Maker Movement Mania

Spiderbots and Other Mind-Bending Maker Inventions at IDF 2014

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

Spiderbots, a spinball game and mood-sensing clothes turn a technology industry forum into a maker’s circus.

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), you never know who or what you’ll bump into, but you can be certain it’s all worth a second look.

One minute you’re watching yoga acrobatics performed in front of the wearable technology zone, and in a blink of an eye, Google co-founder Sergey Brin climbs out of the crowd to bust a move.

This year’s event in San Francisco was a mindblower, filled with smart, Internet-connected things created by amateur and professional makers, as well as Intel Labs researchers.

Head turners included a creepy robotic spider, a mood-sensing shirt and a pinball-like game powered by tiny sensors, servos and Legos.

Each handmade project was built using Intel Edison and Galileo technology, which provide makers with substantial computing performance and software that makes it easy to turn ideas into reality.

“More things are being connected to the Internet not just because of personal devices [laptops, tablets and smartphones], industrial machines and things like smart-cities technologies,” said Ed Ross, director of inventor platforms for Intel’s New Devices Group.

“Crowdfunding, 3D printing and the open source movement are driving more people to make their own things that connect to and run on the Internet.”

Using software tools that come with Galileo and Edison, makers can design new things that connect to the Internet, use cloud services to analyze and store data and even connect to other wireless-equipped devices.

Matt Bunting first developed smart hexapod as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, 3D printing the legs at one of the school’s lab.

Now a PhD student, Bunting recently transformed his crawling creation into a Spiderbot using Intel Edison technology, which helped him lessen the load on the robotic structure and add new capabilities.

He brought two Spiderbots, one connected to his laptop with wires and another that operates wirelessly.

His goal now is to see how it gets around on different types of terrain. It could make for an even better trick at Halloween.

One team of Intel developers rummaged through some old storage items and found a blender, four fans and some ping pong balls. Thus was born the Spinball Machine.

Using a second generation Intel Galileo development board, a team led by Intel Labs connected buttons and switches linked to motors that control the game’s flippers. Fans on each corner blow the ping pong ball around after a player scores.

This one-on-one pinball for makers has been demonstrated before at places like Lighthouse Community Charter in Oakland, California, and at after-school programs like TechGYRLs. Researchers say it’s been a great way to get young students interested in coding and making.

This autonomous rover can sense obstructions and redirect itself without human intervention.

Rick Waldron made the rover with a Galileo Gen 2 development board, three sensors, steering equipment, wheel motors, a battery, a GPS and Lego parts.

A wave of a hand and the two feeler-like wires at the front of the rover turns its front wheels right or left and the back wheels into reverse.

The Octoblu team scoured Twitter for tweets with the IDF hashtag (#IDF14) and ran them through a sentiment-detection algorithm that triggered different colored lights. Red signified negative tweets, green for positive and blue for neutral.

The team is working to get machines and software talking in an effort to improve home automation systems like thermostats and lights.

China has harsh winters and an increasingly isolated aging population. So some developers at Intel Labs China created a light-up undershirt that uses Edison to collect ECG data.

The data it collects can be analyzed by a tablet, which displays the wearer’s emotions.

This novel way of visualizing someone’s mood let the team to create a decorative necktie that lights up in different patterns depending on the heart rate and mood of the person wearing the undershirt.

Michael Tsvetkov developed a voice-controlled running backpack that displays words and recognizable icons.

“Turning left,” said Tsvetkov, and an arrow pointing left appears in lights along with a person walking in that direction.

Tsvetkov said he hopes the device, made with an Edison development board, will help marathon runners. With so many backpacks in the world, he says it could be used in a variety of fun and useful ways.

This drone from 3D Robotics adjusts its position to always keep a person in the camera’s frame.

Some drone videographers rely on GPS, but that’s not precise enough to follow someone in motion, said Arthur Benemann, who manned the company’s booth at IDF.

The 3D Robotics drone “tracks the biggest red blob,” he said. For now, that means users need to wear a red shirt or hat.

Oregon State University student Tuan Truong, along with some other summer interns at Intel, built an autonomous water-sensing rover that helps farmers determine how often they need to water crops.

A sensor on the rover takes soil samples to determine moisture level, and an infrared webcam captures information about plant health and age.

Truong said his goal is to make the rover fully solar powered.

After a new building went up near Intel’s office in Guadalajara, Mexico, 12 Intel employees there decided to spend their spare time developing a better construction helmet.

The result, said team member Roberto Burgos, is a helmet that uses Edison and an expansion board to detect a variety of anomalies.

In the case of an impact, a foreman can then determine whether a worker needs medical attention.

The helmet also has sensors that can detect gas leaks. Canaries everywhere are rejoicing.


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