SPECTRO UPDATE: this has been delayed due to a laser cutter malfunction followed by the hurricane damage in NYC (where Adafruit is headquartered). Company is running again, and laser work will be outsourced to a local business, so expect Spectro soon!
I’ve participated in Maker Faire every year since its inception — first as a helper for the Electric Giraffe crew, then later reporting for the Hack a Day blog. Exhibiting as a maker was long overdue, and I’m finally there on the 2012 roster. You’ll find me in Fiesta Hall…the Big Dark Room…with a collection of projects simply called “Stuff I’ve Done.”
The title is a bit of a misnomer. Most of what I selected to bring are either collaborations or showcasing others’ work…but the name was already in print by then. Ah well.
What’s On Display
|Adalight: this adds ambient wall lighting effects to video content from a PC, creating a more immersive experience…think of it as a subwoofer for your eyes. Adalight was my first collaboration with Adafruit Industries, and still the most popular…I think because it ties the otherwise abstract Arduino platform into something “real” that people enjoy doing anyway: watching movies.|
|Spectro: it’s a music visualizer! It’s a clock! It’s programmable…make it whatever you want! My latest collaboration with Adafruit is being unveiled at Maker Faire. I designed most of the software and the laser-cut enclosure, while Limor Fried designed the custom Arduino shield that makes this a solder-free kit!|
|Bill Bell’s Foureyes LightStick: not my work, but this holds a special place and I wanted to showcase it. Artist Bill Bell invented the LightStick “saccadic persistence of vision” illusion in the 1980s, and one of his early displays famously hung in San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum. The idea influenced my early impression of technology: that it’s not all bits and bytes, that an engaging user experience may draw from disparate fields as biology, psychology, art and theatre. 25 years later, I found one of Bell’s LightStick prototypes in a thrift store just a few blocks from my home. I’m displaying it at Maker Faire in the hope that it might likewise inspire the next generation.|
|Creatures Persistence of Vision Display: a piece inspired by Bill Bell’s LightSticks. The original Exploratorium illusion later gave way to a sophisticated display leading the viewer’s gaze across multiple concurrent LightSticks. This miniature model follows the same principle using an Arduino microcontroller and other easily-sourced components. (Pixel art creatures were created by the talented Neogeen.)|
|LED Arrays: these LED “pixels” were originally developed for outdoor signs, but their simplicity and low cost makes them suited to other creative endeavors. They’re like the ultimate Christmas lights…link up as many or as few as needed, each one individually addressable in software. What will you create?|
Where to Find Stuff
I’m not selling kits at Maker Faire, just demonstrating the ideas. I encourage anyone intrigued by electronics and computers — geek and artist alike — to pick up a soldering iron and start playing with these things. Experiment and allow yourself to make mistakes, it’s all part of learning. Here’s where to find some of the items on display:
- Adafruit Industries: not just because I’m working with them…their tech support really is first-rate! Aside from the kits, Adafruit is an excellent source for additional LED pixels and related bits and bobs: microcontrollers, power supplies, breadboards and tools. They’re major proponents of open source hardware and software, with their designs and code all freely available online. The basic Adalight kit is also offered via the Maker Shed online.
- Cool Neon Lighting: their Total Control Lighting system is another good choice for LED pixels. The ready-made controllers may be a better fit if you’re seeking a plug-and-play solution vs. full software control using your own code. An interesting variety of accessories and other blinkenlights make this bay area business a perennial favorite for the Burning Man crowd.
- SparkFun Electronics: more LEDs and interesting parts and sensors. Another champion of open source with schematics and CAD files available for many of their products, their blog is always an interesting read with some pretty good tutorials.
- Arduino is currently the most popular hobbyist microcontroller, and is used in most of my Maker Faire demos. The software is free to download, cross-platform, and the site includes tutorials and a support forum. This ShiftOut Tutorial explains the basic principles used by the Creatures LED persistence of vision demo. Arduino boards are available from many sources, even Radio Shack now.
- Processing is a programming environment with an emphasis on multimedia — graphics, sound and interactivity — and is geared toward first-time programmers. This also is free and cross-platform, and is used in several of the Maker Faire exhibits.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will the Adalight software work with my computer?
A: Most likely, yes. Most of the code uses the cross-platform Processing environment, which runs equally well on Windows, Mac (Intel only) and Linux PCs.
Q: When will Spectro be available, and how much will it cost?
A: Watch for it this summer on Adafruit.com. The price is still being worked out as we decide what to include with the kit, but expect it to be more than $100 and less than $200.
Q: Will Spectro work with an Arduino Mega?
A: No…the shield is pretty tightly coupled to the Arduino Uno design.
(Additional Q&A will be posted following Maker Faire, once we know which Questions are actually Frequently Asked!)