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Beer, balloons, and bucket-and-bicycle-chain 3D printers

Look what I made!
By ZACH GREEN  |  October 8, 2014

 1010_TJI_Maker_top.jpg
MAKING IT A 3D printer at AS220.

On Saturday, October 11 at the Rhode Island Mini Maker Faire in downtown Providence, Jeff Del Papa will show off his coin flipper.

It sounds like an uncharacteristically humble creation for Del Papa, who’s been a contestant on the reality TV show Junkyard Wars, and who says, “I can actually make claim to being a professional ‘siege engineer’; I’ve been paid more than once to build someone a catapult.” Brian Jepson, one of the Faire’s co-producers, was surprised at the modesty of Jeff’s submission. “I’m used to Jeff making very big things,” he says. “And I’m thinking, ‘Well, that seems very small.’ [Then] I saw that the coins were the size of manhole covers.”

The Maker Faire describes itself as “a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement.” “Maker” is a broad term, encompassing “everything from traditional crafting techniques all they way up to robotics, 3D printers, and even putting balloons in low earth orbit,” Jepson says. Among other Makers’ work, the Faire will feature Geodesic domes, beer brewing, custom pinball machines, and go karts. Hasbro will exhibit some of its newest products outside its building, including a 3D scanner that allows people to have their faces printed on Marvel superhero figurines. Another group, Kite and Rocket Research, plans to livestream footage from a camera tied to a bundle of airborne helium balloons.

Del Papa’s “coins” — essentially just huge slabs of metal — measure eighteen inches in diameter and weigh around fifteen pounds. He built the piece for another TV show, Going Deep with David Rees, a children’s science program that explores simple concepts in close detail. Discussing Del Papa’s work, Jepson says, “If anything typifies the ambition and spirit of the Maker movement, it’s something that insane.”

In past decades, a lot of these folks might have been called “hobbyists.” Many, like Del Papa, are tinkerers by nature afflicted by what he calls “creative compulsion disorder.” But where the work of many of these inventors might have once been confined to the garage, the proliferation of open source software and cheap, accessible technology is allowing them to build and collaborate on an unprecedented scale. Websites like GitHub, a social code-sharing network, make it incredibly easy for like-minded coders to join forces. Arduino, the open source technology platform, abstracts programming to the point where it’s intelligible — and more importantly, usable — to those without any background in computer science.

On Saturday, Will Ware, an electrical engineer, mathematician, and software engineer, will showcase a 3D printer made using an orange Home Depot bucket and a bicycle chain, among other things. “I wanted to make this something that people could easily replicate,” he explains.

Ware says people shouldn’t be intimated by this sort of technology. “I say, ‘I built a 3D printer,’ and [people] think, ‘Oh my God, you’re some kind of Einstein,’ ” he says. “No! I’m just a guy with a garage and some plywood.” Using GitHub, he’s posted code and instructions for building and operating the printer, and blogs about his progress at willware.blogspot.com.

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