The Road to DefCon 22

It’s that special time of year again (already!?). Summer is swiftly coming to a close and I’m stupid busy planning for that infamous weekend of mayhem known as DefCon. This conference is a good opportunity to learn something new while also bringing your own flavor to the stew. Here are a few ways I’m getting involved (and you can too!) :

The Darknet Project

Last year Jeff’s friend, Smitty, started a new type of competition called the Darknet Project, loosely based on the novel, Daemon. This event is a live RPG meant to lead you around the convention following clues, learning new skills in order to solve puzzles and ultimately progressing a quest line. Due to chance, he recruited me to develop his brand and make a bunch of spiffy propaganda to help promote the project. Long story short, the contest is going to span more this year and we had a larger budget for visual stuffs.

So far I’ve revamped the site… rebuilt the logo… and have prepared flyers, stickers and shirts for the occasion! The tangible forms of the digital images are looking sharp so far. I’m also relieved all of this is done well ahead of time.

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If you didn’t know about the contest last year, I strongly encourage you to check it out. There will be a kit to assemble in the Hardware Hacking Village that will yield a spiffy badge which will allow communication with other Darknet participants. There will also be a ton of other stuff to get involved with… so much that I shouldn’t attempt to scratch at the details of its scope.

My Own Personal Disruptions

With Smitty now running Darknet, Jeff picked up the torch last year and took charge of DefCon’s more classic contest, Crash and Compile. In addition to designing visuals for him, I was asked to be a part of the team whose role during the contest is to “distract” the competitors who are drinking… and simultaneously attempting to write code. As a means to do this effectively, I wore the “strap-on” Mark and I developed for our art project, Lick. It’s basically a fat piece of tubing attached to a thick belt that has a lollypop poking out of a gem encrusted 3D printed mushroom… which rotates on a stepper motor :

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I prompted competitors to lick the lollypop… and towards the end of the contest when they were good and drunk, some actually did. =]

This year I have to do something different of course, but how on earth do I one-up a flashy licking apparatus such as this? Well, I have an idea worked out that’ll do the trick… which I’ll reveal a build log for closer to the event. ::evil snicker:: It has to do with voices and ponies.

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I updated the logo for the Crash and Compile pint glasses again =] Jeff went ahead and got pilsner glasses this year for a change of pace. I think they look sharp! Everyone competing (or distracting) will get one of these :

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Our Name Badges

Last year I created name badges of working artistic circuitry for our immediate group. I drew the designs by hand and added SMT pads in Eagle, then etched them at home :

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This year Mark and I had our badge designs professionally fabricated with OSH Park. I can’t wait to document them… Pictures of the finished product will come in my next post (the unfinished boards alone look fabulous but they’re a secret for now)!

Robot Army @ Defcon

One of my biggest frustrations all summer has been in keeping our army of robots on the back burner. The project is still in a fetus stage of development due to the fact that most of our time has been spent in the fulfillment of our Kickstarter. Never-the-less, I’m trigger happy about showing the damned things off…

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As such… Mark and I will have a presence at DefCon this year on Friday night, which in the end, I’m quite excited about. The prospect of setting up and babysitting the display until 2am is sort of daunting, but having a chance to maraud around in a space all our own in an environment where anything goes is quite enticing.

At some point next month, Mark and I are shipping our little disassembled babies out into the world. We can’t wait to get feedback from our supporters, not to mention seeing what cool stuff people do with our design. By September we can return to our effort of completing the collective. From then on… it’s all about preparation for the next big thing (100+ robots strong).

We’re at no loss of crazy stuff to prepare for in the next week. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and some of the new ones we made at Maker Faire this spring. Conventions are just an excuse to travel and drink, right? Cheers to that! See you all in a week!

Robot Army : Brains!

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Ok, I feel warm and fluffy right now… in a nostalgic sense. Our brain boards just came in the mail this morning from OSH Park. This was one of the last big checklist items that we were waiting on. The box contained over 300 little hexagons and deceptively weighed more than I was expecting. As I opened it and laid the sheets of royal purple and gold across the table I relived the memory of sitting at SYN Shop sometime last summer when I drew this :

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This was the first brain sketch. It would be the fourth board I ever designed in Eagle, and the very first I would ever send away to have professionally fabricated :

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Since then Mark, with all of his engineering prowess, has taken over the task and made an even better brain for the deltas. It’s taken us five revisions to get it just right…

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Along the way during fulfillment of our Kickstarter, we’ve made friends with the awesome people who fabricate our boards. The gang at OSH Park are makers like us fueled with geek-genius. They offer a service that goes above and beyond what any other like theirs has ever been willing to do. They’ve simply figured it out, and as a result produce excellent boards with the quickest turn around time available to hobbyists like Mark and I. This is important because their having created a faster more affordable service is ultimately enabling us to do what otherwise would have been too expensive a decade ago (Mark tells me that five revisions would have been upward of 500 dollars in the not-so-distant past).

