This article is presented to you by America’s Greatest Makers, airing on TBS Tuesday, April 5, at 9 PM ET/PT.
In a world where $ 5 computers and custom 3D-printed hardware are commonplace, it’s no surprise that maker culture has bloomed. Regular people all over the globe are developing exciting new projects on the daily, and sharing their hard work with the entire Internet. We can watch these everyday engineers design and build incredible DIY projects whenever we want, and that’s incredibly entertaining. However, there’s something more powerful here: We’re encouraged to take those ideas, tweak them, and create something new.
Today, we’ll be highlighting a few of our favorite maker videos. Some of these featured projects are niche, some are simple novelties, and some have practical uses in the real world. The single unifying concept here is that someone had an idea, created something awesome, and then shared it with the world. Hopefully, at least one of these videos will inspire you to make something for yourself, and then return the favor by sharing it with the rest of us.
While robots are typically thought of as fodder for high-end tinkerers, there’s also a number of robotics enthusiasts who value simplicity and affordability. And if you go all the way to the extreme end of the spectrum, you’ll find people building robots out of literal garbage. Namely, a YouTube user named Burhan Saifullah.
In the first video in the playlist above, “Mr. Moo” is made of two hot sauce lids, a reused gearbox, a AAA battery pack, numerous screws/nuts, a reused switch, some wires, a can, parts of a wire coat hanger, two LEDs, and some terminal blocks. And in the second video, “Mr. Mansur” is constructed out of a can, two types of bottle caps, a bicycle’s inner tube, a paper clip, a piece of galvanized wire, and some motors. With a little bit of know-how, some spare parts, and a weekend or two, you’ll end up with a novelty that is just as satisfying artistically as it is technically.
3D-printed digital sundial
This project stands out because of its clever juxtaposition of complex modern engineering with ancient technology. Humans have been using shadows to tell time for thousands of years, but this ingenious design from a clever French engineer allows for a sundial that delivers a numerical readout in twenty minute chunks for a six hour portion of the day.
If you have a access to a 3D printer, you can download this project from Thingiverse, and print it yourself. But if you’re unable or unwilling to sit through roughly 35 hours of printing, the designer is selling this crazy sundial on Etsy at $ 79.14 a pop.
DIY Raspberry Pi tablet
Ever wanted to build your own custom tablet? If you use this Adafruit project as a jumping-off point, it’s actually easier than you might think. Grab a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, the official RPF 7-inch touchscreen, about $ 38 worth of additional parts from Adafruit, and you’ll have all of the guts of your tablet ready to go. Of course, that’s not all you’ll need.
The shell of the device needs to be 3D-printed, so you’ll need to choose between using the DIY method or simply taking advantage of the professional 3D-printing services across the globe. Once that’s done, you can get to work assembling and customizing your own tablet however you see fit.
Arduino-controlled Christmas lights
Of the countless maker projects I’ve come across, these two Arduino-based Christmas projects are the only ones that have convinced me to dip my toe into the world of DIY. I’m a big fan of Christmas decorations in general, and having highly customizable lights on hand when Christmas rolls around would make my holiday season quite a bit cheerier.
In video number one, YouTube user “Anx2K” uses a Seasonic power supply, an Arduino Mega 2560 REV3, and five strands of the Adafruit 36mm square LED pixels to light up a house. In the second video, it’s not clear exactly what hardware YouTube user “vinsanity1981” is using, but it’s noted in the comments that the open source tool Vixen is used to time the lights with music. And in the comments, YouTuber “wschamps42” links to a DIY guide on Instructables. If this inspires you to make your first DIY project, that’s probably where you’ll want to start.
Drones have become commonplace. Not only are these buzzing little creeps used frequently by government organizations for numerous (and sometimes nefarious) purposes, but small quadcopters have begun to proliferate among average citizens as well. Even in the relatively rural area where I live, it’s not particularly shocking to see a drone flying around every once in a while.
Unsurprisingly, quadcopters are quite popular with the DIY crowd. There are plenty of videos showing how to make quadcopters, but this 15-part series from YouTube user “iforce2d” shows off the entire process of making an Arduino-based quadcopter from tip to tail. Not only does he provide a complete list of parts, but he also openly discusses the ups and downs of the final product. This isn’t going to be the simplest or cheapest quadcopter ever made, but this video series offers a strong base to build on.
DIY MAME handheld
If you’re into custom hardware, you’ve almost certainly heard of Benjamin Heckendorn — better known in the community as Ben Heck. He has a long history of creating portable versions of gaming consoles including “laptop” versions of the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Back in 2013, Ben walked us through the creation of a MAME handheld built on the Raspberry Pi platform. Two years later, he revisited the idea, and refined the design. The two videos here walk you through the basics of getting the hardware and software up and running. And if you want to make this yourself, you can find a parts list on the element14 website and all of the necessary files on GitHub.
Whether you’re making your own board game, running a tabletop RPG, or simply looking for a great gift idea, 3D-printed custom dice are an affordable and simple place to start. In the first video, YouTube user “3DP Hobbyist” shows off a handful of different six-sided dice he found on Thingiverse, and lets us watch the entire printing process. The finished products look sharp, and since these designs are licensed under Creative Commons, you can use them commercially as well.
But if you’re looking for novelty instead of practicality, check out the second video here from Adafruit. Not only does it show off the process of 3D printing a giant d20, but there’s complete instructions for installing electronics inside to make the die speak when it’s thrown. I’m skeptical about how the insides might impact the overall fairness of the rolls, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
DIY camera accessories
Getting stable, professional-grade video can be a challenge if you don’t have a big budget. Even if your camera is superb, your hands will inevitably introduce shake into the final product. Obviously, a tripod will give you stable video, but you’re limited in how you can shoot the scene. With specialty hardware and some elbow grease, these two DIY projects will allow you to elevate your cinematography without emptying your piggy bank.
In the first video, YouTuber “DIY Perks” shows you how to build a high quality camera slider for about 40 bucks. If you want to execute a silky smooth tracking shot, this is an affordable way to pull it off. And in the second video, YouTube user “I Like To Make Stuff” shows you how to make a camera stabilizer that mimics the widely known Steadicam attachment. If you want to produce high quality dynamic video on a shoestring budget, either one of these projects are worth looking into.
Of course, there are countless other maker videos to learn from. Whether you’re interested in building your own chess set or making a DIY solar panel, you’re bound to find likeminded individuals who are willing to help you get started. And even if you’re an experienced engineer, the maker community always has something to offer — even if it’s just the inspiration for your next project.[Image credit: soulfish, cropped]