By Dale Dougherty
“I LOVED SHRINKY DINKS AS A KID!”
exclaimed Michelle Khine, a biomedical
engineering professor I met at a weekend
summer camp for scientists called SciFoo,
held at Google and organized by Nature
magazine and O’Reilly Media. Khine explained
how Shrinky Dinks toys inspired her to come
up with a new nanoscale process that led
to her startup, Shrink Technologies.
By creating a design at larger scale and
then shrinking it down, Khine was able to find
a simple and inexpensive method of making
microfluidic channels for what she calls a “lab
on a chip.” Her early prototypes were printed
on a laser printer and then baked in a toaster
oven. One use of this process was to create
saliva-based assays for infectious diseases.
We thought about stories like Khine’s as
we put together this Toys and Games issue
of MAKE. Toys have inspired a lot of makers
and spurred some surprising inventions.
Jose Gomez-Marquez had another toy story
at SciFoo. The director of the Innovations in
International Health Lab at MIT, he’s designing DIY kits for deploying medical devices in
developing countries. Much of their medical
equipment comes secondhand from developed nations, and practitioners often must
customize or hack the devices to repair them
— sometimes using toy parts.
“When you need a part, you don’t have
access to McMaster-Carr or any parts
supplier,” Gomez-Marquez said. “There’s an
amazing supply chain for toys, so you can
find them everywhere. From a toy helicopter,
I can find a rack and pinion system.”
Johnny Lee was also at SciFoo. Lee, who
wrote a popular article in MAKE Volume 01 on
how to make a $14 Steadicam, now works at
Google in R&D. Years ago, he created a novel
whiteboard application for the Wii controller.
Then he worked at Microsoft on the Kinect
platform. He was one of the first to look at
game devices as a cheap source of powerful
sensors for use in other applications. Once
the Kinect was hacked open, developers had
a source of sophisticated computer vision
technology for lots of unexpected applications. Willow Garage, a maker of telepresence
robots, replaced a $20,000 computer vision
system with an off-the-shelf Kinect.
I recently enjoyed a 30-course dinner prepared by The Cooking Lab’s Nathan Myhrvold
and Maxime Bilet, authors of the epic new
cookbook, Modernist Cuisine. It’s an impressively large effort to understand and explain
the science of cooking and how to use such
knowledge to develop new techniques and
recipes. The Cooking Lab team works in a
kitchen inside a machine shop inside an R&D
lab. For this dinner, there were more cooks
preparing the meal than people eating it.
One of the last courses was Myhrvold’s
take on gummi worms, made from a gel
infused with olive oil, vanilla, and thyme. The
gel was poured into a mold used for making
commercial fishing lures. Eating these
candies was a delight, turning us into kids
dangling a wiggly worm above our mouths.
It reminded me of food-making toys like
Incredible Edibles, a 1960s-era Mattel toy
whose secret ingredient was called Gobble
De-Goop. I remember dozens of molds for
making insects with frightening appendages.
This issue of MAKE is full of talking bears,
bubble blowers, toy boats, racers, robots, and
View-Master 3D slides. They’re all fun projects
to make, and they just might inspire you to
see the world differently — as something you
can shape, mold, shrink, and hack.
Dale Dougherty is founder and publisher of MAKE.
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