Exhibiting STEAM projects at Nebraska Science Festival 2014

Added on April 29, 2014

On April 25th-26th I went up to the Durham Museum in Omaha to show some of my work and talk to kids and families about STEAM and Making. I brought lots of fun projects with me and was greeted by a very enthusiastic and fun crowd each day.

For events like this I usually bring UNK’s Makerbot Replicator and my own Prusa Mendel i2 3D printer, along with a bunch of 3D prints that I’ve produced. But this time I also brought a few projects that I hacked together special for the event so kids could interact with something and play around a bit.

Pictures and video from the event

I set up two tables, one with my 3D printing toys, and one with my art projects. I let the kids pick up and explore all of the various 3D prints I brought, and they had tons of great questions about them. I was very pleasantly surprised by how many kids told me that one of their teachers had a 3D printer in their classroom – I really hope that means that more kids can start using tech like this from an early age!

I brought some of the collaborative work I’ve been doing with glassblower Kenny Galusha, along with two drawing machines I hacked together earlier in the week (more on those later).

Sensor car paintbot and prints

car2The first artbot I put together last week was an RC car that I hacked to respond to changes in light levels using six photocells. When the user covers up any of the sensors with their hand the car will drive towards the user. This bot was very quirky and fun to watch because the light sensors can be a little finicky to use, making the bot appear to violently spring into action whenever it felt like it. Almost as if you aren’t so much controlling it as you can suggesting that is moves towards you. A pair of giant googly eyes or a paper body would’ve gone a long way, in retrospect.

I used an Arduino Uno clone from Sparkfun and an L293D motor controller chip that I had laying around to control both the front and back motors (steering and drive motors respectively) so that I could use a small program to make the car go forward, back and turn based on input from the six photocells.

I squirted some blobs of paint on some paper and let the kids do whatever they wanted. Needless to say, this artbot was extremely popular! You can see the bot in action in the video above.

Watercolor bot and prints

watercolor1The other artbot that I came up with last week was a twitchy robot arm that uses watercolors to paint pictures on an easel. It uses a joystick to allow the user to directly control the paint brush (zip-tied to the metal frame), and a simple pan/tilt servo mechanism to allow the paintbrush to move up, down, left and right. Inside the cardboard box is an old Arduino board with lots of wire and hot glue holding everything together, with a small 35-line long sketch to translate the joystick position into the movement of the servos.

I was very satisfied with the responsiveness of the robot arm to the movements of the joystick, you can get very aggressively artistic with this little bot and make some great prints.

I was actually very surprised by the prints when I looked at them after the event. They are much more beautiful than I expected when they are taken out of context! Will definitely be making more drawing machines in the future!