Working with other businesses established by fellow makers is resulting in an amalgamation of awesome. With the power of these new resources combined, everyone can become a little factory, no longer at the mercy of the big and scary prospect of handling production overseas alone.

I’m so very excited and pleased to show off these works of art. So much has gone into them and even more will come out once we get this project to its lofty apex. =]

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Robot Army : The Church of Delta

So, it’s been a little while since my last update on fulfillment. Honestly, nothing exciting is happening. Things are getting fulfilled. Though it feels like we are barely inching along, the truth as that every couple of weeks we’re making huge strides.

We have everything done with the exception of brain boards and parts. Production of parts is going slowly because we’ve turned away a lot of help that’s been offered in the task of printing them. Mark and I stubbornly feel more comfortable maintaining the quality ourselves… and as for the brain boards… well, they haven’t arrived yet. Soon.

I’ll be honest though. I’m anxious to play with the brood again. Mark and I hardly got any development in before May, and haven’t done a thing sense. We slave away every day pushing pieces into bags, counting, sealing… and all of this taking place with the deltas watching silently in the center of the room where they’re a reminder of the fun we’ll eventually have once all the work is done.

So here is what we have DONE. Finished… waiting to go in boxes :

The Bases.

Mark and I were able to strike acrylic mounting plates off our list about a week ago. We had all 600 plus pieces cut on a 3KiloWatt laser cutter…

And then we took the top pieces down to SYN Shop and etched our logo on all of them :

 

The =F face boards.

These are the LED boards that go in the little bubble on the effector of the delta robots. We got this in last week from OSH Park and were able to hand solder the components on them over the weekend :

 

In my free time.

Someone important once told me that the only way to make it far with any big idea, was to be completely and utterly obsessed with it. It’s true, your most ambitious goals only withstand time because no matter where life takes you, they keep banging around in the back of your mind like an impatient child. As such, they resurface again and again to be pushed a little farther towards completion.

Naturally, if you obsess over something it will manifest in everything you do. For me, in art and illustration. If you keep up that sort of repetition, the hype you produce will elevate your big idea to cult status. This was my mentor’s other advice about developing ideas : make people believe in it. What he was talking about was creating an identity and selling the shit out of it.

Obsession -> repetition -> people getting it.

What this is groping at is branding. Establishing an identity in the world is paramount to success. So in short, the life of Sarah for now is all about yellow triangles.

Welcome to the church of delta.

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Robot Army : Production Mode + Lime Light

Mark and I are FACTORY

Now that the hype and excitement of Maker Faire has passed, we’ve buckled down and gone headlong into Fulfillment mode. Last week we started bagging things, like steel balls and hardware :

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The acrylic base pieces are in a cue to be fabricated, and our Rev. E brain boards will be sent in sometime this week once we verify that these- yes THESE are the final rendition to be included in the kit. Our friend Andrew from SYN Shop is also helping us mass produce our parts on his fleet of 3D printers.

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The production of the robot parts is what will potentially push shipment back the most. Luckily though, Andrew also taught us how to make use of our second extruder so that we can print the same amount of parts in half the time. Since we’re getting twice as many parts in a day as we were before, we might just make up some time!

Oh yeah, 930 servos… O_O

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Making 250 kits ourselves isn’t too much stress. We can handle doing mostly everything on our own and as a result have complete control over the whole process to assure quality. (behold Mark’s adorable kitting notes) :

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Sadly though since we’re going to be busy putting stuff together, we won’t have much time to build any more of our own robots or work on development of our installation for a bit. The kids will have to hold tight just a little longer before we get them doing the cool stuff they were meant to do. Hopefully seeing us ship their siblings away in boxes doesn’t traumatize them too much.

In some less than spectacular news, it looks like we more than likely won’t be showing Light Play off at DefCon this year. This might just be a blessing in disguise, so I’m not too poopie-faced about it. On the bright side, we think we’ll be making another Silicon Valley pilgrimage with the deltas in November for “Hackers”, which is supposed to be a weekend-long retreat in the hills where a small amount of tech-savvy avant-garde meet for a con that has the show-and-tell aspects of Maker Faire with the mystique of DefCon. Mark and his friend Tsutomu have gone many times. They both say I’ll love it, so hopefully it works out that I’m able to make this year my first. I’m dying to discover the elite maker-innovator mecca…!

Down Town Podcast

So it’s been a couple of months since the kickstarter ended and we’re starting to get a little bit of press at last! Upon returning from Maker Faire, Mark and I were featured on the Downtown Podcast which showcases local hardware startups and other cool things going on in Las Vegas. We had a blast joking around with a beer in hand on camera. Our interview turned our pretty good. I’m happy to say we’re getting the swing of explaining our project on the fly! This appearance also lead to another write-up the following week…

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#VegasTech wrote probably the most detailed, organized, and properly cited article anyone has done about our project yet : Robot Army. I’m happy to know that they’ll also be doing a writeup on SYN Shop too in the near future! Our Hackerspace needs the push right now!

