Maker Pro Newsletter #8

Maker Pro Newsletter #8


“Helping the next generation of humans build the next generation of robots.”

From the editors of MAKE magazine, The Maker Pro Newsletter is about the impact of makers on business and technology. Our coverage includes hardware startups, new products, incubators, innovators, along with technology and market trends. Please send items to us at Click here to subscribe!


Quirky and GE Partner on Two Initiatives

Quirky, the crowdsourced hardware startup that develops and sells modest gadgets like egg yolk extractors and ear bud holders, announced a partnership on Wednesday with GE, the global corporation that makes jet engines and wind turbines.

These antipodal organizations said they intend to collaborate on two new projects: a platform where GE will open thousands of its patents to the Quirky community for the development of new consumer products, and a product development initiative to build a line of app-enabled connected devices for the home. This new line of products will be branded “Wink: Instantly Connected.”

The partnership was announced on the Quirky site with a pair of videos by Quirky CEO Ben Kaufman (@benkaufman) that touted the two companies’ shared commitment to invention and innovation. GE will start making the patents available in May.

The new announcement could be the tip of an ambitious new branding initiative by Quirky that was presaged by a recent Advertising Age profile of Kaufman, a 26-year-old who wants to “change the way the world thinks about product development.”

The Advertising Age story said Quirky’s rebranding will be directed by Marina Hahn, a 24-year marketing vet of PepsiCo, who’s been charged with turning Quirky into a globally recognized brand that “rewards everyday ingenuity.”

A 3D Printer That Can Create Synthetic Tissue

A team of researchers from Oxford University has created a specialized 3D printer that can print networks of cell-like structures that could be used to create human-like tissue.

(Photo: Oxford University/G Villar)

(Photo: Oxford University/G Villar)

The advance, which was recently published in the journal Science, uses a pair of micropipettes to print water droplets into an oil that encapsulates each of them within a lipid film. The cells then assemble into layers that resemble the structure of human tissue. According to Science, these “printed droplet networks might be interfaced with tissues, used as tissue engineering substrates, or developed as mimics of living tissue.”

Cubify Launches Custom Human Figurine Service

Wedding cakes will never be the same.

Wedding cakes will never be the same.

Cubify, the 3D printing service owned by 3D Systems, Inc. last week introduced 3DMe, a service that allows users to submit a single photo (two are preferable: a front and a side shot), and order a custom figurine for as little as $65. Users can choose from a wide selection of male and female costumed body types — ranging from superheroes to three varieties of “bride.” Cubify is promising that the completed figurine will be shipped within 10 days. As noted in this newsletter, custom 3D-printed figurines have been offered as popular promotional items on convention trade floors, but this latest service is likely to bump personal figurines up to a new level of popularity.

Two New Platforms for 3D Parts, Prototypes

  • Parametric Parts allows designers to create 3D models that can be quickly customized to fit the user’s needs. The company has created sets of 3D models that the user can browse, find the closest design, and then customize it to match his or her requirements.
  • is beta testing an interactive e-commerce platform created for 3D printing that allows users to upload STL CAD files and quickly get not only a file integrity verification, but quotes from service providers. In a release, PanaShape said its future plans will extend into “name your price” concepts. “Our software in the future will act as a clearinghouse for this capacity by allowing service providers to dynamically adjust their pricing and delivery to meet customer price points of 3D models based on their available capacity,” said founder Brian Bauman (@bbwayne).

In Brief

Newark element14 announced the availability of Freescale Semiconductors’ newest Freedom Development Platform for evaluating Kenetis K20 MCUs on the element14 Community.

Robots Make Waves

New schools of robots have been taking to the water.

Last week, Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers unveiled a life-like, autonomous robotic jellyfish the size and weight of a grown man.

autonomous robotic jellyfish.

The prototype robot, nicknamed Cyro, is a larger model of a robotic jellyfish the same team unveiled in 2012. The goal is to place self-powering, autonomous machines in waters for the purposes of surveillance and monitoring the environment, in addition to other uses such as studying aquatic life, mapping ocean floors, and monitoring ocean currents.

Jellyfish are attractive candidates to mimic, the researchers said, because of their ability to consume little energy owing to a lower metabolic rate than other marine species.

Also taking a plunge this week: an upgraded hybrid wave- and solar-propelled unmanned ocean robot, the Wave Glider SV3 from Liquid Robotics. The Wave Glider looks more like a solar surfboard than a jellyfish, but it joins a line of water bots that have made some impressive voyages. Last December, a Liquid Robotics sea-going robot set a world record by completing a 9,000-nautical-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean in a trip that lasted over a year.

hybrid wave- and solar-propelled unmanned ocean robot

Raspberry Pi is also heading for the high seas — in a cute little dinghy.

cute little dinghy


The acquatic theme continues, splashing over that section divider into the Materials category, with the recent announcements of three new substances emerging from watery worlds.

Gizmodo reported on Monday that nanocellulose, made from algae, “was shown off last week at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, a meeting of the world’s largest scientific society.” Furthermore, Gizmodo says that nanocellulose “could eat graphene’s supermaterial lunch.” Did you hear that, graphene?

The next day, Gizmodo got more specific on nanocellulose, detailing 7 incredible uses for the new material, including two alliterative energy products: “bendable batteries” and “bountiful biofuel.”

