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National Day of Making

Erin Wilkey Oh | June 18, 2014

Today, President Obama proclaimed June 18 National Day of Making! At the first-ever White House Maker Faire, makers are exhibiting their creations, demonstrating innovative thinking, and showcasing STEAM skills in action.

We met up with one of the White House exhibitors at last month's Maker Faire Bay Area. High school student Matthew Tung, along with teammates Sammi McGinnis, Davis Dunaway, and Andrew Ke, created a human-size, physical representation of the mobile app Flow Free. Flow Free is a puzzle game that involves connecting like-colored dots with the goal of filling up the game board with connected colors. The human-size grid that Tung and his teammates created has 64 individual tiles, each with an Arduino and a load cell to enable LED control and tile-to-tile communication. When you walk on the tiles, the LED colors change. Here's what Tung had to say about the project and his experience with Young Makers.

What was the inspiration behind the project?
We found our inspiration for the game from the original game Flow Free. All of us played the game on our phones or tablets, so we thought it would be cool to make a life-size version of it. Once we had this idea, we thought it would also be interesting if Flow Free became a cooperative game. It then developed from there.

How did you get involved in Young Makers? Was this an in-school project? After-school club?
We got involved with Young Makers through Mr. Lendy (Davis' dad). We had all been going to Maker Faire and heard of a new program developing to help young people find mentors. Then, my dad and Mr. Lendy went to a meeting for Young Makers and signed up for newsletters and such. We gradually grew to work with them more after multiple OpenMake meetings at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.

Who mentored you? What roles did they play?
The most influential mentors were definitely our parents. Mr. Lendy helped with everything, especially actual construction. Mr. Jack (Andy's dad) helped with programming. My dad helped with the circuitry. All the parents also helped with construction. We were also fortunate to have many people from Young Makers give us advice. Perhaps most important, Mr. Rick Schertle was a mentor. He gave us invaluable advice and also helped us with logistics at Maker Faire and the Tech Museum.

What was the process for creating the project? Did you make a mock-up or model? Where did you build it?
First, we drew up the models for the actual tiles in Google Sketchup. Then, we cut out all the parts on a CNC (computer numerical control) machine that Mr. Lendy has. After that, we had to assemble the pieces and write the actual code. We assembled the tiles and the full grid in Davis' garage. He has an attic that was large enough for us to use as a testing ground.

What skills or knowledge did you already have that helped you create this? What prepared you for the project?
We had some knowledge from a Project Lead the Way class that we took at school. Also, Davis and I had some experience with Sketchup (I had less). The year before we started the project, Davis and I had also done a Rube Goldberg project for school two years in a row. This kind of sparked our interest and helped us prepare for what a Maker Faire project may require. Besides that, we kind of just learned as we went. 

What did you learn from this project? Are there new skills you can apply in other areas of your life?
I learned a lot about how to assemble a product/project. It took a lot of time and practice to assemble the tiles. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for us to assemble 64 tiles in an assembly line. Also, I learned a lot more about programming through our "messing with" the game modes.

What are your future plans? What do you want to do when you graduate from high school?
For the project, I believe that we're planning to incorporate music into the Grid. Probably something like subwoofers inside the tiles or speakers around the edge. Personally, I want to either be a software engineer or a musician/sound engineer. Honestly, I'm still trying to decide between the two. 

Are there other apps or games you think would be fun to build in real life? Any plans to make another?
I think it would be fun to build checkers and chess. It might also be cool to build a game similar to Galaga. Of course, it would have to be adapted to our Grid. To answer your second question, I don't think we will be building a second Grid. The sheer amount of time that the first Grid took to assemble is probably enough to convince us not to make another one. However, you never know.


Check out more resources on Making and DIY on our Maker Month Roundup Board.