Felt Lab revisited–opportunities reaffirmed

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Checking back on my first post on Felt Lab up in St Jacobs, it surprised me that it’s been three and a half years since my last visit. Wow. I caught word in my trawling twitter net of a Friday lunch-n-learn up at Felt, including a talk from diyode’s Simon Clark. He was driving an Arduino workshop there, and I’m always curious to see how newcomers engage this tech. Equally as interesting was to see the changes and opportunities at Felt…

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Felt is a short 5 minute drive from my office and they have awesome parking out back on the river. Co-located with Quarry, this venue oozes good design decisions, and makes me think of the CAFKA biennial theme of “It should always be this way” as it applies to inspiring and functional workspaces.

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Here’s a prototype of a rig that Simon designed that will be mounted at each station within the lab, providing some proximity-aware function.

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Simon Clark, of the Guelph makerspace diyode, gave an overview of the Arduino electronics/software platform, including this…

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game playing rig he built with his daughter to play repetitive tasks on a handheld game console to get to the good stuff. Love the laser-cut, button-pressing cams on the servo motors here.

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He covered the popular variants of Arduino including different form factors, levels of processing power, and extensible peripherals through the use of add-on shields. Particularly interesting was the brief discussion of suitability for various applications. When is an Arduino best? What tasks do Raspberry Pi’s more capably tackle?

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diyode does a lot of cool things in the make-o-sphere, so you should definitely check them out. I expect they will again have a booth at the local Waterloo Mini Maker Faire this year (June 14 10am-6pm Kitchener City Hall – get that in your calendar)

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RFID tokens? User and Home?

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Having last visited Felt Lab shortly after it opened, it seemed then like a great idea and a modestly equipped facility. What I found on Friday was a whole whack of new-to-me gear just begging to be used. Here, an Oculus Rift headset was hooked up to some virtual world.

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There was a localized sound dish suspended above a display. From talking with student Adam, I gather this projects sound straight down on very local viewers, not disturbing those outside of its “beam” of sound.

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Adam and another student are working on a number of audio-related projects here.

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This rig projected a very narrow beam of sound that was a little disorienting in that it could make a sound source seems as if it materialized out of thin air. It uses 39 ultrasonic transducers, so dynamic range is fairly limited, but the effect is intriguing.

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Here are a box of B-Squares just begging to be made into something cool! Oh man, it looks like they’ve never been cracked out of their boxes. Get on this, makers! An aside: there seems to be a short path between cool UX-related kickstarted gear and this lab.B-Squares, Oculus Rift, and Soundlazer all appear to have emerged from that model.

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There was a full-person-height avatar at the doorway to the lab that was projected on Christie MicroTiles. This photo appears in psychedelic colour due to the way the Tiles internal DLP and my camera shutter interact. He looks more photorealistic in real life and definitely crosses into the uncanny valley as he stands there shifting and blinking. It wasn’t obvious how to get him to engage me, but I gave it a shot by introducing myself.

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And speaking of MicroTiles, Felt facilitator Jennifer Janik was showing off an interactive wall of Tiles and freaking me out a bit by actually touching the Tile screens in doing so. Typically, where I’ve encountered Tiles in my travels they are usually minded by someone gently discouraging people from touching the delicate surface/screen of the display. This installation functions as a giant touchscreen, and the usual double-tap and pinch gestures worked as we’ve come to expect in such a UI model.

So, we’ve got a room full of high-end UX gear, a cool space, makers that are eager to collaborate, Felt Friday open hacking 10am-4pm, and…

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a free lunch, to boot. Snacks! (thank you REAP) Getting into this space will stretch your brain and could lead to some interesting explorations. Register on their site and join in.

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Dave Goodwin, founder of REAP, professor, and Director of the Digital Arts Communication Program at UW looks on as…

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Simon switched to the hands-on portion of Felt Friday. This really blew my hair back. From this stackable, wooden, purpose-built crate on casters, came a class set of laptops with all the software needed to start programming Arduinos in minutes, along with…

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diyode’s codeshield that you can just plug into an Arduino with no tools and have access to an awesome grab bag of input/output peripherals including switches, LEDs, servo, buzzer, temperature sensor, light sensor, magnetic Hall sensor, a rotary encoder, potentiometer, and a relay to control heavy loads. Wicked.

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I think about the various hurdles of software, programming tools, drivers, electronics, and general understanding that can trip people up as they jump into this domain and quite honestly I think diyode has nailed a great approach.

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kwartzlab’s Matt Bells (right) examines a codeshield with another Felt visitor.  Pretty cool, eh Matt?

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Simon steered the group through the basics of Arduino programming and before long, lights were flashing and servos turning. That kind of quick payoff can really spur people on, moving them closer to realizing their applications in no time at all.

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So my only question for you is: what will you build?

Happy making,
DW

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