thanks, Frits.

I was actually very happy with the participation of LMRians who sent in robots, helped out running the table, or just stopped by to say hi. It was so much fun!

Next year, I hope we can make LMR's presence even bigger and better!

I added a video Flummer posted. I am really impressed with his work. It's the forth vid.

That was so cool!

It was great to meet you and all the the other robotics hobbyist at the faire, just devoting a whole weekend to this great hobby!

I'll definately try to fit in Maker Faire NY 2012 in my calendar, and I'll be happy to help out again!

Same here. I hope to see you again next year!

Updated the summary with the Editor's Choice Blue Ribbon awards and a couple of videos captured by Make editor Chris Conners.

Lumi posted some pics from Flickr on this page.