A Fireside Chat with Grant Imahara

Grant Imahara was on hand at the Hackaday SuperConference for a fireside chat led by Sophi Kravitz and Chris Gammell. You know Grant from his work on the television show MythBusters. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, is known for his work on robots and special effects, he’s the engineer behind the Energizer Bunny, and has even competed on BattleBots. Over the past year he joined with Mouser Electronics to promote engineering through their Empowering Innovation Together campaign. Mouser was one of the sponsors of the 2015 Hackaday Prize and they were happy to work with Grant to make this appearance possible.

non-dairy-creamer-fireballThe discussion starts off with a recollection of the MythBusters experiment that made Grant fear for his life. They first prototyped a non-dairy creamer powered fireball on a small scale using an air-cannon and a road flare. The flare won’t ignite the creamer when it is at rest. But when launched into the air it disperses, crosses the Stoichiometric Ratio, and ignites. The successful test led to ordering a pallet of the creamer and creating a huge fireball on the bomb range.

In the first five years of the show the hosts were responsible for taking out the trash — it was in the contract. Not a big deal, we take out our own trash as well, but it drives home the point that they weren’t merely on-screen personalities. In fact, each 22-minute episode was put together on an extremely tight schedule. Grant recalls the entire process involved just 10-days per episode. This included coming up with the ideas for the experiments, prototyping, executing, and filming them.

Grant lines up the samurai sword swinging apparatus
Grant lines up the samurai sword swinging apparatus

To make this possible it was necessary to have a very quick process of gaining proficiency at new skills. Grant also never threw anything away. One example of this is a sword-wielding robot which was used to test the ability of one samurai sword to slice through another. The apparatus needed to swing the sword very quickly. When they were done with this episode the device went on the shelf until they needed to swing a sledgehammer. From there it was a quick hack to change the axis on which the implement rotated. This reuse saved a ton of time.

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Grant Imahara poses with Hackaday Prize 4th Place winner Eric William during the Hackaday Superconference [image source]
In his own shop Grant is working on a new build. He plans to fabricate his own BB-8 replica. This will be done completely from scratch and will include all of the features seen in the new movie.

When speaking on this topic in the video above, he mentions a few very interesting things about Star Wars robot appearances. When he worked for Industrial Light and Magic he sometimes played C3PO at events. This was because the company wanted to make sure the appearances put the best example forward for their brand. But lately, they have sometimes hired fans to work events. This is because the replica builds have become so pristine over the years that they are every bit as awesome as what the company produces.

It was great having Grant Imahara at the 2015 Hackaday SuperConference. If you didn’t get a chance to meet him there, you can connect with him on Twitter: @GrantImahara.

10 thoughts on “A Fireside Chat with Grant Imahara

  1. Interesting video, but just as Grant was talking about some fan-built R2-D2’s being functionally better than the actual film prop versions it stops.

    Has it been accidentally cut short?

        1. Very nice, thanks for the link.

          Looks like when I originally watched the fireside chat video YouTube hadn’t finished encoding it or something, it was only 25 minutes, now it’s saying 33 minutes. i can finish watching it now.

  2. Awesome interview guys. Just one thing.. Chris Gammell… you gotta stop fidgeting man. It’s incredibly distracting. You’re rubbing your beard, arm, or head every 2-3 seconds. Other than that you did great.

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