I’m a fan of iFixit. They’re a cool, maker-friendly company on a mission to help people repair their own electronics. In full disclosure, I approached them early on when I started my Maker Update show to see if they would consider sponsoring it. And while they politely declined, they seem to appreciate what I’m doing enough to send me a few freebies to check out. That’s how I ended with these two gorgeous toolkits.
This week on Maker Update: a payphone that calls the 90’s, a moon for your nightstand, a way to finally get your fish talking, a mini NES with NFC, 3D printed ornaments, a sewing machine for makers, a ridiculous amount of maker contests, and the first Maker Faire in L.A.
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About a month ago I got a call from the people behind a drone called Fotokite, wondering if I’d be interested in seeing a demo of their product. I already knew the product pretty well based on a demo of their prototype I was given last year while I was on staff at Make Magazine. With this in mind, I was curious to see how the product had evolved into its final state.
So here are my thoughts based on my hands-on time with the shipping version of the Fotokite Phi, a drone with a thin, strong leash attached to it, selling now for $249.
The prototype model of this I played with last year had limited features, no camera controls, and a somewhat fragile 3D printed construction — but it was a fun product and the concept was still strong. It’s a fold-up drone you can fit in a backpack and launch in the air in just a minute with no fear of it flying off or getting stuck in a tree.
This final shipping version uses a stronger injection-molded plastic that I bounced off the wall a few times without losing control. It also includes more control features in the handle, which help steer it around and can directly control a GoPro mounted on the front. You have to provide the GoPro, though, so that’s an extra cost. A less expensive GoPro alternative can be substituted in the same space, however you’ll have to operate the controls manually directly on the camera before and after flight.
They’ve also included a new follow mode that allows you to just tow this thing behind you while you’re snowboarding or biking or whatever. The included leash extends 25ft, but can be upgraded to 100ft. To hear them tell it, this is a big deal because many of the more expensive drone solutions with follow modes still have a tendency to wander off.
All-in-all, I walked away wanting one — not because it’s a drone, but because it’s like a kind of magic kite really. This sounds sorta obvious when you consider the name, but when you first look at this thing it takes a minute to reconcile that it’s not the drone toy you expect it to be — and as someone who’s not a big fan of drones that’s a good thing.
And to be clear, this isn’t a paid endorsement. I just wanted to share my experience because I thought it was pretty cool, and neat to see a unique product go from concept to finished design. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment on the video above.
As many of you know from watching my Maker Update video series, I’ve been obsessed with hacking together a Billy Bass novelty talking fish and Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant. About a month ago, an artist named Brian Kane published a viral video showing a Big Mouth Billy Bass novelty singing fish, seemingly voiced by Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant. The internet went nuts for it, and so did I — but mostly I just wanted to know how it worked so that I could make my own.
After a few weeks tinkering with it and collecting the components I needed, I’ve come up with a workable hack. The project documentation and code are available on Instructables. I encourage you to provide feedback and ideas on how to improve it.
This Halloween, I decided to dress up as a mad scientist. Kind of obvious, I know, but a great excuse to wire up this Adafruit Neopixel Goggle Kit I had sitting around.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had an easy experience with Neopixels. Somehow I always manage to burn one out, or get an unexpected glitch. My hope was that this kit would provide me with a guaranteed success, and I’m happy to say that it delivered.
The kit comes in a box with most everything you need including a Trinket micro controller (basically a tiny Arduino), a pair of plastic costume goggles, two Neopixel rings, multiple colors of wire, a surface mount JST battery connector, a small rechargeable battery pack, and USB battery charger. You will need to supply your own micro USB cable for loading code, and devise your own diffuser for the lenses (plain copy paper works fine).
You’ll also need a few tools, including a soldering iron, solder, hot glue, E6000 adhesive (optional), wire cutters/strippers, and a computer.
No printed instructions are, but the online documentation is ample and detailed, plus you’ll need to go online to download the code required for the Trinket to do its magic.
Right off the bat, the instructions have you soldering a small surface mount JST connection to the Trinket. This allows you to run the Trinket from the included battery pack, but it’s also a likely stumbling block for anyone just beginning with soldering. It’s a delicate operation.
Wiring the two Neopixel rings also presented some challenges. Despite the documentation, it was hard to get a clear idea of exactly which wires ran to which areas of the rings. After thinking it through, I came up with the right solution — but again I think this is an area where someone without experience might lose hope.
Before glueing everything in place, you’re advised to load the Arduino code to the Trinket and see if everything’s working as planned. Though the Trinket is Arduino IDE compatible (meaning it can connect to the standard Arduino software), you will need an additional download and adjustment to get things working. Again, another bump in the road for a beginner.
The Instructions also advise reinforcing some of the wiring with a few globs of E6000 adhesive. I didn’t have any, but having seen it used in so many other projects I took it as a great excuse to walk to the hardware store and buy some. Securing the rings into the goggles required hot glue, which I had plenty of.
The end result looks great and I’m happy with how these turned out. For a unique costume or cosplay showpiece, I think the $40 price of the kit is a good value. It should be noted that you can’t see through the goggles once they’re complete — they’re just meant to hang out on your head and look cool.
Cool things I learned with this kit:
-Programming a Trinket board
-Chaining together multiple NeoPixels
-Using E6000 to provide strain relief on electronic wiring
-Working with and recharging small LiPo battery packs
-Surface mount soldering (JST on Trinket)
What to watch out for:
-A little bit of tricky surface mount soldering
-Configuring Arduino software settings for use with Trinket
-Aligning Neopixel rings in goggles for symmetry
-Devising your own diffuser for the lenses (I used Frisket film)