Archive for August, 2011

Steve Jobs Gave Us the Tools to Make a Difference

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Steve Jobs announced his resignation from Apple last Wednesday. Since then, there have been many blog posts about what will happen to the future of Apple. Perhaps we would be better to focus on what Steve Jobs has given us and how we can use that to make a difference in the world.

Josh Linkner, Chairman of ePrize, believes Steve Jobs has left us more to work with than we realize. He continues, “While you may organize your thoughts on your MacBook, communicate with your team on your iPhone, and later jam some tunes on your iPod, the impact of Steve Jobs is far greater than the devices he’s provided. Rather, he’s given us a model to reach our full potential.”

Here are 11 Lessons from Steve, according to Josh Linkner:

  1. Put Passion First
  2. Never Limit Your Imagination
  3. Pursue Greatness over Money
  4. Demand Excellence
  5. Put Yourself Out of Business
  6. Challenge Conventional Wisdom
  7. Simplify
  8. Ignore the Naysayers
  9. Persist
  10. Never Pigeonhole
  11. Push Beyond What You Think is Possible

Enjoy Josh’s entire post, including the descriptions of each lesson, on his blog.

Amplifying The Maker Force

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

We met Jeff Sturges at Maker Fair Detroit 2010, where he introduced us to Fab Lab and its impact with urban farming in Detroit.

Jeff came back for Maker Faire Detroit 2011 and left very inspired and motivated. In this guest blog post, Jeff shares his enthusiasm and shares ideas about how anyone can get involved in the wonderful world of DIY.

Maker Faire Detroit 2011 was truly a grand celebration of creative awesomeness! From the fire breathing Gon KiRin to the handmade Paper House Dolls, the grounds of the Henry Ford were covered with exhibitions and projects that were as incredible as they were ingenious. No matter what your passion, there was something exciting for everyone.

During the drive home after Maker Faire, my mind was abuzz with romantic visions of my own future projects. I envisioned many other wide-eyed makers and makers-to-be doing the same…dreaming of such silliness as robotic quadcopters equipped with mini-marshmallow shooters, or perhaps such seriousness as the next generation of alternative fuel automobile.

My musings simmered to concerns when I considered the dreams that might fade away before making it to reality…perhaps due to busy schedules, limited resources, lack of knowledge, or loss of drive. I also considered folks that may have been been bitten by the maker “bug” at the Faire, but left without an idea of how to connect with the local maker community. How does one get involved in the maker movement? How do we keep the Maker Force surging through our hands, hearts and minds long enough for our ideas to become real?

Doing It Yourself (DIY) vs. Doing It Together (DIT) – The power of community workshops and maker networks
There is a powerful energy created when groups ofenthusiastic people work together…either as a team on a single effort, or simply side-by-side focusing on their own projects. Joining or creating a community workshop where passionate people gather to share the space, tools, and knowledge of making concentrates energy and resources. This concentration often has an exponential effect on the speed, quality and enjoyability of making. Community workshops can and do exist on various scales and for various purposes. There are many examples to consider for either participation or startup.

The Neighborhood Garage
The most creative spaces are often found in garages, basements, and even kitchens. Why not simply open yours to a few like-minded friends in your area? Perhaps meet at one location or even rotating locations if projects are portable? Maybe one evening per week, or two weekend afternoons per month?

The Back Room in The Community Center
Know of an underutilized space in a community center, school, or place of worship? Consider examples such as the Mt Elliott Makerspace in Detroit and Parts and Crafts in Cambridge, MI. Both workshops launched and continue to operate in church basements, and both focus on youth learning through making.

A Hackerspace is a collective of creative innovators that may include designers and engineers as well as artists and musicians. While In the past, the term “hacker” applied to software programmers breaking into computer mainframes, nowadays the term is associated with anyone who is involved in hands-on experimentation with materials, tools, and technologies. Participation in a hackerspace normally involves paying monthly dues to support the costs of operation, and sharing responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep. Members often range in age from 18 to 88 years, and number from 10 to over 75 people. Examples of local Michigan hackerspaces include OmniCorpDetroit in Detroit, i3Detroit in Ferndale and All Hands Active in Ann

Professional Workspaces
Community workshops also exist less in the form of collectives and more in the form of a professional workspaces. Examples include the upcoming Maker Works in Ann Arbor and TechShop in Allen Park. These workshops offer a wider range of advanced tools and resources that may not be available at a typical hackerspace.

Maker Networks
Prefer to work solo but desire some sort of a connection to other makers? Check out the various online community resources offered through Make Magazine such as their forum, community directory, newsletter, maker maps, etc. Attend local meetups such as hackerspace Open Hack nights where it is possible to mingle with local makers more about projects, organizations, and events. See the hackerspace websites listed above for schedules and details.

Small is Big – Start with small projects, and break up big projects into mini-projects
One of my all time favorite lessons…
Q. How do you eat an elephant?

A. One bite at a time.

If you are a young maker or a maker-to-be (or a parent of either), I suggest developing skills and building confidence with small projects that are simple, quick, easy and cheap. Once the basics are mastered and the taste of success is palpable, it is easier to move on to more challenging and time-intensive projects. Examples might include LED throwies as found on Make: Projects, or Sock Puppets as found on Instructables. In addition, various kit-based projects are available such as the Drawdio sold via the MakerSHED or the MintyBoost sold by Adafruit Industries. For youth ages 6-12, HowToons brilliantly uses a comic format to present tutorials for simple projects that use common household materials.

