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While at RobotsConf, a new conference designed to transform 150 coders into makers in just 48 hours, I helped staff the 3D printing table, making parts for attendees’ robots. Late in the first build day, Catherine Hess approached the 3D printing area – she wanted to know if we could 3D print a catapult for her robot. We quickly agreed, started printing the catapult, and then got to know Catherine, her husband Sean, and their little SumoBot, “Rudolph.”

hess compete RobotsConf: Attendee Profile   Catherine and Sean Hess

Catherine & Sean Hess compete in the RobotsConf SumoBot Competition Final round with their robot “Rudolph”

Why did you attend RobotsConf?
Catherine: We heard about it from some friends who were also going, and we attended because it sounded amazing. We wanted to learn how to make robots because we have three little kids and we’ve always dreamed of building a robot with them.
Sean: I studied electrical engineering in school, but I haven’t done any hardware since then. I’ve always wanted to get back in to it.
Did you consider yourself makers before RobotsConf? 
Catherine: I haven’t ever considered myself a “maker.” I didn’t really know what that meant. But now that I’ve learned more about what it means to be a maker, I feel like I’ve always been one at heart. I grew up helping my dad all the time (building wooden bird feeders, helping him fix clunkers, fixing the fence, putting on new roof shingles, even helping put up drywall!) So I’ve always dreamed of having my own woodshop and building furniture. And I’ve always been the one in our marriage to know how to fix the car and use a drill! I joke about getting myself my own pink “womans tool kit” because I’m the one who uses it around the house (Even though Sean is the one who got a degree in electrical engineering). So, I haven’t really made a whole lot…do three kids count as something I’ve made? Cuz it should… haha!
Sean: I’ve always made things in software, both at work and on the side, but before the conference I really only thought of myself as a software guy, and didn’t take the time to make things outside of my speciality.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Robot on display at the RobotsConf science fair.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Robot on display at the RobotsConf science fair.

You built an awesome SumoBot and competed in the final SumoBot competition round. Tell us about the robot you built.
Catherine: Our adorable little robot is named Rudolph (pronounced with a thick German accent). I used a laser cut wooden chassis kit to build the exterior (along with lots of screws, more laser cutting to add support for the 3D printed catapult, plenty of popsicle sticks, googly eyes, and brown pom poms). Sean did all the electrical stuff to build Rudolph’s brain. We programmed him to drive (forwards, backwards, and turn right and left), have a red LED nose, and release the catapult to project M&M’s an average of 15 feet. We are going to add a feature soon where he will also play “Jingle Bells” while he drives around. He is quite a looker with his awesome antlers and Trogdor-esque-robo-man-arms. What did I learn along the way? I learned that if I can dream it up, Sean and I can make it happen. I thought I’d be really lost and feel out of the “nerd” group since I don’t have any experience with software programming, but once I got there and my maker brain-wheels started turning, I had a blast.
Sean: It was the first time I’ve ever used Arduino, or any similar micro-controller, and I learned it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. There is a lot of sample Arduino code to start from. We used the Spark Core so we could have wireless remote control out of the box, and I can see its potential. We used pretty standard stuff otherwise: buttons, lights, two continuous servos for the wheels and a servo for the release on the catapult.
Catherine Hess building a SumoBot at RobotsConf.

Catherine Hess building a SumoBot at RobotsConf.

What surprised you about RobotsConf?
Catherine: I was most surprised by how accessible it really is to be a “maker.” You just have to dive in and have fun, be OK with making mistakes, and be ready to learn a whole lot of cool stuff.
Sean: The conference helped me to get over being stuck in one specialty and to realize that I can make all kinds of things. It inspired us to start thinking of our family as a maker family. We want our kids to experiment, to be OK with failure, and to make things. The conference made that seem possible.
What was your favorite part of RobotsConf?
Catherine: My favorite part of RobotsConf was meeting all the amazing people. There was such a positive vibe in the air and people were all really nice. So many cool ideas, cool projects that people are doing, and a great energy in that group.
Sean: I agree. We feel energized and inspired because we were able to interact with so many amazing people.
Will you return to RobotsConf in the future?
Catherine: We’d love to! Maybe next time we can bring our oldest son. One day when all our kids are old enough, we might bring the whole crew. That would be awesome. We’d like to thank all the people who worked hard to bring RobotsConf to fruition. Especially Chris and Laura Williams and Kids. They did a great job organizing it and making sure things ran smoothly. It’s hard to be the one behind the scenes keeping everything rolling along, and Chris and family did a superb job. Also a big thanks to the people who were there providing the tools we needed to have fun (3D printers, cordless drills, laser cutters, robot parts, etc.) We had a great time!
Catherine Hess wanted to test hot gluing PLA before trying to glue the catapult onto her SumoBot - so she made jaws more fun!

How to test hot glue + PLA? Googly eyes are perfect!

A huge thanks to Catherine and Sean for sharing their stories, and all the RobotsConf curators, speakers, and workshop guides that made it possible for them to unleash their inner makers!

Ian Cole

Ian is a founder of The Maker Effect Foundation, a non-profit group organized to study and amplify the effects of makers within their communities. Ian is very active in the Orlando maker community as a member of FamiLAB, Orlando’s Hackerspace, and as a founding organizer of Maker Faire Orlando. Ian blogs about his family’s maker adventures at raisinggeeks.com.


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