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This week:
DIY Marble Mazes, The Uda Electronic Music Instrument, Maywa Denki’s “Sound is Fun,” The Swimming Robot, A Magnetic Actuator on an Ultralight Indoor Helicopter, Mr. Rolling, Made in Japan @ Maker Faire 2008, MechaRoboShop, the Xtel Ubiquitous Content Platform, and the Contraband Chumby.

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Marble Mazes by The Meiroya San
Forget what you know about labyrinths (but please remember David Bowie). Here are some DIY’ed labyrinth-style marble mazes from The Meiroya San. It may have been enough just getting the marble through the maze the old way, but now you have to climb mountains, find your way through castles, climb the Tower of Babel, and work your way through a forest of dice. There is even a marble maze made to resemble Machu Pichu, and for the electronics geek, there’s even one (although currently “under construction”) made out of an old circuit board:

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There are plenty of videos of these mazes in action on the atom352006 YouTube channel.
[via TV in Japan]


The Uda
The recent Make: Tokyo meeting was filled with the whimsical sounds of the Uda. The Uda is an electronic instrument that is played with both hands by pushing down pieces of rope that correspond to certain notes. Each twist of the rope represents an octave, and each segment of the rope represents a different note. The resulting data is output as MIDI, and although it could technically be used with any MIDI sound, Uda-san (Uda is also the name of the person who made this instrument) chooses to stick with the flute-like textures, and I think we can thank him for it: The result is an eerie ocarina-esque carnival-type whistle, perfect for large meetings of tech folks.
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[via Gizmodo Japan, Make: Japan Blog]

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Maywa Denki + Tamiya = The “Sound is Fun” Construction Series
Maywa Denki has done it again. Or rather, did it again, a while ago. This is a series that Nobumichi Tosa of Maywa Denki did for the Tamiya model company using their Technicraft motors and gearboxes to create noise-making machines. As always, the Maywa Denki sense of humor is present in the videos here, so the Japanese-only page here and click on the links that say “WMV” at the beginning. It’s more of the brilliant, arty, and humorous stuff we have come to expect from Maywa Denki.


The Backstroking Robot
Backstroking, or maybe its face is facing down, it’s hard to tell. And what is that thing in between its legs? Youtube user Masamichi01 builds a robot that can traverse the length of any bathtub. What form! His YouTube channel and website showcase a few other minimalist, simple robots that move curiously.


Magnet Actuator on an Ultralight Helicopter
Here is an example of a coil and a magnet being used to cause movement as a magnetic actuator. This magnet actuator is used to control the rotor on Fujinawa-san’s ultralight helicopter shown here. According the his blog, this helicopter features automatic control with a gyro sensor and a microcontroller, and still only weighs in at 6.7 grams. Another amazing piece from the Japanese indoor ultralight makers.
[via Make: Japan]


Mr. Rolling
As seen at the Make: Tokyo Meeting, here’s a cute toy using an LED matrix inside a rolling cylinder to simulate a little man trapped inside. He runs along when the cylinder is pushed in a given direction, and he even jumps when you shake the cylinder in an upwards motion. This piece was originally made by Sunao Hiruta for the IAMAS Ima-karada exhibition.

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Made in Japan @ the Maker Faire 2008
At Maker Faire I had the opportunity of meeting up with Osamu Iwasaki of MechaRoboShop (above, left) and Hideo Tamura, the editor of the Japanese version of Make (above, right). Mr. Iwasaki did a great favor by succinctly summing up how he would describe Maker Faire: “It’s like a DIY Disneyland.” If you ever have trouble explaining Maker Faire to some square, calling it the DIY Disneyland might be a good approach!

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Osamu Iwasaki runs MechaRoboShop, an electronics parts distributor designed to fill the emerging niche of hobbyist robotics in Japan. As Mr. Iwasaki pointed out, Japan certainly has no shortage of robots or electronics parts to build those robots, but the great majority of these components are designed for professional/industrial applications and may be too expensive or not available in smaller quantities to hobbyist buyers. MechaRoboShop seeks to not just sell robot parts, but to act as a community for uniting technology enthusiasts in sharing their work, as seen in Iwasaki-san’s numerous blog posts, his robotics workshop at the Make: Tokyo Meeting, etc.

Their Impressions of Maker Faire, the Future of Maker Events
It was quite interesting to talk to Iwasaki-san and Tamura-san about the Maker Faire experience, because they had both just recently come from the Make: Tokyo event (an event that has been receiving a great deal of buzz in the Japanese blogosphere), and were excited to see the potential that the emerging “Maker movement” might have as more Make events take place in Japan. As the Maker Faire has grown exponentially every year, it would seem to follow that similar events in Japan would share the same growth, so it was good to hear rumors of another Make: Tokyo event this fall. It just goes to show that in every part of the world there are bound to be people who are “Makers” but who might not know that there is even really a name for what they are doing, and that conventions, meetings, magazines, and websites where people start sharing these ideas (while not initially creating the activity, because it already existed) begin to help define these movements. This movement then in turn does create new activity by bringing in new interest in making, and this could be why events like Maker Faire get bigger every year. Pretty cool stuff.

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(Oops! Sorry about the bad picture. Next time we’ll get a purikura at Saty in Hofu.)

Also in attendance all the way from Japan was a group from Keio University. Projects from Keio University and their affiliates are a perennial favorite here on Made in Japan, so it was great to meet some of these Makers in person. This group from Keio was in attendance showcasing their new Xtel Ubiquitous Content Platform project. The Xtel Ubiquitous Content Platform project features wireless capability (802.15) between its components, a Javascript-based programmable interface, and is designed to be used by artists, web designers, and other “Sunday programmers” for use with sensors, buttons, and all the other electronic interactions that make up the physical computing environment. More details about the project can be found at the project page here (English). Although this platform has not officially launched and is not commercially available, one interesting thing about the future of this project is that because this is a government-funded project, it can’t really be “sold” as a product, so there’s a chance that this may become open sourced in the future. Interesting stuff, for sure.

Contraband Chumby?
As a side note, it was interesting to see the extreme Japanese interest in the Chumby, since they are not legally allowed to be shipped for sale to Japan due to the more strict wireless RF certification standards there. Who’d have thought that something so cute could be so illegal?

Thanks,

-Mike


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