DIY Robocars meetups in Canada?

Bubbles the robot I’ve had a long standing interest in autonomous vehicles dating back to my college days. Check out “Bubbles” the robot. I worked on “her” as part of a team of 3. She was able to roam the halls of the college, mostly avoiding bodily contact with her handlers (sorry Jordy and James, I’m sure the bruises didn’t take long to heal). Good times, good times.

Recent co-op student interviews gave me a window on some interesting mechatronics projects that brilliant University of Waterloo students are working on. That got me thinking about DIY Robocars meetup events in the States. Why are there no groups here in Canada? We have an abundance of techies in our area that love to tinker. I don’t have the time (or admittedly the self discipline, confidence, people skills) to start and maintain such a group, but the Region of Waterloo could surely sustain something like this.

What do you think?

Update 2018-09-22: Looks like there are a couple groups in Canada now. The page lists one in Calagary and one in Ottawa. Is the Region of Waterloo next?

Minion tree ornaments

pile_o_minionsFor some crazy reason I started collecting minion toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals years ago… maybe it has something to do with the way I feel in this work-a-day world we live in? Maybe because I feel like I needed a minion army of my own to order around? Maybe I just couldn’t stand to see those banana-yellow faces staring up at me from the 10 cent basket at the thrift store?

I had always planned on making some type of art installation with all of these little buddies, but they just kept piling up. This year, I finally did something with (at least some of) them. I used the smallest drill bit I own to make holes in their shiny (and sometimes bumpy) little heads. Then I turned in some screw hooks and added them to our holiday tree. I’ve still got a tonne left. Maybe someday they will end up somewhere more glamorous, but this will do for now.


We need your help for our first Stuffanomaly

We got accepted to bring Cybernetimals to Maker Expo 2016, but this year we’re not concentrating on the scavenged electronics parts as much on the disassembly and reassembly of stuffed animals. We’re updating the name of the project. Here’s some new terminology to get us started…

Stuffanom – A stuffed creature of your own unique design, made from the rendered parts of other stuffies and whatever else you can find.
Stuffanomaly – An event where stuffanoms are made.
Stuffanomaler – A person that makes stuffanoms (that’s you, if you can make it to Maker Expo).
Stuffanomalist – A person who studies the making and extraordinary lives of stuffanoms.

All of this sounds great, but this post is really about getting ready for Maker Expo. We need donations of clean, used stuffed toys, fabric, craft supplies, etc. for use exclusively at Maker Expo. We had a huge box of stuffies at the last maker event we attended, and there wasn’t much left but crumbs at the end of the day, so the more the merrier. Please leave a comment if you’re able to help out.

Even if you can’t help with donations, be sure to attend on Sept. 10th. It’s going to be great!

Cybernetimals 2016 Maker Expo

Last week I submitted my proposal for bringing Cybernetimals back to the people… well, to Maker Expo to be specific. I haven’t heard back if it will be accepted or not, but I’m hopeful as I’ve had some good feedback from one of the organizers. It was a lot of fun when we had the booth at the KW Maker Faire, and there was hardly a dull moment with kids (of all ages) at the tables until the very end.

This year, I’m hoping to use less e-waste and more crafty type of materials for augmenting stuffies (some of the parts we used previously were too sharp for the younger kids). I’m also thinking about some simple electronic additions, if I can get some sponsorship and if there’s time to order parts. If you have any ideas for that, leave a comment.

Altered Stuffie – Upsy Daisy

upsey_daisyThis creature was an experiment in techniques for making altered stuffies that I completed over a year ago, but never documented until now.

Upsy Daisy is a character from the BBC children’s show In the Night Garden. This modification included fastening a circuit board on her back, integrating a wire into her head, adding an additional character on the end of her arm, giving her a Batman disguise and attaching a hotel room key card to the top of her head. There wasn’t a rhyme or reason to the modifications, I was just trying things out.

For more photos, visit the Cyborg Daisy Flickr Album.

If you’re interested in giving this genetic cyborg experiment a home, let me know.

Focus for an awesome robotic region

Cross stitch image by Jeffrey Veen. Used with permission. Some rights reserved.

Cross stitch image by Jeffrey Veen. Used with permission. Some rights reserved.

Our Region of Waterloo (and the surrounding area) is awesome. There’s no doubt about that. Full of tech, three amazing post-secondary institutions, rural areas, artistic, progressive. What more could you ask?

How about more robots?

What’s that you say? Robots? Yeah, robots!

