CamDAX Tesla Coil

The countdown to our 7th annual Maker Faire Bay Area marches on, and we are less than a month away from the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth! Taking place on May 19 and 20 at the San Mateo Fairground, this year’s Faire is guaranteed to be a whirlwind of inspiration. One of the fine young makers who will be showing projects at the Faire is 16-year-old Cameron Mira (CamDAX), maker, artist, club organizer. We chatted with Cameron about the projects he’s bringing to the Faire and how he developed his maker chops.

1. Tell us about the audio-modulated full-bridge Tesla coil you’re bringing to Maker Faire.
When I was around five, during lightning storms, me and my mom would sit in the kitchen and watch the lightning strikes in the distance — it was really neat. Where I lived at the time was very flat so you could see it easily. A few years ago I saw ArcAttack at Maker Faire and it showed me how much I really like lightning. This last year I built a spark gap Tesla coil, and I’ve been experimenting almost twice a week with [the effects on] different things. First I tried the usual stuff: fluorescent lights, wood, or a screwdriver. Then I tried more elaborate things like Hershey’s Kisses, scanner laser tubes, wire sculptures, and then fused glass pieces.

When the Young Makers program came around, I joined and decided to make an audio-modulated full-bridge solid state Tesla coil. We haven’t finished it yet, but we plan on having it done in time for Maker Faire. It’s going to have a cool light-up control panel with an RGB LCD screen, a big red button, metal pushbuttons with LED rings, and some other light-up components. The buttons have to light up so you can see them in the dark. We hope to play songs no one else has tried, like the Quantum Leap theme song, Scooby Doo theme song, and maybe a Beatles song. Our demonstrations will include music playing through the coil and lightning sculptures made out of metal and glass.


2. The Tesla coil is your main project. What other projects will you be bringing?
I will also have my Super Nintenduino, which is a red LED matrix video game system powered by an Arduino. I have a few mechanical Lego sculptures, a 4-cylinder engine, an inaccurate Lego clock, a circuit-bent toy piano, Fredric the LED Candle Light Synth, and some Rock Band drums I hacked into a MIDI drum set using the Arduino Drum Kit Kit. I’ll have some of BATEC‘s projects, and my DAX X, a custom-built computer running Mac OS X 10.6.8. I will also bring my R/C Barbie Jeep (Power Wheels) that I have installed a stereo system in. Yes, I like to defy society and ride around in a Barbie Jeep playing “Barbie Girl.” There is nothing wrong with a regular guy being in touch with his feminine side!

3. You’ve attended Maker Faire in the past. What was your experience like and why did you decided to participate as a maker this year?
My experiences at previous Maker Faires have been very inspiring. The things that I remember the most are the 3D printers, Tesla coils, musical devices, EL wire, pedal-powered cars, and lasers. I decided to participate this year because I like to share my work with people and inspire people. I want people to know me, to recognize me for my creativity, and know I’m not like a zombie person. A zombie person is someone who goes about their life going to school or work then coming home and just watching TV or playing video games and not making a difference. Makers make a difference.

CamDAX Model Railroad

4. You have such a wide range of interests, from electronics to music, photography, and painting. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things?
I have a wide range of interests because I like to be a Renaissance man like Leonardo da Vinci. I come from a family of makers and artists, and I got started making at a young age. It’s a funny story: when I was two, I knew where the one Torx screwdriver was that worked to take apart my tractor toy. My mom found my tractor all taken apart in a million pieces one day and thought my dad did it. She got the Torx screwdriver out and put it back together, while I watched. She went back to what she was doing, and found the toy taken apart again! My mom called my dad to tell him I took the toy apart, and he said he didn’t take apart my toy in the first place!

Another time, when I was six, I was playing with a little toy phone and I got some AV cables. I somehow stripped them and plugged them into a VCR. I shoved the two leads into the toy phone where a watch battery was, and the musical phone went off.

I got to where I am now in making because me and my mom decided to start a model railroad. I did all the electrical work and my mom did most of the scenery. One day I was going to Barnes and Noble to look at a Model Railroader magazine. I liked to gaze at the other hobby magazines like Maximum PC. My eyes got stuck on this one very colorful magazine, MAKE; it had all kinds of DIY projects and made it seem like even I could do them. There was an article on the very first Maker Faire. One year, a friend of mine invited me to go to Maker Faire with him, so I went, and that was like a slingshot for my brain. I bought a few things at the Maker Shed and put them together. Later on I got more stuff off the internet from places I had just found. I had been hosting my own website at the time so I made a device that beeped and blinked whenever someone visited my website. My website wasn’t known at the time, so it only went off when I went to my site. But I kept going to Maker Faire, getting stuff from Maker Shed, and making things for school projects. Eventually I got enough knowledge to know what I would need to make anything I want.

CamDAX Anime Drawing

5. Who/what are your inspirations? Heros?
There have been many people who have inspired me. To name a few, Leonardo da Vinci, ArcAttack, Steve Ward, Nikola Tesla, Collin Cunningham, Pixar, George Rhoads, and Bre Pettis. Most of my project inspirations come from looking online at parts or someone else’s thing, or just looking at stuff and thinking what would make this cooler! My main inspiration for art comes from Pixar movies; watching Pixar movies is our family’s favorite thing to do together.

6. You founded the Bay Area Teen Electro Club (BATEC). How did that come about and what types of projects do club members work on?
I had been making for a while all by myself and I got bored of making stuff by myself. I decided to get some friends together and teach them my skills. We put together kits from places like Maker Shed and Adafruit. We also make things following a how-to tutorials from places like Instructables. Sometimes we just take old electronics apart and try to make something new out of them.

7. Your Kickstarter project just got successfully funded. Congrats! Was this your first experience with crowd funding? How was it?
It was great. The only hard part is getting the word out to the right people. Most of our backers were friends or family, but there were a few people we didn’t know. I think I’m going to use Kickstarter more often for project funding, because right now money has been the only thing holding me back.

8. You’re currently 16 years old, correct? What is your dream job at this point?
You might think I would go for a job in computer programming or electronics, but actually I would like to work as an artist. I know I would get bored as an electronics engineer, and not do my personal projects anymore because basically, why would I do my work at home? One thing that never bores me is art. I would like to work for Pixar someday working on stuff like concept art.

9. What advice would you give to other young makers out there just getting started with hands-on projects?
My advice would be get some MAKE magazine issues! Also look at the DIY how-to sites, YouTube, blogs, and at personal websites all over the internet. These tend to be my main sources of inspiration. You just gotta dive into making. If you make a mistake, what did you learn?

10. If you could use your skills as a maker to create one great invention or solve one big problem, what would that be?
I would create a device that would make the world peaceful.

Awesome Cameron! We’re looking forward to checking out your builds at the Faire.

For folks who want to come join us, all the information you need, including how to buy early bird discount tickets, is on the Maker Faire Bay Area site. See you there!

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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