Name: Lisa Winter
Home: Berkeley, California, transplanted from the Midwest
Makerspace: I share a machine shop in Berkeley called the Confusion Vortex.
Day Job: Engineering Project Manager at Mattel
How’d you get started making? I’ve been a tinkerer my entire life. I’m an only child so quite often I would sit next to my mom in her office and draw for hours. Then I would sneak into the basement and tinker with things my dad had laying around the small workshop/basement. When we drove to see my grandparents on the weekend I would make sure to pack enough crafts (sewing, weaving, beads, notepads) to last the whole 2 hour drive. My whole family is creative (or should I say, we’re outgoing nerds?), so we would do a lot of activities with my cousins, aunts, and uncles like building and launching rockets, inventing and playing board games, drawing elaborate chalk stories on the driveway, and going to collector toy shows. Once my aunt and parents helped me make a Sailor Moon costume that I wore to a Godzilla convention and I pretended to fight someone wearing a Godzilla costume.
My father, Mike, won the first Robot Wars in 1994. He brought back VHS tapes of the fights and I would study them to learn what designs worked the best. I told my parents I was really interested in building my own robot, so my dad looked at the concept I drew and said, “Looks good, let’s try it.” He taught me how to use drills, solder, tap, etc. and when I was 10 I fought in my first robot battle. Every year my dad would teach me how to use more dangerous tools. Now we share a shop that has drill presses, band saws, grinders, and a personal CNC machine.
What type of maker would you classify yourself as? I love to make and create using all mediums. If a project would look best with a vacuformed shell then I’ll learn how to make one. If it would look cool with blinking LEDs then I’ll program an Arduino. I think “maker” is a category in itself, that means you will use whatever materials necessary to turn an idea into reality.
Another skill that’s important for makers is project management. There is often a project deadline, whether it be self-imposed or event driven. For example, for BattleBots there is a very hard deadline. If the robot is not done before the competition then you automatically forfeit. As a maker you have to manage your time (and that of any teammates you may have), create a budget, fundraise, schedule, AND build. These are all very useful tools when it comes to finding a job. All of the lessons I learned through building combat robots has contributed to my professional role as Engineering Project Manager at Mattel.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve made? It’s hard to pick a favorite. For me it’s about both the process and the final product. When I’m not strapped for time I get immense joy from each drilling operation, bandsaw cut, buffing, etc., and putting each beautiful piece together.
After the project is fully assembled it’s a whole new type of joy. For example, when I finish a robot it’s a great feeling seeing the finished bot and of course driving it!
Dough Boy was the first combat robot I made and definitely one of my favorites. The weapon was a horizontal spinning lawnmower blade, and I sewed white gloves to hide the blade and a large chef’s hat for on top. Once in the arena I would pull the costume off to expose the blade. It was a blast to drive around and whack the wheels off opponents. I was 10 years old competing against 30-something males so that was quite fun and entertaining.
What’s something you’d like to make next? I’m currently working on a smaller version of Mega Tento, called Mini Tento. I’m excited to finish it and demonstrate it at different venues/schools to show how robots work. Mini Tento is a more manageable 13 inches, easy to carry, and safe enough to drive around humans.
Beyond that I would love to make prosthetics for animals. Both helping animals and building things are passions of mine. If I could combine that into a company that makes comfortable and beautiful prosthetics to help animals then I would be extremely happy.
Any advice for people reading this? Go to Maker Faires, go to factory tours, go to museums, and find out what inspires you.
If something makes you happy then follow that path no matter what other people say. And if that passion lies in robotics then check out my YouTube channel for tutorials.
Who else should we profile?