Robotics already have a bit of a foothold (or wheel/track/propeller hold) in our area. There’s Aeryon Labs and Clearpath Robotics. ODG builds space rovers. New companies are popping up too, like Redtree Robotics in Guelph. Our secondary students get involved in First Robotics competitions. Conestoga College has a couple full-time courses involving robotics (of the industrial persuasion). I’m sure the post-grads at UW and WLU are cooking up some interesting research that none of us know about. Putting commercial bots and academia aside, we have a thriving bunch of enthusiasts (think Kwartzlab) building their own quad-copters and published robotics authors (hey Doug and Karl!).

So with all of that going on, why do I say that we need more robots? I believe our region could be a real force in the design, research, production and general advancement of autonomous robots. Drones are going to be a “big thing” in the (near?) future, and we can/should play a part. I’m not talking about the weaponized, mass surveillance type of drones that you hear/fear about in the news. I don’t really want to get involved in that. There’s so much good that can be done instead. Let’s talk about drones and precision agriculture. Let’s build bots that locate and rescue disaster survivors. Let’s think of crazy things that will help make the world a better, safer place.

I’m thinking I’d love to see a non-profit focused on advancing our area’s capability to design and build mobile and autonomous tech to do novel and useful tasks. A place where research is sought out and disseminated, helping start-ups build viable companies. There’s something like this out west called the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, although I don’t dig the seeming military connections. I want a spot where we can pull companies together to integrate their technology, host public speakers, share source code, guide government policies, explore, innovate… sorry, getting dizzy from my own buzzwords.

Do you think a non-profit like this would be possible, practical and/or beneficial to focus the region’s attention, energy and finances on robotics?

Thrift on Kent now open

thrift_on_kentI stopped by KW’s newest thrift store today. It’s “Thrift on Kent” and it’s another thrift store run by the Mennonite Central Committee. Its located at 50 Kent St. in Kitchener and the store clean and bright. I’m sure it will be a regular place for Kwartzlabbers, as this local maker space is directly across the street.

Drop by and check it out for yourself, but if you can’t make it, check out a few pictures I snapped.

One thing to note, from the street it looks like there is not any parking available, but in the back of the building there is a large parking lot with two access points from Kent (and it looked like one from Stirling). The parking lot also runs along the Iron Horse Trail if you happen to be walking or biking to the store.

A Motorino Milestone


This last week my Motorino Xpn e-bike passed the 6000 km mark. That’s roughly 100 commutes that I’ve made to and from the office. If you consider a (very) rough estimate of $10 a day for the gas I would use driving the family minivan on the same commute, I have saved approximately $1000. Not bad!

I’ve been riding this electric scooter for just under two seasons for my daily commute as often as the weather would allow. It’s my second e-bike, and it’s been treating me well. I know that I’m due for a new set of batteries with this many kilometres on it, but it’s still charging in about 8 hours, most times, so I’ll try to keep going until I don’t make it on a one-way trip before losing its charge. Buying a new set of batteries (I have eight 12 volt cells arranged to give 48v) will take a chunk out of the $1000 savings in gas, but it’s not all about saving money. It’s been a great way to keep us a one vehicle family, which is good for the environment, and good for the pocket book in more ways than just saving at the gas pumps.

2014-06-09 Update – I ended up selling my e-bike last weekend. It was sad to see it go, but I’m not able to use it as much as I could in past years due to new commuting arrangements. I’m hoping it will get more use with it’s new owner.

Help me build my minion forces

minionsIn our area, a recent McDonald’s happy meal toy series has been the minions from the recent Descpicable Me 2 movie. Chances are, there are plenty of people out there that collected a few of these toys. If you’re like our family, these toys always end up in the garage sale “free basket” after be dug out from the bottom of the toy box years later.

What if, instead of leaving these things lying around houses all over the province, we could bring them all back together in one place? What would they all do when they’re together again? I’m not exactly sure, but I’d like to help these little guys out, but I need your help.

Here’s what we need to do. If you know me, bring your minions to me the next time you see me. If you know someone who knows me, drop the minions off at their place (and have a nice visit or chat while you’re there) and they can bring them to me the next time they see me. Once we get as many of these little guys together as we can, I’ll figure out something for them to do. It might be as simple as a cubicle display at work. It might be something more elaborate, or more sinister. I haven’t got any ideas yet, but I think it’s going to be wonderful. If you think of something, let me know.

[Update 2015-04-14] It’s going slow, but the hoard is growing.

What a loose connection will do


This is the breaker on my e-bike. Apparently I had a loose connection which caused arcing when I went over bumps. The breaker tripped a couple times while driving, and when I went to reset it, I realized that the wire and breaker were far too hot.

In the photo, I have pulled the connection out to show the melted insulation. The breaker is charred in places too. Luckily, the breaker is still functional, none of the circuitry is damaged and there isn’t much damage to the wiring. I cut back the wire and there was enough slack to tin a new connection and wire it back up.