Robot-Army IRL Plus a Massive Build Log

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It was awesome getting to meet the Hackaday crew in person at Maker Faire this year. Our interview was short and muddled under the noise of the warehouse-like space we were in, but in any case it’s good to spread the world of the neon yellow onslaught.

Originally posted on Hackaday:

We went to “the dark room” at Maker Faire once more for an interview with [Sarah] of Robot-Army. She and [Mark], who handles software development for the project, were showing off 30 delta robots who know how to dance. Specifically they’re dancing in unison to the movements of another faire-goer. A Kinect sensor monitors those movements and translates them to matching motions from the deltabots.

You should remember seeing this project back in November. Now that the standards for this model have been worked out it was just a matter of sinking about three-weeks into assembling the army. We’re happy to see that the Kickstarter made it to 250% of the goal at the beginning of March, and with that there are even bigger plans. [Sarah] says the goal remains to fill a room with the robots and a we may even see a much larger version some day.

The interview is…

View original 77 more words

Robot Army : Family Photos

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While waiting for parts and components to funnel our way, Mark and I got around to taking some promotional photos of our brood. We have these 30 cool robots and soon enough we hope to start displaying them around town. Getting the word out about them is a must, and nothing conveys the idea of a dancing field of light wielding minions better than long exposure shots like these!

I can’t wait until all 200 of them are built and dancing. ^.^

To see the whole album visit here : Long Exposure Shoot

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Maybe we’ll try getting them to spell out words… =o

Robot Army : Maker Faire

Mark and I rolled into Vegas yesterday right before the sun started to bow out of the sky. We stopped at Chipotle and picked up some over-stuffed puppy bags to push into our faces with beer upon finally returning to the house we left in pieces a week earlier. It felt like we had survived the apocalypse. After that ice-cold Carona we untethered everything from the clump in the back of Mark’s Kia and began dragging things into the house where they belonged. Once all three pallets of robots made it onto the table we both collapsed on the couch and giggled in delirious exhaustion.

Maker Faire was exactly like it was last year; bursting with stimuli. The visuals were nonstop, even being trapped in our booth the whole time… which was right next to the bleeding stage Arc Attack performs on. I don’t care for tesla coils. They’re cool, but I don’t trust the continuity of physics enough to be so close to man-made lightning. I even told the Arc Attack guy that, not realizing he was the Arc Attack guy. Oops. In any case… none of our kids got zapped. The show didn’t interfere with our installation. I didn’t die. So I guess I’m over my phobia. Heh.

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The faire in itself was grueling. It had all of the monotony of booth duty at a trade show compounded with the claustrophobic *loud* nature of a rock concert. We had to invest in hearing protection just to get through the hourly performances, which was really just an excuse to buy cool yellow and grey Ryobi earphones. These came in handy for sneaking a sample of what people were whispering to one another around our booth. The headphones canceled out loud sound yet amplified near-by speech with the tiny microphones mounted on their front; great for ease dropping.

I’m ecstatic to report that setup went smoothly and we had no major failures. I had to get over the idea of other people controlling my babies… and again like at the Mini Maker Faire in Vegas, the small children couldn’t help from waving their hands around like seizuring addicts to see the robots whip around at neck-braking speed. In spite of all the jarring back and forth, they held up just fine, and by the second day I stopped being an obsessive mother and finally just let go.

Make posted a nice little article about the installation on their main page right before the show… I even got interviewed real quick by one of their editors which resulted in a video. Sweet!

After the lights turned back on at the end of the day we got to mingle with the other makers at the show. Mark and I met fellow inventors as well as some people who we’ve been in contact with through email since the launch of our Kickstarter. We finally got to hob-knob with the OSH Park crew, who we exchanged swag with and were promoting like hell in our booth for all the fantastic work they’ve done fabricating our boards. I saw some people I met from last year’s “bring a hack” dinner who were exhibiting with a laser shooting gallery. I also met a fellow kinetic artist whose area of interest is in drawing machines, the like of which I’ve been fascinated with since my early days in tech. I found a video this morning featuring Dan and his super sharp “Makelangelo” here :

All and all this was an amazing experience. We learned a lot and will likely change the format of our presentation as a result. The army will keep growing and the installation will naturally evolve over time.

Mark and I agreed not to set foot inside the war room until Monday… maybe even Tuesday… so until then I think I’m going to indulge in some frivolous Team Fortress 2. For those who we met this weekend, it was a pleasure making all these awesome memories with you. I hope to see you all soon enough (maybe at Defcon).