Denver Mini Maker Faire Roundup

I had a great time at Denver’s 3rd annual Mini Maker Faire, which was held inside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The official theme this year was “Building the Future” and looking back, I can tell you that they pulled the theme off well. There was a strong turnout in two categories that are crucial to building the future: the growth that comes from education at all ages and the physical places where learning becomes immersive.

The Really Fun Stuff

poison arrow[Casey] from Caustic Creations were showing off Poison Arrow just in time for season 2 of the BattleBots reboot. Poison Arrow is 250-lb. drum spinner that destroys things at 9,000 RPM. Here’s a nice introductory video shot by their sponsor, Arrow Electronics. [Casey] told me that Poison Arrow will be on the June 30th episode, so set your DVR.

Who knew that Colorado had so many maker- and hackerspaces? Colorado Makerhub, that’s who. They provide a portal to everything maker-related in Colorado, and they were in attendance along with most of the ‘spaces within a 50-mile radius of the city. Denver’s own Denhac brought a huge multiplayer rig that they had built for Comic Con last year. It runs Artemis, a spaceship bridge simulator game that divides up the tasks necessary for successful intergalactic travel. Here’s a video of Denhac member [Radio Shack] describing the game and giving a tour of one of the consoles. The group landed a space in one of the darker areas of the museum, which made the blinkenlights irresistible, especially to boys of a certain age range.

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Steam-Powered Raspberry Pi Zero Doesn’t Get Any More Steampunk

Steampunk usually involves sticking a few old valves on your laptop and riding a penny farthing, but [Alexzpro] understands the real thing: he just created a steam powered Raspberry Pi Zero (translated).

His setup is a little lashed together, but works it’s a throwback to electricity generation of old and deserves the steampunk moniker. A steam boiler drives a steam turbine, which turns a motor, generating electrical power. This feeds into a regulator and a bank of capacitors that smooths the voltage out to a nice even 5 Volts, which powers the Pi.

It’s not exactly efficient, but running the steam boiler using two propane blowtorches sure makes us grin. Usually we see people trying to go the opposite direction and power their projects with renewables. We can appreciate this for what it is too, and it’s certainly not the first time we’ve see a Raspberry Pi burning through electricity for little apparent gain.

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Nixie Tubes Adorn Steampunk Solar Power Meter

The appeal of adding Nixie tube displays to a project seems to know no end. First it was Nixie clocks, now it’s Nixie power meters, with the latest addition being this Nixie-Steampunk hybrid solar power monitor.

We’re suckers for a project with a vintage look, and this one pushes all the buttons. Built on commission for a solar power company CEO’s office, [Paul Parry]’s build is based on a Depression-era Metropolitan-Vickers combined voltmeter and ammeter. The huge meters with mirrored scales and the rich wood of the case – our guess is that it’s mahogany – made a great starting point, and after some careful hole drilling, nine IN-18 Nixies were sprouting from the case. A strip of RGB LEDs below decks added the requisite backlighting of the envelopes, and a Raspberry Pi was enlisted to interpret data from the company’s solar farm and drive the tubes and the meters. The project was capped off with a new finish on the case and a couple of fancy brass plaques.

[Paul] sent us the tip for his build after seeing the last power meter we covered, and we have to say they’re both great looking and functional projects. Keep the Nixie projects coming!

Steampunk iMacs With Real Turning Gears

Macs have always been favorites of case modders, with projects ranging from turning a Mac Plus into an aquarium to retrofuturistic machines that look like they came from the set of [Terry Gilliam]’s Brazil. Some of these casemods are of the steampunk variety, an aesthetic that usually means gluing gears to wood. [Valeriy] and [Cyrill] are bucking that trend with a beautiful iMac crafted from wood, brass, and leather (Russian, Google Translate)

The machine in question is a late-model, impossibly thin iMac. Unlike the old all-in-one computers with clunky CRTs, there’s not much space to dig around inside this iMac, and doing so would probably ruin the machine, anyway. Instead of a complete disassembly a wooden frame was constructed around the display, the aluminum base was covered in veneer, and the back of the iMac was covered in leather.

