Makers Dozen: Detroit

Makers Dozen: Detroit

Here’s a small portion of the fun and unusual things you’ll find at Maker Faire Detroit.

A Different Kind of Hybrid

If I said that there was guy who built a hybrid windmobile coming to Maker Faire Detroit, you’d have every reason to expect that he’d designed a futuristic car. You’d be right, except that the vehicle was built four decades ago and appeared on the cover of Popular Science in 1976.


The writer of the original Popular Science article on the Windmobile wrote:

I was skeptical when I first heard of this wind-powered car. But I drove it recently on a superhighway near Detroit and I can report that it works. In wind speeds of 12 to 19 mph coming from the side, I drove up to 47 mph air speed (42 mph ground speed) on wind power alone, after first getting the vehicle’s speed up to 30 mph with the electric motor.

Douglas Amick built the windmobile from a design created by his father, James L. Amick, who was an aeronautical engineer and inventor. Amick will bring to Maker Faire two vehicles he subsequently developed after the windmobile.

One is called the A2 (a tandem seater), the other is the A4 Solitair. Both are hybrid windmobiles that utilize wind power. They both have solar panels and regenerative braking systems (another feature of his windmobiles). The most distinctive feature of all these vehicles is the Amick Arch, which is “two vertical airfoil-shaped fixed sails joined at the top in an arch as a means of minimizing drag at the top of each sail.” For more information on these vehicles, visit Amick’s website. Amick is also the inventor of the tethered wind turbine. He’s pictured below with the A4 Solitair, his single-seat commuter.


A Different Kind of Junkyard Dog

bigdog_600 wide.jpg

Inspired by the pedal-powered vehicles at Burning Man, Tom Wilson began designing and building his own vehicles, giving them dog-themed names. First there was the Pup, then the Dog Sled. His most recent is BigDog, which is not necessarily made from junk. There are bicycle, go-cart, and golf cart pieces and parts, drainage pipe, steel tubing, and patio chairs. This four-passenger vehicle is big: over 11 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 8 feet tall.

Tom has complete designs and build notes on the BigDog on his website. When he’s not at Burning Man, Tom runs a business building web apps. He holds a BA from Wayne State University.

Rock Lobster Opera


When The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir came to Maker Faire Austin, we put it near an entrance. I thought people, especially young ones, were going to stay there all day and miss the rest of Maker Faire. First of all, The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir is an art car, an old blue Volvo given a new lease on life as a stage. It’s covered in 250 lobsters, sharks, trout, and the ever-personable Billy Bass. It would be one thing if they just were stuck to the sides of a car. Amusing, yes, but you’d keep walking. It’s when all 250 computer-controlled fish strike up the Anvil Chorus that you just have to stop in utter amazement.

The creator of Sashimi, Richard Carter, started as a physicist and then became a mathematician. Despite his training, Carter says that he likes to make stuff in the physical world. He also enjoys bringing together neuroscientists, biologists, teenagers, an electrical engineer, and even an MBA, to work on the vehicle, but it’s not completely clear why he needs all of them. Maybe it’s that, like anybody, they can’t stop laughing when a rubber fish performs an aria. The electromechanical fish and lobsters require 300 pounds of batteries, two Linux computers to coordinate all the singers, and more than five miles of wire. Watch this video interview from Maker Faire Austin.

Note to parents: I wouldn’t tip off the kids in advance and show them the video. Let them find Billy Bass and the crustacean chorus on their own.

A Light Bulb that Won’t Shatter

Who needs a new light bulb, I thought? Well, how about one made of plastic instead of glass? What if it looks and works like Edison’s bulb, but it was more efficient? Thomas Wilmoth and Brian Bigelow, of Energy Extraction Technology in Michigan, are working on something new in light bulbs. Watch their video, which is not meant to be an infomercial, but I was sold when the bulb hit the floor.

Knight Moves

Steve Hassenplug, of West Lafayette, Ind., has created a very large chess board and pieces from Legos. It’s 13×13 feet and pretty much takes up a room. An adult Lego builder, Steve and his team did more than build the set, they programmed the Monster Chess pieces to move. Games can be replayed. In more ways than one, Steve went overboard on this Lego chessboard, spending an estimated $30,000 on the project. Watch the video. Funny how the Knight moves.

Egging on Fans of Tesla

Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum will be demonstrating a replica of a device known as Nikola Tesla’s Egg of Columbus. This required a little research in Wikipedia for me to understand. Let me share my homework. First of all, what is an Egg of Columbus?

An egg of Columbus or Columbi egg refers to a brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact.

The expression refers to a popular story of how Christopher Columbus, having been told that discovering the Americas was no great accomplishment, challenged his critics to make an egg stand on its tip; and, after they gave up, he did it himself by tapping the egg on the table so as to flatten its tip.

A replica of Tesla’s Egg of Columbus

So what did Tesla do? In 1893, at the World’s Columbia Exposition, Tesla demonstrated a device “to explain the principles of the rotating magnetic field model and the induction motor. Tesla’s Egg of Columbus performed the feat of Columbus with a copper egg in a rotating magnetic field. The egg spins on its major axis, standing on end due to gyroscopic action.”

