Robot Army : Shipping at Last

Much to my dismay… I woke up last week to find that it was September. While I struggle to remember where the summer went, I think I’ll make myself a cup of chai and recap whats been going on in the past month or so.

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The most exciting thing to take place was our dry run at SYN Shop. We invited a small number of people who preordered kits back in February to be the first to pick up their newly adopted robots in exchange for testing out our instructions. Everything went smoothy, however I’m still sitting here editing the instructions… and I’m tired of looking at them. ::shakes fist:: As much as I thought I had boiled down the steps… I need to expand several of them out even more to make absolute sure that people can’t skip or misread them.

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It’s taxing >.< I definitely need to do a little research next time before I dive into producing a visual guide to see if there is a recommended method for capturing images at consistent perspective views. I ended up having a massive CAD document where all of the steps are positioned with a zillion copies of all the molded parts… which works, but there is so much now that it’s confusing and difficult to sort through.

The last thing to finish off before we began boxing things was the software (of course). We figure a large percentage of the people who bought our kit will never bother to update or reflash the code on the brain, so we want to make sure it’s exceptional. For the entertainment of those who will only ever run their delta in auto mode, each DIP switch setting will contain a different emotion… happy, sad, caffeinated, and kill (yes, “kill” is an emotion if you’re a robot). Programming a delta robot to emote is a huge challenge though, especially when you only have three degrees of motion to work with. Mark and I have been mulling over the code with “Testie” or faithful test delta, for a few hours every day trying to figure out the nuance of each; a matter of tailoring subtlety.

We finalized the code on Saturday… and by the end of yesterday had the first 50 boards burnt, bagged, and added to the boxes with all the other things.

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So yeah… the master bedroom has been turned into our mailroom (it is under renovation anyhow). All of the individual assets come together here and are getting sealed up with shipping tape at last!!!

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After we push out the first 50 kits, it’s a matter of rinsing and repeating the boxing processes four more times…! Not too bad!

The one thing that might slow us down a little (because there is always something) is that Mark has been called to work every day this week due to some major changes taking place in areas where he’s needed. This leaves me alone finishing off the last of it all : shipping labels, bubble wrapping, and giving the website a good makeover.

I can’t possibly express in writing how excited I am to finally be sending the kids out into the world. I’ve been suffering from this weird form of anxiety lately… which stems from having all this creative energy, but forcing myself not to focus it on anything because of all the work we’ve needed to do… it’s like constipation. I am really glad that we did the Kickstarter, but man will it be nice to have my free time back to develop other projects.

Lesson learned : Kickstarter is a great way to gain exposure and raise money to bring an idea into the world… BUT, however long you believe its going to take to reach fulfillment (even if you really REALLY plan) expect for it to take twice as long. The last 10% turns out being the last 90% of it all… you just don’t know it yet. Things that you write off in your mind as a non-issue expand out into several bullet points worth of extra things to manage or take care of. Don’t think for a moment that “All we have to do is…” or “It won’t take that long to…” – Those things require attention and energy too. It’s all a gigantic sacrifice, as fulfillment will prevent you from perusing other ventures. As a creative person with a mind going a zillion miles an hour – you will spin out… like me! ::spins::

That is my wisdom to pass on. Again, SO glad I have done it – but SO happy for it to be nearly over.

DefCon 22

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Picture taken by Aakin!

Sunday evening I collapsed on the couch with a nice big glass of red wine after having unloaded the very last of our stuff back into the house… thankful that I’m alive, in one piece, and that nothing critical went wrong this weekend. I have more awesome memories for the grey squishy hard drive. Here are the highlights on a few of my experiences :

Our Kids’ Second Big Recital >.<

DELTAS! They were there! This being our second time attending the con, we wanted to participate by bringing our own taste to the medicine. Friday night during the event of random fun and mischief, we had a nice dark sliver of space to set up all of our babies in. The best part being that we didn’t have any rules or restrictions for the space we were showing in like at Maker Faire. We could pretty much do anything we wanted; our own cooler filled with beer was present, our own speakers with music were set up, and we turned the back wall into a looming place of worship for those of us who accept robots into our hearts as personal overlords and saviors. <3

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However, setup left a bad taste in my mouth. We had issues during load-in involving some things we were led to believe would be provided in the room yet weren’t. This in itself wasn’t the problem; the resistance we encountered while trying to fix it was.  A few of the Goons seemed to get off on our dilemma, being purposely withholding instead of doing what they could to help, and then became pissy and annoyed with us once we resorted to taking matters in our own hands to get what we needed. If the people running Defcon expect others to go out of their way to set up art and events at their convention with nothing to show for the effort, the very least they can be is accommodating and maybe a little gracious. The Defcon staff we encountered were all stressed out and moody which might have been due to the lack of organization, or it could stand that in an economy where everyone is being paid with perceived status rather than money, undies will get knotted up… and egos will inflate. =/

Anyhow, once we were ready to go- dismay aside, everything went fucking awesome. We received an excellent response and got great feedback from fellow hardware hackers. It was the most rewarding experience to see people interact and dance around with the robots while radiating that megalomaniacal hype we’re aiming to bring out of people. I had many interesting, insightful conversations with other techie avant-garde, as well as with those of the goons who weren’t ten feet up their own asses. =]

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At the end of the night Mark and I got to deconstruct our little ones alone in private. The hallways were silent, dark, and devoid of life, which was surreal in contrast to how congested they were at every other time. In our own zen we packed up the show, unloading at Mark’s place by 4:30 Saturday morning. I slept so hard I forgot where I was when I woke the next day back at the hotel.

