Russell the Electric Giraffe at Maker Faire

One of the most iconic creatures to roam the Maker Faire is, hands down, Russell the Electric Giraffe. I remember falling in love with Russell the first time I met him, back in 2006, at the very first Maker Faire. He is one of the sweetest robots you’ll ever meet. He’ll be at this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, taking place next weekend, on May 21 and 22. Russell took some time out from his busy schedule recently to chat about friends he’s made at previous Faires, his favorite kinds of music, and what Maker Faire looks like from 17 feet up.

1. Russell, you are truly one of a kind. Tell us about yourself. How were you conceived?
Back in 2003, Lindsay [Lawlor] was at the Burning Man festival and rode around on several art cars, including a zebra powered by a lawn mower engine. He was inspired by the site of art cars that looked like animals, and saw how much they were liked by everyone. After much contemplation, he decided to build a large robot giraffe, which eventually became me! He saw in his mind what a huge robot giraffe would look like in the dark with his spots changing to multiple colors to the beat of whatever music was playing nearby. Sort like a huge “color organ” from the 1960s in the shape of a giraffe. It was that image that inspired him to create me.

2. Can you share some of your technical specs with us? What makes you tick? What are your dimensions?
I’m about 17 feet tall with my neck raised. I weigh about 2000 pounds and run on batteries which are charged by a propane engine or outlet. I can carry 9 children or 4 adults in comfort on my back, and have at one time carried nearly 30 people at once. My software is hand engineered by Russell Pinnington, which allows me to know when people are touching my nose or other pet sensors. This allows me to talk to people who are near me.

Lindsay Lawlor and Russell the Electric Giraffe

3. Tell us more about your good friend Lindsay Lawlor. How did he first get started making things and who are his inspirations.
Lindsay is a crazy sort of kid, who never went to college. He just knows how to read very well and understand electromechanical devices. He’s always built mini bikes and model airplanes and also worked for Laserium, running laser shows and building his own laser projectors. People who started from scratch with things and became famous through their successes have always been very inspiring, from the Wright brothers to Nikola Tesla to Ivan Dryer of Laserium. Lindsay has always done things on his own and never let anything stop him.

4. You’ve been at every single Maker Faire Bay Area since the beginning in 2006. What keeps you coming back every year? What does the evolution of the Faire look from your perspective up there?
The Faire is simply amazing and the most fun I have ever had. It’s my favorite show to attend, and to watch the show evolve each year has been very entertaining. To see all the other technologies and art each year is what keeps me coming back, along with the Maker Faire having made me something of a mascot. I’ve been on their tickets and posters a few times now [2010 poster below], and the honor and respect they show me is very gratifying! The kids are probably the best, seeing them squeal with delight when they see me, and their parents who are also fans. Each year it is wonderful to entertain everyone there!

Maker Faire Poster with Russell the Giraffe

5. You always evolve a bit each year. What’s new for 2011?
This year my changes are minor, but nevertheless important. Updates are being done to my servo controls, software, and electrical system, as well as our presentation to the public, working on new posters, T-shirts, and other items. In the future, I’ll be getting a whole new head and neck made out of aluminum, with a further change later to a seven-segmented neck, so that I’ll be able to twist my neck and look about. Right now is neck is a very stiff single piece, and I don’t like it very much! I will also get a motorized tongue that I can stick it out and waggle at people!

6. What are your hobbies? Where do you go on your off time? Where are your other favorite places to roam?
I like to munch on spare electronics, which drives Lindsay crazy when he looks for things and they are missing. I spend my downtime relaxing in my new huge workshop that Lindsay just recently purchased, along with his new home. Thus, the reason for not too many changes this year. As for other places to roam, I can be found in various places in San Diego on Halloween and Christmas, going out to parades and such. I have entered the Ocean Beach Christmas Parade twice, and both times received a “Best In Show” award!

Russell the Giraffe at Maker Faire

7. You always make so many new friends at the Faire each year, robotic and human. Who are some of your most memorable Faire friends?
In my second appearance in 2007, as I was walking off the trailer the day before the Faire, I suffered a major electrical failure in my main drive motor. It essentially melted down! Lindsay was frantic and managed to find a new motor for me, but needed some big tools to do the job. It turned out that one of his biggest inspirations, Mark Pauline of SRL, was there, doing his own exhibit, and Mark was gracious enough to lend him some tools to fix me. So, in his very first meeting with Mark, Lindsay was forced to beg for help from him all in the same moment. Mark later showed up and complimented Lindsay on the creation of such a large beast as myself.

8. You’re also known as Rave Raffe, so we know you like beats. What’s your favorite kind of music?
Wow, I like so much music, but lounge, chillout and psy-chill are some of my faves. If I had to name favorites, Lindsay designed and built me to the music of Bluetech, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Higher Intelligence Agency, Pete Namlook, and many others.

Lindsay Lawlor and Russell at Night

9. What is your motto?
“Are you going to eat that?” [hungry look]

russell and gothic raygun rocketship Maker Faire Bay Area: Russell the Electric Giraffe Interview

Thanks Russell! Can’t wait to see you, buddy! Check out the site for all the information you need to come out and play with us at Maker Faire Bay Area. And check out the video below, from the 2008 Maker Faire Bay Area, to see Russell in action.

Goli Mohammadi

I’m a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

I was an editor for the first 40 volumes of MAKE. The maker movement provides me with endless inspiration, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. Covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made.

Contact me at snowgoli (at) gmail (dot) com.


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