Frits Lyneborg is co-host of MAKE’s video series, The Latest in Hobby Robotics and runs Let’s Make Robots! the largest online community of its kind, which he started in 2008 as a forum for robot electronics, programming, and funny ideas and inspiration. For MAKE Vol. 27 Frits describes how to make his YouTube sensation, the Yellow Drum Machine, a funky little free-range drumbot that roams, makes beats, and samples.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am 41 years old, and I live in Copenhagen, Denmark, the isle of Amager, where I have my workshop in a little red and white wooden shack.
I have a background in developing community websites and working in the music industry. Today I make a living from my two hobbies: robot building and acting. I work as an actor in films and commercials. How can one make a living from making hobby robots, you might ask Well, I founded Let’s Make Robots! three or four years ago. The site has turned into a general meeting place, and that has given me connections to almost every player in the industry. From publishing houses like MAKE, to shops, and most importantly, the many talented people out there, and the manufacturers of products related to hobby robotics. I make money very individually, many little deals, and mostly behind the scenes; For one company I work as a consultant on their web presence. For another I developed a new sensor. I design boards, I write manuals, I put people together and form projects, and I hold seminars… anything related to “hobby robotics.”
How did you become interested in robotics?
I did not know anything about electronics four years ago. As a kid, I was having fun programming my ZX Spectrum computer in BASIC, and that was all the background I had. While shopping around for random cool stuff on the net, I stumbled over PICAXE microcontrollers. I never thought I’d be able to do anything with the mysterious little chips that I had seen on circuit boards. But learning that I could actually program them, in BASIC, and it wasn’t hard at all, it got me all fired up in a creative rush from another world. At a point I got the crazy idea of making a robot, and I thought I was the only one in the world doing so. To my surprise it was very easy and extremely fun — and a very creative process. So I searched the Internet for fellow builders, but all the info I could find was on how complex and technically orientated it was. Everyone wrote about how much planning was needed, and everything I am bad at. That was what made me do the “How to make your first robot” article, that today is Google’s #1 return for searches on “how to make a robot.” You can build a robot in 20 minutes, and it’s easy and fun!
Why do you like making robots?
I do not think that any creative person who has tried to make an autonomous robot has not felt the magic: you sit with a bunch of absolutely dead parts scattered on a table. There is no life at all. You put them together, in a way you invent, and all the sudden they are longer “dead parts” — you have made “a live thing that is trying to get out to the kitchen” — perhaps even against your will. If you have any creativity in you, that just sparks your imagination; you are sold.
Tell us about the Yellow Drum Machine you wrote about for MAKE. People always laugh and smile when they watch the video of it or see it in person.
The Yellow Drum machine was 100% targeted to be a viral advertising for my then new website. I had made “a community website” (letsmakerobots.com), but obviously. I had no members in it at first, so I figured I’d make something to spark people’s imagination, and send out the signal that “over here we’re having fun building robots, come join in!” As written in the article in MAKE magazine, I was sitting with some parts, and the robot practically made itself, while I was just having fun doing it. I felt like it was already made, I just had to put it together — which was also why the first version was made really, really fast, mostly with hot glue and sticks. It was first put on Google video (which was the big thing back then), and one week, three different videos of it were the number 1, 4, and 6 most seen on the channel. Later, I re-released it on YouTube, where it was featured, and seen by over a million people. When I made it, there was no other drumming robots that I could find. Today, they are everywhere — though I am surprised that they usually are very “robotic,” and not very funky at all in the music they make. I was making the Yellow Drum Machine out of love for the whole process of really creating something — it was a fun weekend project. But I am happy to say that it also served its purpose as a viral video, as it is still drawing people to the website today. I am also happy to finally be able to release a good article about it and a kit, so everyone can build their own version.
What kind of robot do you dream of making?
I am working on a team doing some really exciting new sensors for SeeedStudio. I cannot reveal details yet, but I can promise you that the world has not yet seen sensors like this — and I am really looking forward to seeing what people make with them — and to play around with them myself, as they will take small easy-to-do robots to a new level of life form.
Can you tell us about one of your favorite tools?
I prefer simple tools that I master — so I can focus on creating, instead of the process. The multimeter used to see if there are connections, and the hot glue gun must be my favorite tools, just after my DSO NanoScope (small cheap pocket size oscilloscope).
One is a random test shot, where you can see how it authentically looks on any average night. The two others are showing one of my latest projects, which is a form of stabilizer for cameras flying on multicopters. It uses the Steadicam (™) principle, and I use the multicopters battery as weight, in an attempt to give a natural balance to the camera. The idea is that servos should only be used to guide and dampen movements, but natural forces of weight and balance should keep the camera in a nice steady position. Time will tell if it works
More: See Frits’ Latest in Hobby Robotics video series
From the Pages of MAKE
MAKE Volume 27, Robots! The robots have returned! MAKE Volume 27 features a special package with robotics projects for every age and skill level. They play music; they outwit your pets; they learn from their mistakes! In addition, we’ll show you how to build a special aquarium to keep jellyfish, create pre-Edison incandescent lighting, spy via the internet, and make a go-anywhere digital message board! All this and much, much more, in MAKE Volume 27.