This is a steampunk computer, though, and that means gears. In this case, the gears and steam elements actually do something. The front of the computer is adorned with a decent replica of the drivetrain of a locomotive that spins with the help of an electric motor. There’s a USB port attached to the front, ensconced in a cylindrical enclosure that opens when a switch is flipped.

If a complete reworking of a modern iMac isn’t enough, the build also included the steampunkification of the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. That in itself is an amazing build, but to see the entire thing in action, you’ll have to check out the video below.

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Chromatic Clocks With A Steampunk Twist

There’s nothing like a good clock project, and tacking the steampunk modifier on it only makes it better. [José] built a steampunk clock that does it much better than just gluing some gears on an enclosure and calling it a day. This build includes glowing jewels displaying the time in different colors while displaying the a steampunker’s prowess with a pipe cutter.

The body of the clock is a piece of finely lacquered wood, hiding a perfboard construction with a DS3231 real time clock, a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor, and a light sensor for dimming the WS2812 LEDs according to the ambient light level.

The rest of the clock is a bunch of 12mm copper pipe, elbows, and t couplers. The end of these pipes are capped off with marbles, with the RGB LEDs behind each of the ‘digits’ of the clock. This is a chromatic clock, with the digits 0 through 9 assigned a different color, based on the resistor color code scheme with exceptions for black and brown. Once you’ve figured out how to tell time with this clock, you should have no problem finding that single 56k resistor in your junk box.

You can check out the video of the clock below.

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Upgrading An Old Lantern

[Shockwaver] stumbled across some old kerosene lanterns, and decided he also stumbled across his next project. He decided to leave the kerosene out, and in its place used some RGB LEDs to bring the lanterns back to life. This is quite an upgrade. Considering the burning kerosene will only put out a few colors of light, the astute reader will have realized the RGB array has the ability put out over 16 million colors.

After some initial testing, he settled on a 24 LED circle array powered by an ATtiny85. The FastLED library helped him keep the code within the tight memory requirements. [Shockwaver] was not used to working with the such a small amount of memory, but after some fiddling he was able to make it work in the end, using 8,126 bytes.

The source can be found on his github page. Be sure to check out the video below to see the RGB lantern in action.

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3D Printed Wimshurst Machine

Steampunk extraordinaire [Jake von Slatt] has released his latest creation. This time he’s built a Wimshurst machine from mostly 3D printed parts. The Wimshurst machine is an electrostatic generator and was originally invented in the late 1800’s by James Wimshurst. It uses two counter-rotating disks to generate an electrostatic charge which is then stored in two Leyden jars. These jars are also connected to a spark gap. When the voltage raises high enough, the jars can discharge all at once by flashing a spark across the gap.

[Jake’s] machine has a sort of Gothic theme to it. He designed the parts using Autodesk’s 123D Design. They were initially printed in PLA. Skate bearings were used in the center of the disks to ensure a smooth rotation. The axle was made from the fiberglass shaft of a driveway reflector. The vertical supports were attached the base with machine screws.

The Leyden jars were made from sections of clear plastic tube. The caps for the jars were 3D printed and are designed to accept a short length of threaded 1/8″ pipe. Copper wire was used for the interior contacts and are held in place with electrical tape. The metal sectors on each disk were made from pieces of cut aluminum tape.

You may be wondering how this machine works if it’s almost entirely made out of plastic. [Jake] actually painted most of the parts with a carbon paint. This makes them electrically conductive and he can then use the parts to complete electrical circuits. Unfortunately he found this to be rather ineffective. The machine does work, but it only produces sparks up to 1/2″ in length. For comparison, his other machine is capable of 6″ sparks using similar sized Leyden jars.

[Jake] actually tried rebuilding this project using ABS, thinking that the PLA may have been collecting moisture from his breath, but the result is still only 1/2″ sparks. He suspects that the bumpy surface of the plastic parts may be causing the charge to slowly leak away, preventing a nice build up. He’s released all of his designs on Thingiverse in case any other hackers want to give it a whirl.