RocketBot at Maker Faire 2012

RocketBot made appearances at Maker Faire San Mateo and Seattle. The audience was great fun, especially the occasional 10 year old whiz kid who seemed to just have learned robotics and electronics from some form of osmosis.

Photos from the San Mateo booth

A better rocket

Carefully adding hot melt

Ready to fire

Up and away!

It was a bit awkward trying to fire straw rockets with a range of about 75' in the very crowded fairgrounds at San Mateo. Mostly we just aimed for trees and hoped for the best. Over the course of two days at San Mateo, we only had one significant 'landed bonk on the top of the head, looked around angrily' incident. To the dude in the 'Indiana Jones' hat who thought he was outsmarting the crowd by standing in the middle of the shrubbery to eat his hot dog -- I'm sorry. Fortunately our range of 75' kept you scanning the fairgrounds for a perpetrator you thought was much, much closer so Mom was able to hurriedly shoo the five year old 'hawk-eye' sniper away before you figured things out :-)

As the day wore on, we took RocketBot on the road, navigating through crowds and following little children while surreptitiously hiding the wireless XBox controller behind our backs. I immensely enjoyed playing a little 'interactive R2D2' with the kids and really wished I had worked more on the 'beepy sounds' and 'blinky lights'. While the industrial warning light mounted on top was enough to get the crowd to part, the home made warning beeps (inventive use of Arduino tone(), a plastic drinking cup as a resonance chamber, and a small transistor amplifier) weren't loud enough for the crowd so it's time for more power there.

To those who come looking for the design diagrams and source code for RocketBot, I apologize for being late. The source code for all of the robot Arduino logic is now up at I've rewritten it somewhat because as a programmer who writes code for a living I was a little embarrassed with things after a number of last minute 'hacks'. The code is now in better shape and I've factored out the communications layer into a protocol I call 'Reflecta'.

I'm starting my notes on 'RocketBot v2' with a goal of making a number of changes for next year's Maker Faire. High on the list are a better sound library using a dedicated sound synthesizer chip, considerably more 'blinky lights', and a drive control system which is 'safetied' so I can hand over control to all the kids who were begging to drive the robot themselves. I've a few other changes in mind as well that I'll keep to myself until I see how they work out.

Thanks to the Maker community for having me. I greatly enjoyed my first Maker Faires. I'm looking forward to doing them again next year. In the mean time, I'll be posting a bit more here as I continue to work on Reflecta and develop my CAD skills for publishing my schematics and laser cut parts.