This fall, a plush and huggable storytelling robot will be teaching young children about science, technology, engineering and math (known collectively as STEM).
TROBO — who comes in male (“Newton”) and female (“Curie”) versions — is the creation of Winter Park resident Jeremy Scheinberg, formerly chief operating officer of Alcorn McBride, a leading manufacturer of audio, video and control products for theme parks; and Chris Harden, formerly development director of the EA Sports IGNITE team, which develops engines to handle PlayStation 4 and Xbox.
“We’re both parents of small children, and we wanted to create a toy that teaches kids how to solve problems using STEM skills,” says Scheinberg.
The men, both of whom left lucrative careers to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, are modern-day Makers — inventors, tinkerers, hackers and hobbyists working in garages, woodshops, hobby rooms and community hackerspaces across the country and the world.
After launching TROBO as a Kickstarter project, which was fully funded in October 2014, the pair set up headquarters at Canvas, a co-working space in downtown Orlando.
Other local shared workspaces, including FamLab, a hackerspace in Longwood, and Factur, a fabrication lab in Orlando, even provide technology and tools — including 3-D printers — for local Makers to use.
TROBO is emblematic of the growing Maker Movement, which was inspired by California-based Make magazine “to celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset.”
The first Maker Faire was held a decade ago in the San Mateo County Event Center. Since then, the events have spread to dozens of major cities across the U.S., Canada and Europe.
There are Flagship Faires co-sponsored by Maker Media, the magazine’s parent company, along with local organizers and sponsors. And there are Mini-Faires, which have the blessing of the magazine but are independently produced.
Orlando had held prior Mini-Faires, but in 2014 the local event earned Flagship status. In 2015, with the involvement of the Maker Effect Foundation, a local nonprofit, and participation from the Orlando Science Center and the Orlando Museum of Art, the Faire was bigger than ever, drawing more than 250 exhibitors and 15,000 people to Loch Haven Park.
Last summer, in conjunction with the National Maker Faire, which was held in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama declared a National Week of Making. That’s in keeping with the federal government’s interest in encouraging STEM education and entrepreneurship.
Not all Makers are going to change the world, of course, and not all intend to try. Some are just having fun, and hope you are, too. But the creative process — and the satisfaction inherent in making something that brings entertainment, education (or both) to others — is what’s truly important and worth nurturing.
On the following pages are prominent Winter Park Makers and their Maker Faire projects.
Jeremy Scheinberg and Chris Harden
TROBO the Storytelling Robot
Scheinberg and Harden, both former engineers, left high-powered careers and sunk their life savings into TROBOs, plush robots that wirelessly connect to iPads or iPhones. Children hear TROBO’s voice reading digital STEM-themed stories and follow along by watching animation starring avatars of themselves. “The stories have the child’s name and likeness in them, so as the child goes on the adventure with TROBO, he or she builds an emotional connection with the content being taught,” says Scheinberg. “Without guilt, parents can give iPads to their children, enabling them to learn while playing instead of watching mindless videos or playing mindless games.” TROBO is aimed at children ages 2 through 5 who have access to a compatible mobile device. Scheinberg and Harden envision quickly expanding their downloadable library of stories to offer more content.
Emery turned his hobby of collecting computer chips into collectible artwork. “The idea for ChipScapes started when I began framing old computer chips along with images as gifts for my family and friends,” says Emery, whose work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal. “My artwork seems to appeal to artistically and scientifically minded people, and the Maker Faire overflows with them.” Emery, now retired after a 40-year career working with computer systems, will never run short of raw materials. He has a computer-chip collection numbering 40,000. “I was having a hard time explaining why I was [collecting chips],” admits Emery. “Most chips look boring until you look at them at the microscopic level. Creating this artwork was a way to share the excitement I had for these chips in a non-technical way.”
Anderson, a Maker Faire regular, uses his aptly named Ghoul School to teach children the art of looking truly monsterous. “With Ghoul School, I become this wacky B-movie horror movie character, a kind of mad scientist, and I teach children to do what I do,” says Anderson, a special-effects makeup artist with a 30-plus year career working in films and on museum exhibits. “I think it’s critical to share with children and parents how important it is to use the imagination,” he adds. “Every job, every career demands it. Unfortunately, art programs are disappearing from schools, as standardized testing leaves less time for creative pursuits and stimulation.” Anderson’s TV credits include the PBS documentary series, Secrets of the Dead, and National Geographic’s The Mummy Road Show.
Geils, a custom-home builder, loves Legos. “My professional peers laugh at me. They think I’m a nerd, and I know it,” says Geils, whose own wedding cake featured custom Lego figurines he crafted. “I’m really just trying to inspire younger children to make it themselves if they don’t see it in the marketplace.” Geils points to a worldwide Lego customization culture that has embraced his creations. “Some of these mini-figures sell for thousands of dollars,” says Geils, who works out of a spare room filled with parts and pieces. “Each figure takes about four to six hours to make over the course of two weeks.”