Homemade Multi-Touch iTable

The next logical step from the iPad is iTable, a multi-touch display the size of a table that can be shared. Derek Kuschel isn’t waiting on the R&D efforts of any company, so he built his own. It’s 45-inch multi-touch table that uses an HD video projector, a PC running Windows 7, as well as custom tracking software using the Intel OpenCV computer vision library. He says that the O’Reilly book Programming Interactivity was a huge help in getting this project off the ground!

Having built the multi-touch table, he’s now developing new applications, which he’ll demo at Maker Faire Detroit. Derek is a 29-year-old designer/developer living in Ferndale, Mich., who has really created a nice piece of work here.

The iTable could be a living room table that’s really alive.

Come See the CNC in My Spare Bedroom!

We like to say that Maker Faire is made of projects that live year round in the garages, basements, and backyards of makers. We’ll now have to add “spare bedroom” to the list. Brian Oltrogge designed and built a 43″x98″ CNC router in the spare bedroom of his apartment. He uses the 3-axis machine to make furniture, lighting, molds, and a prototype for a cast aluminum table.


The Great Horned Howl


Dana Dolfi’s people-stopping calliope is made from ship and train air horns. It won’t be hard to find The Great American Horn Machine at Maker Faire Detroit. It’s really loud. The horn machine can play a range of 24 notes through a MIDI controller. Dana is a pipe fitter/plumber by trade and a collector and builder for fun.

Here’s slide show/video on the construction of the horn machine and its components. You can also find related video of it playing.

Pumping Up the Power of a Carousel

The typical carousel ride is sedate in its way. There’s nothing for you to do but sit on a plaster horse that doesn’t do much. Madagascar Institute has re-imagined the carousel and come up with Kinesion, a ride that actually does something.

A human-powered carousel, Kinesion generates electricity for a column of 240 animated tri-color LEDs, a sequenced array of eight pitched flame cannons and an amplified interactive soundtrack. The Madagascar Institute is an art combine from Brooklyn, N.Y., and they’ve recently put down roots in Detroit as well. They specialize in large-scale sculptures and rides, live performances, and guerrilla art events.

Geeks on Power Wheels


Do we ever stop playing with toys? James Burke, a director of Pumping Station: One in Chicago, put out the challenge to Midwestern hackerspaces to enter the first-ever Power Wheel racing series. These heavily modified vehicles will compete in three races: a drag race, road course, and an Endurance Battle Royale at the end of Maker Faire.

Each contestant will have had to reinforce the Power Wheel frames and wire up a scooter motor. No doubt the pit crews will be active, rushing to mend any damage sustained in the heat of the race. Come see “Burrito Baby,” “Toy Yodas,” “Grave Digger,” “Big Jake,” “Little Pink Trike,” and their oversized-kid drivers.

Swinging in the Rain


Michael O’Toole’s rain swing with the arty name, “Deus Ex Machina,” was a crowd favorite at the Maker Faire Bay Area. Since Michael is from Cleveland, we asked him to come set it up again in Detroit. The rain swing is really big — about 22 feet tall — and lots of fun. Water falls while you ride it but through the techowizardry of computers and sensors, the water seems mostly to miss you. Then again, if it’s hot in Detroit, you might want a brief rain shower.

Pop Goes the Wheelie

The Shop Rat Foundation in Jackson, Mich., has come up with a Wheelie Car project, a kit that can be built by students through their Shop Rat education programs. Who wouldn’t want to build and ride one of these cars, which have zero-turn steering, electric motors, and sudden braking. With incredible torque, riders can pop wheelies and do complete zero turn donuts in forward or reverse! Watch this video of a somewhat unsuspecting test driver.



Do you like knobs and switches and patch panels? Does the device shown above look like fun to play with? If you answer yes and also like music, you might want to build your own synthesizer. Check out ADASYNTH, an Arduino-based modular synthesizer from LSD Programming, a company started by two Wayne State University students. With just a few components, ADASYNTH combines an analog patchable interface with convenient digital sound synthesis.

Dog Tweets Man

Now, you can follow Fido on Twitter. Bob Bedard, of the I3 Detroit hackerspace, wants to follow man’s best friend in and out the dog house. Bob’s device will send a tweet when the dog enters or exits. Bob doesn’t have pictures yet so he must be trying to finish the project just in time for Maker Faire.

Actually, there are probably great opportunities to outfit Fido with the new devices. Marc de Vinck showed us the Kitty Twitty cat toy in MAKE Volume 22. Imagine a GPS-enabled dog collar for a beagle? Voice-activated doors, voice-enabled iPhone applications for pets? Personally, I’d like an app that warns me to avoid stepping in the dog’s business on the lawn.

Going for the Juggler

Alex Glowaski, of the AHA hackerspace in Ann Arbor, has created a device that needs to be juggled with. Alex juggles tin-foil balls — wearing a tin-foil hat while doing so is optional but wrapping wires around her hands is essential. As the tin foil makes contact with the wires, circuits are closed, causing motors to whir, LEDs to flash, and sparks to fly. The device responds to changes in the juggling pattern. Every family has someone who juggles.


We hope to see you at Maker Faire Detroit this coming weekend, on July 31st and Aug. 1.


Read our Making Detroit series, about an American city rewriting its own story.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty


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