May 24, 2017 AUTHOR: Donald Bell CATEGORIES: News Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Perfect Summer Robot [Maker Update #35]

This week on Maker Update, Kitty Grabs Gold, a robot beer cooler that follows you, the Circuit Playground Express, Adafruit and Microsoft, Other Machine Co. and Bre Pettis, Tinkercad Lego export, a great kit for gadget and toy hacking, and Maker Faires. Our featured Cool Tool is the iFixit Electronic Toolkit.

Show Notes

2017 PPPRS Endurance Race Winners
Photo courtesy of Hep Svadja/Make:

Maker Faire 2017

Opening Power Racing Series Race

Amazing Tales from the Workshop

Endurance Race

Advanced Project

Make an Autonomous “Follow Me” Cooler Made by Hacker House

Follow Me cooler by Hacker House.
Circuit diagram for Autonomous “Follow Me” Cooler Made by Hacker House.


Circuit Playground Express, Supported by #MakeCode | @Microsoft @MSMakeCode #MicrosoftEDU

Microsoft MakeCode screenshot

Circuit Playground Express – Developer Edition

Circuit Playground Express by Adafruit
Photo courtesy of Adafruit.

Microsoft MakeCode for Adafruit Guide

Announcing Microsoft MakeCode for Circuit Playground Express


Tinkercad Adding Embedded Circuits, Lego Exports, and More

Other Machine Co. Acquired by Bre Pettis, Former CEO and Co-Founder of MakerBot

Photo of Othermill by Other Machine Co.
Photo by Other Machine Co.

Cool Tools Minute

iFixit Electronics Toolkit

iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit

Cool Tools Podcast Patreon

Maker Faires

Maker Faire Wallonia Liege
Adana Mini Maker Faire Adana
Izmir Mini Maker Faire Izmir
Vilnius Mini Maker Faire Vilnius
Lomé Mini Maker Faire (Lome) Lomé
Strasbourg Mini Maker Faire Strasbourg
Torino Mini Maker Faire Torino
Sunshine Coast Mini Maker Faire Gibsons, BC
Chisinau Mini Maker Faire Chisinau



This week on Maker Update, Kitty Grabs Gold, a beer cooler that follows you, the Circuit Playground Express, Adafruit and Microsoft, Other Machine Co. and Bre Pettis, Tinkercad Lego export, a great kit for gadget and toy hacking, and Maker Faires.

It’s Wednesday, May 24th, I’m Donald Bell, and welcome to another Maker Update. I hope you’re having a great week. Mine has been outrageously beyond any expectation.

This year’s Maker Faire Bay Area was unlike any I’ve ever done. The panel went great. And the Kitty Grabs Back! You guys, the Kitty kicked ass! We placed in every race and took gold in two. You can see it all in the Twitch video links in the show notes.

It was one of the most intense and exciting things I’ve ever done. So thank you to everyone who supported my campaign, and the wonderful, crazy people who came out to the races. It could not have gone better and I’m already planning my next car.

On with the show. It was a news packed week for makers, so let’s talk about one project and then go through the news, ok?

This week, I have to mention this autonomous “Follow Me” cooler by Hacker House. This is essentially a motorized platform, designed to hold a cooler, that compares its location to yours over GPS and then tries to close the gap.

It’s using an Arduino Uno with a Parallax GPS module, an Adafruit compass module, and a Bluetooth module, and communicates to your phone to grab your location. The total cost of the project, assuming you already have a smartphone, is probably around $100.

One of the biggest criticisms of this project is also what I kinda love about it, which is that there’s no obstacle avoidance built in. If you go behind a wall, it will just keep ramming into the wall. But on the plus side, the design cuts out all the complex obstacle detection, or put another way, it gives the community a chance to build onto it.

Because this project is literally a platform. You can replace the cooler with anything. I want to build one with a cardboard R2D2 on it that follows me around. It could hold your candy when you’re trick or treating.

The project is on Hackster, the code is on GitHub, and you can find all the links in the show notes.

And now for news! This week, timed with Maker Faire, Microsoft announced that their free, web-based MakeCode software is now compatible with a new version of the Adafruit Circuit Playground board called the Circuit Playground Express.

