Kickstarter launches this Saturday, Oct. 24 at noon (CDT)

I thought I would be updating more frequently, but it's been a very busy summer getting ready for the launch. And some of our thoughts on how this release should best be approached, have evolved since the last post. As it became clear that certain decisions were still in flux, we thought it would be better to wait until we'd made up our minds :).

The hard part is that we have two key goals that are in conflict:

  • To produce an extremely high quality art instrument that is beautiful, silent, and runs forever

  • To get this instrument into as many homes, minds, hands, hearts as possible

The problem is cost. Since this is our first time launching a Kickstarter campaign, the closer it gets, the more we realize there are many variables and that no matter how hard we try to estimate and predict costs of productions and fulfillment, we will surely get some of them wrong. A little over a year ago, our main focus was on perfecting a small version that could sit on a table or desktop. Once this version began to take shape, we started experimented with putting larger versions into glass-covered tables, and were enchanted by the result. We have lived with these prototypes running 24/7 in our homes, and fallen in love with them – all sizes. But producing the least expensive, small desktop version (without sacrificing quality), is quite different than creating unique, custom designed furniture. We have decided to wait on release of the desktop version. We are not abandoning it, but it will happen sometime after this first Kickstarter, and we have learned more about how to do this.

So, what ARE we going to launch? Three glass-topped tables – an end table (~24” diameter) and two coffee tables (one ~36” diameter, one ~48”). The end table and smaller coffee tables share the same style of furniture – a very clean and simple steel, with a choice of wood veneers for the sides and top ring (light shield). The larger coffee table will be fabricated using advanced CNC techniques to produce a truly modern and stunning piece of hardwood furniture.

We're still going over spreadsheets and trying to figure out what we left out, so we won't have certain pricing until the launch, but we will have “early bird” specials for early backers.

If your are near the NYC area, we will definitely be at the World Maker Faire in Queens, Oct. 1-2, and will be prominently featured. Please stop by and see our offerings up close!

Phaeno installation

We arrived in Wolfsburg on Friday morning, via train from Hanover.  The station is just a minute's walk from Phaeno, and we were soon unpacking our equipment.  The previously shipped mechanism looked intact, and after disassembly, some Loctite on fasteners and reassembly, it checked out OK under power (relief!).  The cut aluminum plates of the furniture were delivered that afternoon, and looked good-- but had a few (36) holes missing.  There was no way to get these drilled and tapped over the weekend-- and no way to get Sisyphus going without them-- so the next morning we went down to the Phaeno shop and did it ourselves. (Thank you, Hans, for showing us where everything we needed was and letting us use your shop!)  After that, it wasn't long before Micah and I had things come together:

hoop assembled and mesh tensioned

hoop assembled and mesh tensioned

finalizing wiring and electronics

finalizing wiring and electronics

First run!

First run!

We'll be testing and tweaking throughout the week, prior to the opening of the exhibition on Saturday.

view of Phaeno from our hotel roof

view of Phaeno from our hotel roof

Sisyphus in Germany

The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany has commissioned a permanent installation of Sisyphus.  This version will be 3 meters in diameter.  Because of a tight timeframe, the "furniture" (structure that supports the mechanism and sand field) will be fabricated in Germany using my CAD files, while I build the mechanism and electronics at the NEM makerspace in Minneapolis.  We leave for Germany the last week of September.

CNC-routed aluminum plate

CNC-routed aluminum plate

building and testing of new Sisyphus mechanism

building and testing of new Sisyphus mechanism

Getting it out there #2

We've been working steadily on both soft- and hardware for the table-top Sisyphus.  We're close, but want to be well prepared for a probable Kickstarter launch-- likely 4th quarter this year, or 1st, next.  Here's a recent experiment run on a larger "mid-size" model, now running at Nordeast Makers.

Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man-  23" diameter

Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man-  23" diameter

Getting it "out there"

I've been working on Sisyphus for quite a while now (17 years, though not continuously). The challenge of creating a machine designed to roll a steel ball through a field of sand sounds relatively  simple (if you're into DIY CNC), and in some ways it is.  The hard parts involve making the machine and its software not only move the ball faithfully along different paths, but do it "gracefully" -- smoothly, silently, and, given its name, endlessly.  Most of my efforts during these years were focused on producing large-scale versions, intended for museum settings.  Two have found permanent homes in beautiful spots (in Switzerland and Australia), and visitors to, and staffs of these museums get to see them daily.  But the more time I spend working on, refining, and just plain living with these things, the more I've come to view Sisyphus as an "instrument". Something I want to get into more people's hands, hearts, and minds.

Laser cutting cherry furniture for beta-testers' prototypes

Laser cutting cherry furniture for beta-testers' prototypes

Toward that end, my wife (and now business partner) has joined me in pushing hard to release a new, table-top version intended for home use.  Our goal is to make them available in less than a year's time.  I will be updating our progress periodically...

Why I still love Microsoft

OK, I know, that does catch in the throat a little.  But let me explain.  Yes, I find nearly everything they make displeasing on a number of fronts-- software and hardware.  From horrid aesthetics to predatory business practices to just plain buggy programs.  But I just bought a bunch of Winbook 7" tablets at our local MicroCenter.  They come with a 1280x800 touchscreen, Wifi, Bluetooth, two USB ports, and Windows 8.1.   

They retail for $70 (I bought open-box returns for $50).

The idea for this post came from the feeling this purchase gave me.  It reminded me how I felt about "IBM-compatibles" vs. Apple when I first started messing with motion control 25 years ago, and needed to get "inside the box."  For all its warts (apparent then as well), it was Microsoft and its DOS world that allowed me the access I needed.  And now that I am developing the user interface for a home-version of Sisyphus, a small, capable, and incredibly priced computer running Windows feels like this same kind of "access."  There are other "better" options, for sure, but none come even close in terms of expense, both in terms of development time and hardware.

7" Winbook tablet running Sisyphus developer app

7" Winbook tablet running Sisyphus developer app

(not saying a Win machine will be in the final release, but for rapid development, these are a tremendous help to me)

Minneapolis/St. Paul Maker Faire

The week following the Bay Area Maker Faire, we loaded the car and U-haul with "Sisyphi", and drove back to Minneapolis (three days), with a brief stop in Des Moines to pick up one of the Ribbon Dancers at the Science Center of Iowa (in need of a minor repair).  Then a week later it was time for the Twin Cities' first Maker Faire (finally!).  Much smaller than the The Bay's, but it still had the same magical vibe.  The crowd's reactions to Sisyphus was the same, too.

Sisyphus at the Twin Cities first Maker Faire

Bay Area Maker Faire

3 weeks since the Bay Area Maker Faire.  It's come a long ways since we participated in the first one, back in 2006!  More than 100K people attended, and it was a great venue to unveil our new table-top Sisyphus prototypes.  People reacted just as we hoped.

Visitors to our booth, at the 10th annual Bay Area Makers Faire