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« April 2007 | Main | June 2007 »

3-D Printers Galore!

We here at PopSci are cracy about  3-D printers, and Maker Faire was flush with plenty of implementations of this amazing developing technology. The project we featured in June, Fab@Home, had its open-source 3-D printer cranking out delicious computer-generated prototypes in cake icing:


Also filed under the "delicious 3-D printing" category was the Evil Mad Scientist Labs's CandyFab 4000, which makes its 3-D prints in sugar. A jet of hot air warms a bed of sugar one pixel at a time. Once a 2-D layer is complete, another layer of sugar is piled on and the process repeats, with each layer of sugar fusing to the next until some truly amazing sculptures are birthed:

A fresh layer of sugar gets printed.


The results.

The folks at TechShop—a supercool Bay Area group that gives its members open access to a ton of high-powered tools—had an industrial-grade ABS plastic 3-D printer going in their booth. This one was making a salt shaker, complete with a threaded screw-top lid:


And finally, Bathesba Grossman is an amazing artist using 3-D printers that work in metal to generate complex geometric forms. Some of the forms, consisting of intricately interlocking bands of polished metal, would be impossible to make without a 3-D printer and a computer. —John Mahoney


Top-Notch Persistence of Vision


Another image from the day-one slide show I couldn't let get buried: James Nick Sears and his dad's amazing "persistence of vision" project, called the ORB. The ORB is hundreds of computer-controlled LEDs soldered into a ring that spins at an impressive 1,600 rpm. A computer synchronizes the LEDs to project animated digital images in full 3-D. —John Mahoney


Be Your Own Google Earth

Of all the projects I saw on display this weekend, the one I'm most anxious to try myself is kite aerial photography. Cris Benton, one of the masters of the field, was on hand to show off his numerous kite rigs. Before taking up kites, Cris was a photographer first and a radio-controlled-airplane enthusiast second. His two hobbies came together quite nicely, inspiring him to fit his cameras with some RC controllers and take them aloft on kites. His current workhorse is a thing of beauty:


A Canon digital point-and-shoot is nestled in an ultralight wood-and-aluminum frame. The whole thing is fitted with servos allowing Cris to control the angle of the camera from the ground and squeeze the shutter when the moment is right via radio control.

The process goes like this: Cris first gets his kite flying smoothly in the air. Once satisfied with the conditions, he ties on his rig's lines to the main kite string and sends it farther up; an ingenious system of four pulleys keeps the rig (and the camera) parallel to the ground using the rig's own weight. The output can be truly stunning:


Salt ponds in Fremont, California, from Cris's Flickr stream. Check it out for more amazing shots.

Cris's current shooter is pretty tricked out, but you can make a much simpler version out of a disposable camera and some Popsicle sticks (you can see part of the instructions here on the Make site). —John Mahoney


The Life-Size Mousetrap

    Mark Perez's life-size Mousetrap rig is a 10-year labor of love. This Rube Goldbergian contraption sends a bowling ball through a bevy of component steps, all resulting in a two-ton bank safe dropping on the poor mouse's cheese. Or at least that's what supposed to happen—but if it ran perfectly every time, it wouldn't be quite as exciting, right? The semi-unsuccessful run in the video above was offset by Perez's very successful marriage proposal to his girlfriend before the action began (she plays the mouse in the show). Highly adorable.


Perez readies a trigger. He's a married man now!

Is That the Star Trek Theme?


It wouldn't be a true techie gathering without a theremin, one of the oldest electronic instruments in existence. Dr. Robby Virus of the Bay Area group Project: Pimento played it, and played it well.

Just in Case You Missed It...


This was at the very end of the day-one slide show, but I had to bring it out in its own post: The coolest thing I saw in the Craft area by far (Craft is Make's sister magazine all about crafting) was Christine Domanic's crocheted Atari 2600 console, complete with two controllers and an old-school woodgrain TV. And the coup de grace? The picture-perfect Pitfall scene on the screen. So awesome. —John Mahoney

Maker Faire Action: Photos from Day One

I just got back from day one at Maker Faire, and to say I'm overwhelmed wouldn't even begin to describe it. Never have I seen more cool toys, ingenious projects, smart robots and, um, crocheted videogame consoles in one place. I spent most of the day walking around in a daze at the incredible variety of stuff on hand in San Mateo—somehow, though, I managed to take some photos. Below is a recap slide show from day one (click on each image for the full explanatory caption, and if you can't see anything at all, click here). Tomorrow we'll take a close look at some of the brightest Makers at the faire. —John Mahoney

Created with Paul's flickrSLiDR.

PopSci at the Maker Faire

Makerfaire_sign Tomorrow, yours truly is shipping out to sunny San Mateo, California, for the second-annual Maker Faire. Put on by our good friends at Make and Craft magazines, the Faire is quickly turning into the ultimate DIY gathering anywhere. Ever! I'll be there scoping out the wildest projects and demos—the list is literally too long and amazing to even get into, but you can check out the full schedule over on the Make site, as well as the previews they've been running all month of what we'll be seeing this weekend (personally, I'm pretty pumped for the disco giraffe we featured in How 2.0 a few months back).

So stay tuned here for updates, photos and videos from Maker Faire this weekend. If you're in the Bay Area, come say hi. —John Mahoney

High-Dynamic-Range Photography: A Guide


If you've seen a particularly eye-popping, out-of-this-world night photograph of a city skyline, or a particularly apocalyptic cloudscape with cartoonish color saturation making the rounds on blogs lately, there's a good chance it was made using high-dynamic-range imaging, or HDR software. And while these images may look like the work of a pro photographer, or at least a seasoned digital-imaging or special-effects expert, the tools to easily make your own amazing HDR images are widely (and in some cases freely) available.

So what exactly comprises an HDR image? Basically, more information per pixel. When you take a photo with your digital camera, the colors are converted to accommodate the limited palette of your display or a piece of photo paper. The human eye, however, is capable of taking in far more color and light information at any given time. This is why it's necessary to take a photo with the correct exposure settings—what your eye sees as a uniform scene with a balanced brightness and color range needs to be regulated to fit within the more limited range of your camera's sensor, or else the image will appear under- or overexposed (too dark or too light).

HDR provides a way to combine a range of exposures of the same scene into one image, adding significantly to the amount of data held per pixel (most digital images hold 8 bits of color information per pixel; an HDR image has 32). The result is an image with more "dynamic range"—in other words, the brights are brighter, the darks darker, and there's much more variance in between.

For a step-by-step guide to creating your own HDR images, continue reading below:

Continue reading "High-Dynamic-Range Photography: A Guide" »

NY Times on 3-D Printers

The New York Times has a nice writeup on the ongoing growth of 3-D printers—fabricators that can take a three-dimensional model from a computer and literally create the object out of melted plastic or an assortment of other maleable substances:

“A milestone for us would be to print a robot that would get up and walk out of the printer,” Professor Lipson said. “Batteries included.”

While that milestone may be more than a few miles away, 3-D printers are already doing some amazing things. See this video below, for instance, of the sub-$3,000 open-source Fab@Home project's printer cranking out one of those rubber squeeze bulb things we all know and love out of liquid silicone. Teleportation can't be too far off... —John Mahoney

FYI: Check out our hot-off-the-presses Q&A with Fab@Home mastermind Hod Lipson here.

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