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How to hack a costume ... and othermaker moments

Editor's note: This Saturday, makers -- everyone from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers -- will showcase their creativity and inventiveness at the Mini Maker Faire from 10 AM - 5 PM, at the John P lyons Recreation Center (624 Louisiana Ave.).The family-friendly event will feature offerings from local food trucks , music and circuit-bent instrument demonstrations, UAV and drone exhibits,  Krewe of Chewbacchus parade contraptions, 3-D printing demos, interactive sound and media installations, hands-on projects and activities, and more. Tickets start at $10. 

For more information on the maker movement, read Renee Peck's recent interview with Jenna DeBoisblanc, a budding maker in the NOLA entrepreneurial community: 

It started a few years back with a spur-of-the-moment Pimp My Bike project in New York City.

Native New Orleanian Jenna DeBoisblanc,  a recent graduate in physics from Pomona College and new East Coast resident, tricked out her wheels with flashing LED arrows and strobe brake lights, a circuit-driven speedometer and odometer and other electronic gear. She was stopped so many times on her way to work, she says, that she decided it would be cool to teach the necessary mechanics to others. So she spearheaded a four-part Pimp My Bike class.

LED bike blinkers

LED bike blinkers

Flash forward to Carnival 2014, and Hack a Costume, a workshop that Jenna recently engineered at Propellor for revelers who wanted to create their own wearables for Mardi Gras.

Wearables as in clothing and accessories that contain miniature sensors that can do everything from light up your wig to prompt your shirt cuffs to blink in time to music.

Space Viking costume lights up the night

Space Viking costume lights up the night

In fact, there’s an entire new lingo and direction among the do-it-yourself crowd. The Maker Movement, which refers to tech-influenced DIY, is attracting a new generation of hobbyists, designers, artists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

“It’s being called the third Industrial Revolution,” says Jenna, who returned to live in New Orleans a year ago. “It involves a set of tools like 3D printers and laser cutters that make innovation and creativity accessible.”

As with Jenna herself, makers bring together their creative and engineer sides, to test new ways of manufacturing things. It’s a collaborative environment, with open source apps and info and the exchange of ideas as underlying principles.

“3D printing alone is going to blow up,” Jenna says. “Once you upload the design, everyone has access. So, suddenly, you can make a spatula or a piece of jewelry and spread it the same way we do music now.”

New Orleans will get a taste of the trend with a mini Maker Faire on Saturday, April 5, at the Lyons Recreation Center at 624 Louisiana Ave.

soldering

Soldering 101: A maker basic

Jenna’s own classes on maker mentality are designed to be fun as well as useful. “At first, I thought I’d do an Electronics 101 course,” she says. “But people want to go home with something. So I thought, let’s make it fun and relevant. What if we hack a costume?”

It’s something Jenna has done herself – last Halloween she dressed as a space Viking with a helmet that had lights that rotated through the colors of the rainbow and carried a stick that changed colors when she danced. For Carnival this year she plans to be Captain Planet with “some electronic bling to it” (she’s an ardent environmentalist).

jenna

Jenna DeBoisblanc is continuing her maker mentality back in her home town.

The basic maker components, says Jenna, do not involve rocket science. “You can already go to Radio Shack and buy LED wire to stick on your costume.”

Some of her go-to materials include a soldering iron (she has taught a Soldering 101 class, too); EL  wire, thin copper wire coated with phosphor that glows when current is sent through it; NeoPixels, which use a tiny computer chip to do the same thing; and sewable circuits made with conductive thread, used to create programmable effects.

Once the components are in place, Jenna uploads computer code to make the moveable parts – blinking lights, rotating headpieces, snippets of music, whatever. She uses Arduino, a microcontroller that couples a circuit board (you can build your own or buy one preassembled) with open-source software that allows you to program it however you want.

“The possibilities are endless,” she says. “You can place a sensor that, when you snap your fingers, causes something to make a sound.”

The sky's the limit: An animatronic takeout box

The sky's the limit: A talking animatronic takeout box (Photo: instrctables.com)

Some actual how-to projects outlined in the technology section at instructables.com:

  • For guys, a pair of romance pants that dims the room lighting and raises the stereo in relation to the fly zipper being pulled down.
  • For girls, a clap-off bra.
  • A smart snow globe that makes snow day alerts (I see a hurricane version on the horizon).
  • A wireless mailbox alarm (you’ve got mail!) with phone alert.
  • An electronic joke machine.
  • EL Wire cowboy boots (“the coolest wearable technology piece I have made to date, although LED Shoulder Pads is a close second.”)
  • An animatronic talking takeout container (with googly eyes).

Well, you get the idea. The tools, says Jenna, are so easy “that even kids can use them. I think we eventually will have 3D printers in our homes.”

Her newest electronic project: a touch-screen musical instrument that anyone can play. She's already tinkered with an electronic xylophone.

But meanwhile she's focused on Mardi Gras, her first Carnival back home since high school days. So expect a bit of a sound and light show if you bump into an electronic Captain Planet on the parade route this year.

 

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]