Toledo father and son build robot on display at Henry Ford MuseumWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Vic Miller and his son Mick are taking a different approach to recycling this summer, spending up to eight hours in the garage every Saturday using old junk to build a robot. They are displaying their Recyclobot project from July 28-29 during Maker Faire Detroit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
“It’s part art and part mad science,” Vic said. “That’s what Maker Faire is about. There is a lot of science there and heavy engineering guys. At the same time, there are a lot of artistic makers that just make big crazy crap. There’s a life-size version of the Mouse Trap game. They use a real bathtub and drop a safe on top of a pickup truck. That’s pretty damn cool.”
“I was drawn to the engineering and artistic aspects of it,” Mick said. “It seemed like a really cool project to do. I love seeing people’s reaction to it. People driving down the street honk, stop and ask what it is.”
The artistic aspects of the project come naturally to Mick, who is entering his junior year at Toledo School for the Arts with a focus on photography and guitar playing.
The idea for the project came from wanting to do something with old bikes in the garage. Vic said they wanted their creation to be unique, so they built a reverse tricycle using extra tires and duct tape to create a pulley system. Recyclobot is made almost exclusively of stuff they had or found laying around such as a crank shaft, bed frame, street signs, fencing and a globe.
“It really was what we had on hand,” Vic said. “Everything about this was fabricated this way because of what we had. We wouldn’t buy stuff to incorporate an idea. A lot of stuff has changed because of the parts we had.”
Vic participated in Maker Faire for the first time last year with an electronic performance piece he designed for Artomatic 419! called Tech Disobey Lab. It is being incorporated into Recyclobot as part of a laser target game for the fair. The targets are made of CDs, bottle caps and the solar panels from old garden lights, and Recyclobot will be run on a stationary track by a solar-powered motor. It is one of more than 450 projects that will be on display at the third annual Maker Faire Detroit.
“There’s a whole do-it-yourself thing going on now,” Vic said. “Some people are calling it the third industrial revolution. Everyone is starting to make their own stuff. Instead of patenting something and selling it, people make something and put the instructions on the Internet so everyone can make it. There’s a whole open source thing. That’s what Maker Faire is. It’s a sharing of innovation.”
“I think it’s fantastic because it’s an opportunity for a family to create something together, and it’s creating much more than having fun,” said Christian Overland, executive vice president of the Henry Ford Museum. “It’s a meaningful memory that they will have forever. More importantly, the kids will learn from the creation process of doing things with their hands and figuring things out and using that to create a better future. That’s what Henry Ford is about. Our mission is to inspire people to build a better future.”
One skill Mick learned from building Recyclobot is how to weld.
“I had somewhat of an idea from watching my dad, but when I started working with it and testing it out it felt different,” Mick said. “I got it down pretty fast. I did burn myself though.”
His little sister Melody was less concerned with any accidents and more worried about the mess their projects make.
“It’s good, but really messy,” Melody said. “I’ve had to clean up after them for the past few years.”
“We don’t know what we’re going to do with this after Maker Faire,” Vic said. “It’s already kicked my car out of the garage.”
His wife Sandy said she is content as long as there is room for her car.
“I used to say, ‘No more junk,’ and now I find myself looking for things he could use,” she said. “Even my parents, they’ll clean out their garage and ask if Vic can use different things. Besides Recyclobot, Vic has made some pieces of art out of stuff he found in the garage that had been there since the original owners had the house.”
Sandy was impressed by how they turned so much junk into the robot she sees today.
“It started out walking in the garage and seeing pieces spread all over, and I swear every time I go in there it became more and more of a personality,” she said. “Now that it’s done, I walk in there and it makes me smile. It makes me laugh, especially when I see my son riding it because it’s kind of goofy looking. It amazes me that they took all that stuff and made something cool out of it.”
“[Sandy] knows that we’re kind of nuts,” Vic said. “We all are. My daughter is kind of nuts, too. She is outnumbered. She is the rock.”
After learning to build from a young age, Vic was naturally drawn to an event like Maker Faire.
“I grew up in a family where my grandfather was a hands-on kind of guy and I was taught a lot of those skills as a kid,” he said. “They have been incredibly useful as an adult, even though I don’t work with my hands for a living. I’m a digital producer. I work on the Internet. But being able to put up your own fence and fix your washer and dryer, that is incredibly valuable. Mickey has been raised the same way.”
“There is nothing practical about this, but that’s the fun of it,” Vic said. “It’s like being a kid. It gives me hope when you see young people doing awesome things.”