If you are ready for an ambitious project, “eating the elephant one bite at a time” is key to keeping things manageable. Set up a schedule with specific times to work on projects, perhaps once per week for a few hours. Break up the project into smaller mini-projects, map out the associated tasks necessary to accomplish each mini-project, and plug these tasks into your schedule. Most importantly, maintain a positive mental attitude. Everything will take longer than expected, and problems and obstacles will arise. All of this you can and will overcome.

Over-Thinking leads to Under-Doing – Stop thinking and DO IT!
One of the most dreadful black holes for maker energy is over-thinking. Of course, careful planning is essential for the success of any project, but at a certain point one must stop planning and dive in. I have witnessed many people, including myself, plan and design a project to death. Trying to solve every problem and address every detail in the early stages leads to “paralysis by analysis.” Rarely are all problems solved on a sketchpad, and often you will uncover new problems in the process of making anyway, so you may as well get started! Once hand and mind begin working in beautiful harmony, brilliant solutions and new discoveries will present themselves.

Celebrate Progress – Join or create events where you can share your projects and ideas
An event need not be the colossal scale of the Detroit Maker Faire in order to generate the Maker Force. Attending, joining, or creating events that involve the display of projects provide occasions share your work, develop new ideas, and connect with other makers. Community groups, galleries and hackerspaces occasionally host events that include open calls for projects. Submit your work! Check out local newspapers such as the Detroit Metro Times for details on creative events such as the upcoming DIY Street Fair in Ferndale. Feeling particularly
ambitious? Consider starting a Mini Maker Faire in your city such as the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire.

Keep the Maker Force strong! See you and your projects at Maker Faire Detroit 2012!

Innovation in the Classroom

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

In a classroom in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, students were weary of learning the same way, and in the same styles and formats, as students did 100 years ago. They were not satisfied to sit in rows while their teachers lectured them. They wanted to interact and collaborate with each other. They wanted to learn from each other’s interests and ideas.

Do you think these students are on to something? Should schools change the traditional learning structure? How can educators embrace the rapidly-changing technology to keep their students engaged and inspired?

Education Evolution

“Education Evolution” was conceived by a group of Texas middle school students who wondered, “Could children, using the internet, have a dramatic impact on the world around them? Could they influence public opinion, and make a mark on their world?”

Using digital tools they already had in their backpacks, the students share the alternative working environment they created for their classroom. The students were convinced they could increase learning through collaboration, technology and a better use of their space and surroundings.

Six Girls Scouts in Iowa Receive U.S. Patent for their Prosthetic Hand Device

Monday, August 15th, 2011

You are never too old or too young to innovate. Six girls, 13 years old and under, registered for a national challenge to invent a biomedical device that would help heal or improve the human body. Their creation not only won the FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award, it was also awarded a patent. Watch the ABC News profile on YouTube.

Photo from, courtesy Flying Monkeys

The girls call themselves “The Flying Monkeys” and meet once a week in a tree. Yes, in a tree! The saga began for the young team of six when they learned about a three-year old who was born without fingers on her right hand. The girls were driven to invent something that would empower the young child to write and draw. After many sketches, drawings and models, the girls came up with the BOB-1, a prosthetic hand device made from plastic, velcro and foam. The device simply slips onto the hand and enables writing and drawing.

After winning the national award and seeing how the device worked on the tiny hand, The Flying Monkeys improved the prosthetic and named the newer version BOB-1.2.

We love hearing about how young students are becoming engaged with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Do you have a similar story about something you have created? Share a video with us and we might post it to America Invents!

Let There Be Light

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Millions of people around the world can’t afford electric bulbs and live in homes that lack windows, resulting in lives spent mostly in darkness. However, thanks to a program called Liter of Light, many families in the Philippines will be able to afford light in their homes by a new innovation — old soda bottles now converted to solar bulbs.

Over 10,000 homes across Manila and Laguna have the solar bulbs installed. The light source improves the standard of living in the poorest areas. You can watch a story about the invention here.

A solar bulb is created by adding water and bleach into the plastic bottle and inserting the bottle into the roof through a custom-cut hole. The sunlight goes through the bottle and the added water refracts it, creating 55-60 watts of clear light in the home. The bleach in the bottle is used to keep the water clean of algae. The device can be built and installed in less than an hour and lasts for about five years. The idea is inexpensive for the financially-disadvantaged residents. It’s a practical combination of simple technology and reuse of disposed soda bottles.

Are you creating something unique and useful? We want to know about it. Share a video of what you are making with us here.

Exoskeleton Helps the Immobile Walk

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

In July of 2007 Austin Whitney became paralyzed from the waist down due to a car crash. On May 7 of this year, he walked across the stage at his college graduation thanks to the Berkley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory (also make the eLegs robotic exoskeleton).

Known as the Austin in honor of its first test pilot, the exoskeleton system is built with many off-the-shelf parts that give the user limited range of motions; i.e., standing, walking forward, stoping and sitting. Professor Homayooon Kazerooni, founder of Berkley Bionics, believes this invention will be game-changing, as it will allow millions of people who are mobility-limited to be both mobile and more independent through the accessible technology.

How the Austin Works
There are two motors on the back of the Austin that are similar to the motor that drives a Tesla electric car. For instance, on the day of his graduation, young Whitney lifted himself out of his wheelchair and into the Austin. The device’s motors propelled him forward by driving his hip joint, transferring the energy from the machine to Whitney. The whole process is very tiring for the user, and additionally, being a paraplegic lowers one’s stamina, but with patience and continued use, the apparatus will help improve these individual’s overall health – as well as their independence.

Kazerooni and his team continue to improve the Austin in hopes that it will soon be an inexpensive exoskeleton system for everyday personal use for the patients who will find this device to be life-changing. Whitney, having just graduated from college, is helping in this process, acting as a human lab rat.

Watch a documentary on the Austin Project here: