Around the start of quarantine one of my friends asked if I’d be interested in joining a remote Dungeons & Dragons game she was organizing. I’ve always had an interest in trying it out and we decided to give it a shot.
If you’re not familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, or other tabletop role playing games, the simplest way to describe it is group improv and storytelling. The dungeon master, or more generically the game master, creates the world in which the story takes place, and facilitates the mechanics of doing things in this world, and the other players fill in the rest with a little bit of planning and a lot of improvisation.
After about 8 months of playing, I expressed some interest in trying out being a DM, and our current DM stepped down and joined as a player while I took over. There are a lot of responsibilities to being a DM, but it all boils down to creating the world that your players are in, and showing them what is happening. While it’s possible to do everything completely by imagination, it’s a lot easier, and more fun, to see pieces on maps and game boards. Some people have the artistic ability to hand-draw fantastic maps, but that isn’t where my strengths as a maker are. I took this as a challenge, using my access to equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters to create pieces that we could see well on camera.
I started off very simple, creating basic high-contrast colored tokens. The different colors would signify different characters or enemies in battles, and over time I started making special tokens as I needed them. I also used the laser cutter to create a webcam mount, so that I had a top-down webcam view, and to quickly make some bulk features like trees.
I was able to use the Asheville Makers’ high-resolution resin 3D printer to create detailed miniature figures for some of the players, and I’m still working on making them for the rest of the party to use when we can play in person. I have been able to 3D print any weird ideas that came to my mind, for example when the party tracked down a beast that was attacking some poor shepard’s flock, it turned out to be a 9ft tall carnivorous goose, and I had a mini ready!
I have been branching out into more complex builds recently, learning about painting (something I haven’t seriously done since middle school) and drawing on my electronics background to create illuminated and interactive elements. Our latest adventure involves a cave filled with skeletons, and a odd glowing obelisk, with many mysteries for the group to uncover!
Local maker Zen Sutherland is always coming up with unusual and creative projects (you may remember Zentar or the Haiku Ray Gun from the inaugural Asheville Maker Faire). So we picked a couple of our favorites from his more recent projects to share. The Alien Baby definitely wins the award for creepiest project on this page, and the Cephlatone is just plain cool!
We’ve created a few mini parades since the pandemic started. They involved community collaboration of some kind and employed puppets, lanterns, and music. The first parade was with the Asheville Mardi Gras at the Givens Retirement Estate. It was a perfect fall day and the old folks loved our giant caterpillar (paper mache and grocery bags). The second was a lantern parade (tracing and tissue paper, paste, over balloons, with LEDs) at dusk, with live tuba and trumpet, down Biltmore Ave and over to the LEAF Global Arts stage. Then was a Holiday themed mini parade (stilt walking elf, elephant elf, the Grinch) around the parking lots of Spruce Hill Apartments in East Asheville, joined by the Brass Your Heart Band. Most recently we did a lantern making workshop and parade at the Southside community garden for the Spring Equinox.
We are all volunteers. Our payment is in the form of the camaraderie of creative problem solving while making cool stuff together to share with the community. That was challenged by the pandemic and shutdown in many ways: maintaining COVID protocols between the artists and with the public, organizing everything online, trying to regain our synergy and momentum after much disruption (we even had to move our studio in the middle of it). But the mini parades were healing and nourishing for us, the viewers seemed to be delighted and appreciative.
Hello, my name is Travis and I build Star Wars droids!
I got into the hobby around 2016, shortly after The Force Awakens came out and we were introduced to BB-8. At the time, I had little to no experience with building things, robotics, painting, 3D printing, wiring…. none of it. But I happened to see a video on YouTube about a kid that had designed and built his own home-made BB-8 droid, using a beach ball and a bunch of paper-mache for the body, and various parts made out of wood and some basic robotics on the inside. I was inspired, but unfortunately I didn’t have much success with the beach ball / paper-mache method myself.
But then I soon discovered the BB-8 Builders Club! A group of thousands of awesome, friendly, and helpful guys and gals (the vast majority of whom are much smarter than me), who have dedicated their time and effort into figuring out “the best way to build BB-8”. There have been various methods and tons of different versions invented, and most of them greatly depend on having at least one 3D printer. So far I have two. And 3D printing has become another amazing hobby to get into all on its own. Over the years I have gotten deeper into the droid-building hobby, and now I’m working on my 2nd custom BB-unit. The first one is red and black, and his name is BB-66. My new one will be black and green, and named FF-7. Check out the videos to see more, and hopefully you can meet the droids in person at a Maker Faire in the future!
This may be the world’s coolest clock: a single bar of numbers with a single pointer. Beautifully crafted in fine hardwoods.
This idea came to me four years ago, took hold, led me into learning electrical engineering and then, finally, hiring a real electrical engineer!
It’s been enormously fun and engaging for me. And for the galleries who sell these (New Morning, Biltmore Village, Asheville, and Nash Gallery, Hilton Head SC), they are proving very successful.
For me the process of designing the process is as interesting as building the clocks. We now have a well-established set of steps for getting a beautiful and reliable clock out the door in a reasonable time (we do about 4 a week).