Darknet was a huge success!

photo taken by hackerphotos.com

Photo taken by hackerphotos.com

Everyone was working until the final hour (minute) on every facet of this event to make sure it was loaded with kickass once Defcon began on Thursday. Of course, Smitty’s highly involved live RPG was all the rage this year. Holly shit. By the time I got down to the HHV in the morning, the DarkNet badge kits were sold out! I heard that on Saturday there were 600+ people in line to fight over the remaining 80!

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The few they had left were auctioned off before Crash and Compile for over a hundred dollars a piece! I am SO PROUD of the whole team for the amount of effort they poured into coordinating things this year. It was no easy task, so I’m glad that the Defcon lords recognized this by making Darknet a black badge event this year!

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We raised over four-thousand dollars for the EFF… and for me, the great part is knowing that we did it in style ;) Darknet shirts happen to be sexy. Just saying. Virtual high-five team!

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Fellow Makers Rock Defcon with their Laser Robots!

Mark and I met two really cool people at Maker Faire this year, Kathryn and Alvaro. This tech savvy duo of robot wielding awesomeness had a laser shooting gallery in San Mateo. Being their area of expertise, they brought an amped up laser turret with them this year to compete in the DefCon Bots challenge. The goal was basically to create a robot that could scan and find blue balls (teehee!!) moving through a depth of dark space and then aim a laser to shoot at them. That’s no easy task! We came to cheer them on this Saturday and were happy to catch their big win! They were up late making last-minute improvements on their laser baby, but it paid off in the end… =] Great work guys!!!

The best badge is the one you make yourself.

In a pop-up culture of status dictated by the thing hanging around your neck, there is much talk of badges at Defcon. Black badges, human badges, modding, decoding, hacking, and alas… making your own, which a few people did. As for us, Mark and I created a board out of the key I designed for the Darknet propaganda. It’s a nice little memento for this year which we proudly bared as board designers. Purple FTW!

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We met someone who made an “Impostor” badge through OSH Park, which was the most snarky and creative rendition of the Defcon 22 badge at the entire con as far as I’m concerned :

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All of the text negated everything on the original, for example saying “light arc” instead of “dark tangent” on the back, and “found” instead of “1o57″. Tehe. In love. The UV SMT LEDs were a nice touch too.

Then there is sharpie and gaff tape :

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Because the better things in life are neon yellow.

Crash and Compile

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Glitter. What? Nah… it wasn’t me. =]

So I didn’t wear a big penis this year. To change it up a little, my strategy was to annoy and systematically emasculate all of the competitors with dolls. I built a “Barbie bandolier” which held my many personas through which I communicated during the event. This got easier to do the more hopping drunk I became. – I was sure to make a doll-sized strap on as a throwback :

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Though I spent a lot of time trying to derail team Frink, the defending champions, I poured twice as much effort into bothering the team who won this year… Sprechen Sie Dick Picks. No one could get these dudes to make eye contact with them. They had the purpose of a bullet train and though they did a good job of kicking everyone’s ass, I think they missed one other very important aspect of the whole event : by the end it should feel like a circus on stage… and everyone seemed more sober than I remember last year (but that might just be because I was more drunk than the rest). Congrats to all of you for competing! (and for putting up with our shenanigans)

Jeff and his crew did a fantastic job of preparing for the event again (Jeff is a rock star, as he also designed the board in the Darknet kit again this year in addition to preparing for the contest). Between the contest holders and the teams programming, we polished off three kegs of beer over four hours. It all went by so very fast. Here is the sexy trophy he made this year, a shiny head-sized D12 :

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SYN Shop Teaches Soldering to the World

I’m happy to say that our local Hackerspace, SYN Shop, had a presence in the hardware hacking village this year! Brain along with several other volunteers manned the tables of tight and person soldering stations, happy to show those who had picked up a kit in the vendor area how to melt lead like a pro.

When Everything is Said and Done

The child-like wonder of falling down the rabbit hole was gone, but I felt like I found my own niche in the big picture this year. I’m proud of all my friends and the work they put forth to make the event what it was. =] Time to get back to work. We’ve got robots to ship and the rest of the world to take over.

This is another notch in our belt… or shiny thing on our wall. It’s all about enjoying the journey!

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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 : 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 : 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).