Hackerspace focus: Robots and Dinosaurs

In this series of posts we’ll be featuring the Australian hackerspaces that will be exhibiting at the Faire. Hackerspaces, for the uninitiated, are communal working areas for like-minded enthusiasts to gather and work on group projects or use facilities and equipment made available to members (Wikipedia). Hackerspaces can be found in many cities around the world and Australia is no exception. Each hackerspace is unique and serves as an essential grounding point for the local maker community. This first post will focus on Sydney-based Robots and Dinosaurs.

What deceptively appears as a regular house in South Sydney’s Rockdale is in fact a place “where geeks and artists brainstorm ideas, play games, work on collaborative projects, and share the cost of some great tools.” Themed rooms cater for different needs of the Robots and Dinosaur members including Miriam’s Room with a collection fabrics and patterns, the Laser Room with CNC machines and lathes, Main Room with soldering irons, projectors and computers and even a shed with drill presses, saws, hammers, electric kiln and even a gas furnace. Robodino has all the tools for creative magic to occur.

So what sort of people are the members of the Robots and Dinosaurs hackerspace? “We’ve got people interested in all sorts of projects from pretty much every field. Just last week we had people working on lasercut RC cars, making engraved Japanese ‘go’ boards, building 3D printers, crocheting things, making their own flying quadcopters and more,” said Robodino chief Gavin Smith. One of Gavin’s own projects is the LightScythe, a device which writes glowing text in mid-air, while another Robodino project is iZac the Android bartender. Make mine a double iZac!

“Rarely when you’re working on something do you get it exactly right the first time. Being in an environment where you can bounce ideas off each other and get inspiration and advice from others people is invaluable,” Gavin said.

Robots and Dinosaurs is  a vibrant part of the Australia maker scene and one of several of hackerspaces that will be taking part in the Faire. Be sure to stop by their stand and see what other amazing stuff goes on at Sydney’s buzzing hackerspace.


Featured Maker: John D’Alton

John grew up with model steam trains as a child, then read some of the cyberpunk classic novels in his later formative years so it is perhaps no surprise that he would one day transform into Prof. Uncle Festa, Steampunk inventor and ‘upcycler’ extraordinaire.  The good Professor is not just going to show off a range of wood and brass steampunk extravaganzas, he is going to turning ordinary household junk into  "useful and/or beautiful objects"  right before your very eyes at the Faire.

The quixotically creative Uncle Festa will also be holding workshops where he will discuss the philosophy of upcycling as a way of life and the practical challenges of forging works of varying forms and functions.  Watch and be amazed as every day waste is transformed into the exotic such as an airship desk light, fairy shadow box (pictured), steampunk walking stick and the obligatory steampunk raygun.  We can’t wait.

Featured Maker: Peter Barrett

Peter runs a business called nCounters which specialises in the design and construction of custom data acquisition systems.  One such example Peter will be showing at the Faire is a portable limb load monitor, essentially a device which offers biofeedback to the wearer.  Designed to assist those recovering from surgery or a stroke, biofeedback allows its users to reach their treatment goals in half the usual time.

Peter’s clever load monitor uses pressure pads inserted into normal shoes in order to provide audio and visual biofeedback to the wearer.  The load monitor also has add-ons for measuring seating posture and knee movement with all data recorded on SD card for later uploading for analysis.  Peter and nCounters is a great example of creative problem solving making a difference.  Come see the load monitor at the Faire or check out Peter’s YouTube video for further details.

Featured Maker: Daniel Donahoo

Daniel is the brains behind an ‘ideas consultancy’ called Project Synthesis and one of those big ideas is LEGO Poetry, devised to be a creative way to engage children in literacy.  LEGO Poetry allows people to  manually build sentences and construct poems from the venerable classic plastic brick, one of the world’s favourite creative toys.

“LEGO Poetry was our solution to engaging primary school children struggling with spelling and literacy with words. The focus was to provide children with different learning styles a medium that they would engage with,” Daniel said.  Daniel describes LEGO poetry as an ideal approach for ‘kinaesthetic’ learners or children who “learn with their hands and by doing and building, rather than reading and memorising”.

LEGO Poetry has been successfully used in schools, artist in schools programs and at writing and literacy festivals.  At the Faire, attendees will have the chance to see what all the fuss is about by having a go themselves! Daniel is offering chance to build a poem and learn how you can make your own LEGO Poetry kit for less than $60.

Featured Maker: Malcolm Faed

Malcolm Faed is a legendary Kiwi maker, now residing in Sydney. Having played with electronics for as long as he can remember, Malcolm grew up on Electronics Australia, Silicon Chip and Talking Electronics. With an interest in electric vehicles, Malcolm once converted his Toyota HiLux ute into an electric vehicle which featured in Silicon Chip. Malcolm will be exhibiting at the Maker Faire with his open source self balancing scooter aka the ‘DIY Segway’. (More info here)

Malcolm is also no stranger to the maker movement, having subscribed to O’Reilly’s Make magazine since issue one and having attended two of the non-Mini O’Reilly-organised Maker Faires in Austin, Texas (Flickr photo set). Another project he’ll be showing off is the common humble 555 timer chip implemented with discreet electronics and fitted a copy of the encyclopaedia of integrated circuits.

Malcolm’s 8-year-old daughter Victoria in addition to giving dad at hand on the day will be showing off  her Drawdio (a project that turns pencil draw into sounds) and various projects from her Hot Wires electronic kit set.

Check out below the break for a video of Malcolm’s self-balancing scooter and, if you’re you’re lucky, you might even get to have a go yourself at the Faire.

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Featured Maker: Maria Meza

Maria’s Wool Forrest project is an outlet for hand needle felted wool toys and a fantastic example of the breadth of makers you’ll see at the Maker Faire. For those not in the know, needle felting is a fibre art craft that uses barbed felting needles to sculpt fibres into new shapes without weaving. As one might expect of an Australian maker, Maria works with 100% sheep’s wool.

Maria’s toys  feature natural and traditional themes such as dolls and farm animals. There’s also an otherworldly strand that runs through her work with fairies and gnomes taking up position in forest or vegetable garden settings. In this way Maria revives a long tradition of home made toys.

Come along to the Maker Faire and see some of Maria’s Wool Forrest toys and find out more about how she creates these beautiful hand made all-natural toys. You can also see more of Maria’s work at her Needle Felted Toys blog.