Our friendly journalist Gareth Halfacree recently attended the Manchester MakeFest on our behalf, talking to the thronging crowds find out what's hot in the maker world at the minute. This series of Focus On features takes a look at some of the event's exhibitors, finding out what they're up to and what makes them tick.
As one of the first workshops you find as you walk into the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry's MakeFest event, it's little surprise to see Hackspace Manchester - Hacman, as indicated by the use of a Pacman-style character as the group's logo - drawing a considerable crowd with its Build-a-Bug workshop. Based loosely on the popular Build-a-Bear franchise, Build-a-Bug is somewhat less cuddly: buckets of laser-cut wooden parts, dyed in a variety of eye-catching colours and designed by Hacman member Tamaris Kay, sit next to multi-colour RGB LEDs, all under the watchful gaze of a scaled-up super-sized bug with some clever design features.
"Basically it's a NeoPixel Jewel with a resin-printed casing for the large bug's eyes," explains Kathryn 'Kat' Reeve, pointing to the glowing orbs of the wooden monstrosity which look for all the world like oversized through-hole LED components. "It kinda mimics the shape of an LED, though it's got more than one. It has RGB LEDs, and it's just basically cycling through a system using an Arduino inside. The smaller bugs are just easier, they have an RGB LED that just changes colour when you add power."
It's these smaller bugs which make up the heart of the operation. For £2.50, visitors can select the laser-cut parts of their choice from the bins and are walked through assembly before being shown how to install the electronics that bring the project to life. "We've got various different bugs which you can make out of laser-cut pieces of wood which have all been coloured," Kat explains, "so you can make any kind of variation on bugs." When the build is complete, visitors are invited to stand in front of an automated camera system which captures their creation for posterity, posting it automatically to the Build-a-Bug Twitter account.
"Either they want to run away and hide, or they really want to make one," laughs Kat, when asked about children's reactions to seeing the giant bug and being invited to create a smaller creature to take home as a memento of their day out. "There's various reactions. Some of the kids can see how it was put together, they learn about laser cutting, they kind of go 'this feels a bit like a laser cutter made it' and we go 'yeah, that's right!' They've already figured out how it works before they've even started, so it works really well. It's the seeing that excitement in people's eyes that makes it all worthwhile."
You can find out more about Build-A-Bug on the official Twitter account, and about Hacman at the official website.