Despite lockdown then eventually opening up to small groups, our students had the most fun building these solar ovens and being outside on sunny days while we ‘cooked’ our s’mores. Download instructions for making your own solar oven: STEM Lab at home – Solar Oven
The DuinoKit is an all-in-one Arduino Discovery Kit. It has all of the parts you would need to try new things with your Arduino. It is set up with an Arduino Nano and everything is all wired together in the briefcase. All the user has to do is attach the wires to the specific parts and run the code. Here are a couple of examples that I have been able to put together.
Several years ago, a student that graduated from the school where I was teaching, came back to tell me about a gadget she made in Aero-Space Engineering course in college. This device is attached to a weather balloon to gather upper atmospheric weather conditions and perform data-logging. I pondered for a while why kids in college are starting to learn about electronics and coding, while I have this same technology in my house, and currently in use by my teenage children. The solution was to start a school based club to help share knowledge about electronics and coding at a secondary school level instead of waiting years for college courses.
After this encounter, I requested some funds from the school and bought a collection of electronics parts to support an electronics and coding club at our school. The club was interesting, but had many challenges and over the course of the semester, most of the components were lost, damaged or used in our projects. We had limited success, but mostly frustration and lack of good reusable resources. I realized that I learned about electronics (25 years earlier) on self-contained kits with non-consumable components. These same severely out-dated kits are still in use today in schools, but difficult to find and they do not utilize modern micro-processor technology. I then proceeded to design, develop and test a modernized version of these kits in my school and launched a KickStarter campaign to test market viability.
After recognizing the need in my school for hands-on STEM learning, I developed a non-consumable learning kit that helped in lowering the learning curve of electrical engineering making it easier and quicker to start inventing new gadgets. By combining both electronics and coding it is now easy and safe to gain a better understanding on how electronics work and how to hack and modify existing products.
Students can now follow simple wiring instructions (without soldering) along with sample and tutorial code to build, hack and modify projects and gain a better understanding of both electronics and coding and how they are related in a physical computing environment.
The DuinoKit learning system is the only electronics kit to eliminate soldering and creates a playground of tools for prototyping new ideas in a non-consumable environment. The kit combines with digital learning guides and a online forum make a fun system for use in schools or by individuals.
With the addition of our new product we will have a complete curriculum and project/mission guide along with teacher resources and a companion loose parts offering for when a project is wanting to be completed in a more permanent solution than our prototyping system.
I designed and built this costume for Halloween 2020 and used it for several hours in downtown Asheville hoping I’d bring a little joy into people’s lives. The build took about 10 hours spread out over two weeks. The arms were the most challenging part to design and I made several iterations of them. The costume is very top heavy which made riding the Segway MiniPro very challenging but after 30 minutes of riding I got the hang of it. After watching video of my costume in action I’ve realized I need more white strips of fabric hanging off of the costume.
My invention that I created and designed is a radio controlled sidewalk chalk drawing toy I call “The Khalk Krawler”. The Khalk Krawler was designed to give children and adults a new and fun way to play with chalk. The inspiration for the idea came from going through various neighborhoods I go through daily with my job and seeing all kinds of art work and pictures in driveways and on sidewalks at various houses. The idea was born shortly after a few weeks of brainstorming.
My challenge was trying to figure out a new way for children to draw and play with sidewalk chalk that wasn’t currently available on the market. The vision of how this might work came from me thinking a little bit about my childhood and how I enjoyed playing with R/C toys as a kid, and that started the gears in my head to going, a collaboration of the two, sidewalk chalk and a radio controlled toy to draw with. The idea was conceived in 2008, but I didn’t act on it or pursue the concept to see if it would work until 2014, and I have spent the last 6 years developing, designing, and trying to get the toy to market, by trying to find a toy company that might have an interest in the product for a potential licensing agreement, or a manufacturer that could produce the toy for me with packaging so I could sell it myself though various online outlets and such. I have had no luck with either thus far.
The Khalk Krawler was designed to be inclusive to everyone, meaning the only limitations when using this toy is the users imagination, disabilities and physical challenges will not prevent you from having fun when playing with this toy. The Khalk Krawler helps to eliminate the need to get on the ground to draw and play with chalk, a very simple idea that can bring outdoor fun to so many once it’s available for consumers, if and when I can find this piece to the puzzle to get the product in front of the right person, company, or manufacturer.
Have you ever tried to draw something with an Etch-A-Sketch? If you’re like me, a basic rectangle is about as ambitious as you can get. However, a while back I built a harmonograph table that creates interesting drawings using pendulums swinging back and forth to control a pen (they’re pretty cool – do a quick Internet search for “harmonograph” and check out the pictures!). Then, I saw my son’s Etch-A-Sketch lying around the house and thought, I could connect motors to that to turn the two knobs back and forth with precision to replicate the geometric drawings on the Etch-A-Sketch. And, surprisingly, it worked pretty well (after numerous failures and revisions…).
So, I decided to get a little more ambitious and try to get the Etch-A-Sketch to replicate simple drawings (and sometimes not so simple).
I use a Raspberry Pi Zero W microcomputer (the “Pi”) to process the image, determine a path, and control the motors. The Pi also serves up a simple wireless interface for user control, and it controls a third motor that can rotate the Etch-A-Sketch to erase it between drawings. The idea was to make it entirely “hands-free.”
The video below shows it in action – first the original harmonograph figures and then pictures, including a time-lapse at the end of the drawing of an entire image from start to finish.
Come check it out in person at the next Asheville Maker Faire!