A squid’s beak (no picture — you’re welcome) is also a very interesting material, according to scientists at Case Western Reserve University, because the tip of a squid’s beak is harder than human teeth, but the base is as soft as the animal’s Jell-O-like body. That’s a transition the scientists have been able to mimic in a new material that they say will be helpful in medical implants, which frequently must be stiff, but soft where they attach to the body.

Finally, Gizmag reports that next generation body armor could be based on sea sponges, which have a unique structure that allows them to be flexible while remaining relatively impervious to predators. Had enough of the life acquatic? Hold on, Gizmag adds in an aside that, “scientists are also looking into making armor based on the scales of the Arapaima fish and the shell of the ‘scaly-foot’ snail.”

Maker Profiles

TurtleBot Inventors Melonee Wise and Tully Foote

The creators of TurtleBot, “the least expensive, most capable platform you can get with off-the-shelf consumer electronics,” are interviewed by IEEE Spectrum.

Turns out that Tully Foote and Melonee Wise were just hacking around with the idea at Willow Garage when some guys from Google visited and ordered eight. Now there are two popular versions of the TurtleBot available, both with open source hardware, running the open source Robot Operating System (ROS) software. The creators seem both surprised and delighted by its success.

Says IEEE Spectrum: “TurtleBot, and projects like it, are ensuring the longevity of open source and the future of robotics by helping the next generation of humans build the next generation of robots.”

Ayah Bdeir of littleBits

Ayah Bdeir (@ayahbdeir), founder of littleBits, an open source library of electronic modules that snap together with tiny magnets for prototyping, learning, and fun (or more simply, “Lego for the iPad generation” according to Bloomberg TV) gets the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Things About treatment from MAKE’s Goli Mohammadi. Learn about Bdeir’s past mistakes, new ideas, inspirations, and tools she can’t do without (the laser cutter is one of them).

Goli’s story also features a video of the latest littleBits project: “littleBits Make Big Things Happen,” two ambitious displays in the windows of the Museum of Modern Art’s MoMA Design Store locations in Midtown and SoHo New York City. By the way, littleBits is running a BIG challenge for the duration of the MoMA display (it’s up through May 12).


flight assembled architecture

Harvard researchers are making them like bees. Festo is making them like dragonflies. Swiss architects are using them to build “flight assembled architecture.”

3D Printing: Prototyping and Polishing

Cameron Naramore celebrates the 3D printer’s power as a prototyping tool in an essay that touches on a number of interesting prototype projects, including the Wide Body strap for the Pebble and the iOgrapher Support Case for iPad Mini. British cosmetic packager Collcap Packaging also uses 3D printers to get quick prototypes into the hands of perfumery and cosmetic suppliers. You can see how they do it in a video on the site, On 3D Printing.

And if you’re tired of standing around waiting for your prototype, a couple of engineering students at U.C. Berkeley have a solution: a 3D Refiner. The project has already raised five times its goal on Kickstarter — a testament to the amount of anxious, unproductive time 3D printing enthusiasts are spending waiting for, and then cleaning up, their creations.

Two more stories worth reading, both published in the past couple of weeks, touch on prototyping and 3D printing: 5 Lessons I Learned at Apple About How to Design and Build Hardware, in GigaOM, and Tiny Chiplets: A New Level of Micro Manufacturing, in The New York Times.


Countdown to Maker Faire

Maker Faire Bay Area (May 18-19) is just over five weeks away, which means it’s now time to…

Cast your vote in the Road to Maker Faire Challenge

Just one winner out of 37 finalists will get $2,500 to bring a project to Maker Faire. You decide. You can vote for your favorite every day, through April 15.

If you’re planning your own trip, consider arriving a few days earlier: the Hardware Innovation Workshop runs May 14-15. Here’s the agenda.

And there’s still time to…

Pitch Your Prototype

The MAKE Hardware Innovation Workshop is looking for prototypes of early stage products, projects, and ideas.

Selected prototypes will be presented at the opening session of the Workshop, and featured in the Innovation Showcase on Tuesday, May 14. Each winning entrant will have 5 minutes to present the idea and a prototype: a 2-minute pitch, then a 3-minute demonstration of the prototype. Attendees at the Workshop will vote for the most interesting and innovative product idea, taking into consideration its application, target market, and commercial viability. The winner will receive a slot on the Innovation Stage to present the prototype to the Maker Faire audience the following weekend.

Submit a video of your project here. Your entry must be an early-stage new product idea that is not on the market and not currently posted on a crowdfunding site. The deadline is Friday, April 19, 2013.

Further Down the Road: Maker Faire Detroit

The fourth annual Maker Faire Detroit is taking place this summer, on July 27-28, at The Henry Ford. The Call for Makers is open now through June 7.

World Maker Faire New York is Sept. 21-22

Also, start making plans to participate in the first Maker Faire Rome, Oct. 3-6, 2013. Event curators Massimo Banzi (@mbanzi) and Riccardo Luna (@riccardowired) are producing the event with World Wide Rome, a Rome Chamber of Commerce initiative, but the fair is really for Europe at large and will attract an international crowd from all over Europe and beyond. The Call for Makers is open from now until June 2. If you’re a maker, performer, or presenter, Maker Faire Rome wants to hear from you.

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DC Denison is the editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

The former technology editor of The Boston Globe, DC is also interested in ebook experimentation and content management systems.

One of the places where can be found online is Google+ (which I'm adding here only because I want to see if by adding "rel=author" and "rel=me" to those two links I can get Google to display my picture in its search results.)

Hey, it works!

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