So, there’s a lot to unpack here. First off, the new board from Adafruit. It’s the same form factor as the original, essentially designed like a circular Arduino, but with oversized input/output spots on the board that are easy to connect alligator clips to. It also has built in color-changing LEDs, a built in speaker, a ton of sensors and buttons you can assign to different things.

With the new design, you get a faster processor (the ARM M0) that can also handle Microsoft’s MakeCode or Javascript, or Circuit Python, in addition to traditional Arduino code.

The board sells as a kit for $30 or alone for $25, which isn’t bad considering all the bells and whistles baked into it and the fact it can be programmed 4 different ways.

Now the other part of this announcement is Microsoft’s MakeCode support, and honestly I hadn’t heard about MakeCode until now. But if you go to, you can program a virtual board using a Scratch style block interface, or toggle over to javascript. You can watch your code simulated on the virtual board and you can pull up example projects and tweak them how you want.

To load the code, you just plug the board in over USB, hit the reset button twice, and it pops up like a USB drive. Download the code to the drive, and the board automatically updates. It looks so easy! And I know it’s geared more for students, but part of me wishes all boards worked this way.

In other news, at Maker Faire, Autodesk did a presentation on new features coming soon to Tinkercad. These will include the ability to export directly to Fusion 360, an export to Lego feature, and the ability to import circuit designs to create enclosures. It all sounds great, and the price will still be free.

One final bit of news. Other Machine Co., maker of the OtherMill desktop CNC mill has been sold. The buyer is none other than Bre Pettis, former CEO and co-founder of Makerbot. And despite all the drama of the Makerbot story, I’m excited to see Bre stepping back into the maker community. Danielle Applestone will still serve as CEO, and she seems genuinely excited about the acquisition. It’s going to be fun to see where this goes.

It’s time now for another 1-minute review of a useful, uncommon tool, brought to you by my friends at the Cool Tools blog. This week I’m going to show off the iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit. It’s on Amazon Prime for around $25, and by using the link in the show notes you help to support this show and Cool Tools.

I’ve had this kit for around a year now, and it’s especially great for opening up and repairing or hacking my kid’s toys, or any electronics with small screws. When a toy breaks, especially an RC car, this is my one-stop triage kit.

It comes in a hard plastic shell with magnetic corners, and the lid is designed with this raised grid inside that works for grouping together screws and washers as you go — which just that right there shows you the kind of attention that went onto this kit.

Inside you’ll find a great set of tools for separating the layers of delicate electronics like smartphones or tablets. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to use it for that, but I’ve done an iPod Touch screen repair with these same tools.

You also get a pair of precision tweezers and a metal jimmy tool that’s good for gently prying things apart without cutting yourself.

Mostly though, I keep coming back to this kit for the screwdriver. This is like the Maserati of precision screwdrivers. It’s a magnetized metal handle that comes with 16 bits that run from Philips and flat, to exotic pentalobes and security bits.

It’s a great price for what it is and you’ll feel like a pro every time you use it. If you’ve suffered through using these cheap jewelers screwdrivers that chew up your fingers, then you’ve earned this upgrade.

You support this show by using the the link in the video description, so thank you for doing that. And you can see thousands of other reader-recommended tools like this at

Speaking of Cool Tools, for those of you who enjoy their podcast but wish it came out more frequently, they’ve launched a Patreon to help them ramp up to a weekly release schedule. There are some great perks and you can find out more at

Maker Faires! The mothership faire just wrapped up, but Maker Faire season is still just getting started. This weekend we have a ton of global Faires including Liege Belgium, Adana Turkey, Izmir Turkey, Vilnius Lithuania, Lomé Togo, Strasbourg France, Torino Italy, Gibsons British Columbia Canada, and Chisinau (key-she-now) Republic of Moldova. A lot of those are first-time Faires, which is exciting to see.

Alright, and that’s it for this week’s show. Be sure to subscribe so you can see these every Wednesday. Remember to grab that iFixit toolkit if that’s something you’ll use. And if not, give me a thumbs up or leave me a comment, that would feel great too, ok? Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week.

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