Jorvon Moss, known on Twitter as @Odd_Jayy, recently showed off his second pair of Magpie goggles with the tweet: “And this is why people called me odd growing up.” I reached out to him and he explained that the glasses were “a fun gadget that he put together really quickly over a weekend.” He programmed the 3D-printed mechanical device to open and close the irises and raise and lower separate eyebrows, using an Adafruit Trinket and two servo motors. More mechanical than digital, the goggles become part of a costume, and Jorvon becomes his own character. “Every sci-fi movie always had a really cool person with goggles,” Moss told me.
A video of him wearing the Magpie goggles “became a lot more popular than I thought,” he said. His Twitter followers, many of them makers he has gotten to know, cheered him on.
Moss began building robots about five years ago when he was in college. Like a lot of makers, he started doing it before he understood what he was doing, like artists who start drawing, even though they haven’t had a lot of training.
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“I had no idea about electronics,” he says. In his dorm room, the first project he tried was putting electronics into Plushies. “I didn’t know about microcontrollers back then. I bought a AA battery pack with 12 AA batteries and a single micro servo. I plugged the power pack directly into the servo and the servo exploded.” His roommate freaked out. “He was like, ‘what are you doing? You’re trying to blow up the room.’ I’m like, ‘no, I was just trying to do science.’”
Growing up in Compton, California, Moss was raised in a religious household and went to a religious school that didn’t teach science. “I’m a D student throughout most of my young life. I just wasn’t interested in the work. I was spending most of my time reading something or drawing, and it got me in trouble a lot.” He thought: “Hey, I might as well get a good job in something that I love.”
He went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to become a comic book illustrator. “I wanted to be a penciler,” he says. He was learning the traditional arts to draw panels and do basic things like perspective that artists sketch in their sketchbooks.
Moss began working with electronics as a diversion from drawing. “It was very surprising for me just to fall in love with it. After you’ve been drawing all day in school and then your teachers are putting it in your head that you have to draw every day, all the time, it got to a point where I wanted to do anything else with my free time than draw. Anything else. That’s where the hobby of electronics came up. Let me see how I enjoy it. And I ended up really loving it.”
With his own projects, there was no pressure on him. “When it came to technology, people are surprised that you can get a simple servo to move,” he says. He liked that he would not be judged.
While going to college, he was also working full-time. He recalls that he had a free day when his classes were cancelled. “I was able to go get lunch for the first time,” he says, describing a huge lunch room. “I remember I got lunch and went to sit down. All the tables were filled with people.” He ended up at a table to eat by himself and it dawned on him: “No one knew who I was. I didn’t really have any friends because I was so busy working all the time,” he says, looking back on it. “That kind of hurt. It was super lonely.”
He headed home with that feeling and watched a Star Wars or a sci-fi movie. He noticed the robots. “How perfect that they have robot best friends in those movies,” he said to himself. “That’s genius. I will just build myself my own best friend.” That is what inspired him to eventually build the robot companion that he’d name Dexter (featured in Make: Vol. 73).
After graduating with a degree in illustration, Moss moved back home with his family. “Because I was so focused on graduating, I didn’t sit down and work on my portfolio at all.” He found various part-time jobs, trying to figure out what he really wanted to do. He kept tinkering.
“I ended up getting a 3D printer. I had to save up for one and it took me a while,” he says. As he started printing things, he posted them on Instagram. “Use the tag #3Dprinting and eventually someone is going to notice you.” A person who noticed him said he should join a makerspace. “What’s a makerspace?” he
asked. He was introduced to a nearby spot in Culver City called Crash Space. Through the makerspace, he found a community. “I had people who were showing me all these new things,” he says. “It was cool.”
His first robot was called Tuesday, “because that was our meeting day at Crash Space, where everyone would come in and share their work.” Tuesday became his favorite day of the week. Next he created a robot spider that sat on his shoulder. “He was 85% hot glue and it kept falling apart.”
Then came Dexter, a robot that was going to be more representative of him as a person. “I went through a whole process looking at different animals.” It came down to choosing a monkey who was curious over a rabbit who was clever. His art school training kicked in. “I’m actually using a lot of my character design class ideas when I’m figuring out what the robot looks like.”
Dexter satisfied the need that Jorvon once felt after sitting by himself in the college cafeteria. “That’s what kind of started the whole robot craze. It was just me, saying ‘Oh, okay. I’m by myself. I can fix that. I can build something.’” Dexter rides in Jorvon’s backpack and peers over his shoulder. “Dexter is my personal familiar,” he adds.
Now Moss has a job as a technician at a manufacturer of security systems in Culver City. “The funny thing is I got the job thanks to Crash Space,” he explains. A lot of people who were working for this company were members of Crash Space. “One day I was walking by and one of my friends ran out to me: ‘Hey, are you looking for a job?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ So I ended up here.” Even during Covid-19, he goes to the office, being considered an essential worker.
“Dexter is my personal favorite. And the thing about Dexter is that I’m always improving him. I’m always upgrading him. In a lot of ways, he’s growing up and a lot of people see him as my child.” Dexter is on V6, with over 160 components. He wants Dexter to become a wearable robot without the need of a backpack to carry various components. “I am designing a way for that to no longer be an issue,” he says.
“Dexter is the robot I want people to see me with often,” he says. At places like Maker Faire, when people see Dexter, they come up to talk. “A lot of the makers that I looked up to are my friends now, just because I kept making more and more stuff.” The last Maker Faire Bay Area (2019) “is still the highlight of my life, the happiest weekend of my life.” He adds: “I’m so wanting the Faires to come back because I miss it so much. I miss the people.”
Jorvon Moss doesn’t seem so odd anymore, at least not in the maker community.