Toorcamp: The Church of Robotron

“Only 72 years until the Robotrons conclude that the human race is inefficient and must be destroyed. Only the mutant produced by a genetic engineering accident can save us now!” –Church of Robotron Doctrine

Based on the 1982 arcade game Robotron: 2084, Dorkbot PDX’s Church of Robotron was an impressive installation at Toorcamp. Located in a large dome, the Chruch features an altar where the the player kneels and finds out if they are the saviour.

Many things in the Church are triggered by game events. Lasers fired in time with the game, a bright LED flashes at the player when they die, and the LCD display above the altar shows high scores. There’s a webcam that takes a player’s picture when they die so that it can be added to the high score list. There was also a Jacob’s Ladder and a fog machine to add to the eerie feel of the Church.

A side room in the dome has a TV displaying list of high scores, handouts of their doctrine and documentation, and stickers of the Church’s logo. Aside from the electronics, the group also created lore around the installation. There was a sermon that played on a constant loop at night, and the doctrine handouts explained the story of the Church. This is all documented on their website, and the build details and source are also available.

The combination of art, lore, and electronics made this installation one of my favourites at Toorcamp, even though I’m awful at the game. I’ll need to practice my Robotron for next time the group sets up the Church.

An interview with Laen (the force behind Dorkbot PDX)

[PT] recently interviewed [Laen], the man who makes it cheap and easy for hobbiests to have small PCBs manufactured. He created Dorkbot PDX’s PCB group order, a rapid turn PCB service which we see used in projects all the time (pretty much any purple PCB has gone through [Laen]).

Turns out his real name is [James Neal]. He’s a sysadmin by trade but deals in recreational circuitry at night. We were surprised to learn that the service has been rebranded. Its new name is OSH Park and it’s got a purple website with a new submission system. In the interview he discusses the genesis of the service. Inspired by a group parts order (that’s a mouthful!) with other hackers in Portland he saw a need for boards on which to mount them. The service has grown so much that he was spending 2-4 hours per night panelizing the designs. He made the wise choice to include an automated submission service in the new website that takes care of most of this work for him.

The rest of the interview spans a large range of topics. [Laen] shares his feelings on getting the boards manufactured domestically. He speaks briefly on the future of the service, and riffs on why open source hardware has value to him.

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