In the first in our series of Q&As with makers and creatives we had a quick chat with Libby Miller who works in R&D for the BBC and spends her spare time tinkering with shonky bots…
Who are you and what do you do when you’re not making?
I’m 42, female, and have a background in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a PhD in Economics. In my day job I’m a producer at BBC Research and Development, which means I do project and product management for the prototypes we make there.
The team I’m in make lots of different kinds of prototypes – my two recent favourites are physical and software radio prototyping platform, Radiodan, and BBC Shuffle, a web-based prototype that learns what you like and creates a bespoke TV channel just for you.
What is it that you make?
I’ve been making a lot of streaming internet radio-based prototypes from Raspberry Pis and off-the shelf components. Over christmas I used the basic code to make a “podcast in a box” controlled with RFID cards. More recently I’ve been working with Bristol Hackspace people on Shonkbot, a £10 Arduino-based programmable robot. I love making cheap things, and I love laser cutting.
How did you first get started?
I went to the last Mini Maker Faire in Bristol! I loved some of the things there especially Richard Sewell’s drawing robot Sketchy, John Honniball’s pieces made of old shop till displays, and some lovely origami foxes Roborigami by Ad Spiers. Then I accidentally went to the Bristol Hackspace open day at BV Studios in Bedminster – I went to see the artists studios and didn’t realise Hackspace was there. I got chatting about lots of things, and have been going back most Thursday evenings ever since. I’ve had loads of help there for home and work projects too, and hopefully I’m starting to contribute a bit back.
Tell us about a recent project?
Walls Have Eyes is a work project but it’s very ‘maker-y’. It’s three pictures with Raspberry Pis inside the frames. They take pictures of you and capture information that your phone gives out when searching for wifi networks and then print it out on a massive noisy old dot matrix printer. It’s designed to give people a more visceral understanding of what data their phones are leaking as they walk around. This kind of data is used by companies to track us in physical (rather than digital) space, for example at Cabot Circus. It was a bit of an eye-opener researching it. We (myself and my colleagues Jasmine Cox and Andrew Nicolaou) made it for the Mozilla Festival last year, but it got nominated for the Design of the Year awards so it’s now at the Design Museum in London – for a year – and that was really hard, to make it stable enough to last a year.
What can people expect to find at a Maker Faire?
Lots of different stalls, which will be a table or two with some interesting things on it and someone to talk to. Last time in Bristol there were lots of drawing bots of various kinds, some mini hovercraft, some tiny robots made of tooth brushes, some large metal interactive sculptures, 3D printing and some crafts too. It’s normally very diverse and I bet most people would find something that interested them.
What was the first Bristol Mini Maker Faire like for you?
I was wandering around alternately going “how on earth did they do that!” and “that’s amazing!”. I felt like it was really possible to start hacking on objects and make them do different things to what was intended. I was really impressed at the creativity of the people there and wanted to do something like that too.
What’s are your top 3 ‘makes’ of all time?
That’s tricky, there’s so much brilliant stuff going on. I loved Martin Raynesford’s useless machine at Maker Faire UK last year , John Honniball’s resurrected plotter that lives at the Hackspace, and Richard & Anton’s Giant Staring Eye .
And finally, can you give us a project we could start this evening…?I think you should try Shonkbot, the robot we’ve been working on at Hackspace, which made Hackaday recently – http://hackaday.com/2015/06/18/cheap-easy-to-build-robot-for-beginners/. You can get the bits from Maplin mostly (though eBay’s a lot cheaper!) It’s a robot built on a CD which draws shapes and avoids other robots, and the instructions are here.