(Some) Assembly Required

One of my happiest memory from my childhood time in Hong Kong was “building” (more like assembling) my own radio-controlled buggy. I “built” two RC cars, starting with one (Tamiya Boomerang) that had less parts to assemble to ease me into the learning process, but also I think my parents wanted to make sure I could do it so not to waste money on the more expensive models from the get go. The second, more advanced, model (Kyosho Optima Mid Special) required almost every parts to be hand assembled. I greased up the front and back differentials (it was a four-wheel drive model) before attaching the belt and the front-end and back-end assemblies that connected them with the motor. I attached the suspension arms, tracking arms, hubs, drive shafts. I filled up the shock absorbers with oil and loaded it with springs. I soldered the wires that connected Novak speed controller to the motor and connected the radio receiver with servo that steered the car. I soldered my own battery pack from seven NiCad cells. Finally I painted the polycarbonate shell with my own choice of color and design. When it was finally ready, I could truly claim that I “build” that. I also made extensive modifications of my own afterward.

Contrast that with the type of RC cars one can purchase now. They are all ready assembled, ready to provide instant gratification for the impatient generation of children. The very few RC car kits that require assembly are the large, expensive, gas-powered buggy, which obviously not suitable for young children (I was around 13-14 years old when I assembled my first one). Likewise with electronic/computer. One purchase a game console or computer and all one need to do is connect the cables and press the power button. And it is not confined to children and toys. Large portion of the adult population stumble over assembling even simple furniture such as those from IKEA. Oh, how the adults blame the lack of instruction or tools as if skills should not be required to assemble anything!

So I was very happy to see that the spirit of building things ourselves is still very much alive at the World Maker Faire at NY Hall of Science. There were plenty of robots, lights, 3D printing, etc. I think the Maker Faire movement has gone up a notch since the release of Arduino which dramatically lowers the bar of building your own circuit boards. There was a whole tent devoted to Arduino and companies that provides additional add-on circuit boards. The other big thing in the fair is 3D printing, which also had its own tent. And the most encouraging thing is that the majority of people there are kids and teenagers. Not just a bunch of old geeks like myself.

Now I think I should subscribe to the MAKE magazine and build something!

More photos are on Flickr.

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