Project MagneTag


MagneTag is a project I started about four years ago, when I first joined Milwaukee Makerspace.  My goal was to create an electronic scoring system for physical tag games.  As a paintball enthusiast I really enjoy the action and tactical nature of the sport.  I was looking for a method that wasn’t messy or painful and 100% reliable .

In order to accomplish this goal, I employed the mystical power of magnets. It’s a scientific fact that magnets are awesome.  I knew that the invisible forces created by magnets could be used to create electrical signals, the technology has been around since Maxwell wrote down his famous equations of electromagnetism.  So I set  out to build a wearable system that could electronically detect magnets, be they in some projectile, or embedded in an a foam gladiator weapon, or whatever.

To an experienced engineer, this might not seem like a huge challenge, but when I embarked on this project I could barely operate an Arduino. I didn’t really understand what I was getting myself into.  Now, I have an above average understanding of the principles of electromagnetism because I have a two degrees in physics, but in trying to make my idea a reality, I now understand that theory does not get you very far on its own.   Making things is freakin’ hard, and you have fail many times before you begin to really understand how much you don’t know.  When it comes to making, there is no substitute for experience.  And I learned this the hard way, over and over again.  Persistence removes resistance.  In the end I succeeded and created something even better than I had imagined.

Milwaukee Makerspace is an awesome place. I’ve had so much help from some brilliant members, and the tools we have access to are invaluable.  I even met my business partner Jason at MMS.  Without this place, MagneTag would have just been a cool idea I had one time.  It never would have become a real thing.

This week marks a significant milestone in the history of our project: we are launching MagneTag on Kickstarter!  We are going to put our game out there into the world and see if people really like it.  Check out the launch video below, as well as a behind the scenes video, most of which takes place at Milwaukee Makerspace!

Also come check us out at Maker Faire Milwaukee! It’s gonna be a blast!


Gimbal Hack

Well, it would be awesome if I had a sweet drone to fly around so I can take some awesome videos.  Even if I had one I’d probably crash it.  I don’t have one, but I did get my hands on a sweet Tarot GoPro gimbal.  If you didn’t know, gimbals are devices that use active feedback to cancel unwanted pitch and yaw. I’m not a good cameraman, so I need this if I want to take some decent video for a Kickstarter project I’m working on.  The gimbal is supposed to take 7-16 volts, but I hooked it up to a power supply at the makerspace and found out that it can function at 5V, which is great since I have some spare USB power banks.

The high tech gimbal hardware was combined with my low-tech “block of wood and random rods I found in the makerspace” technology. This hack took about 20 minutes, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.



Milwaukee MakerFest!

Holy Moly what an event!  We had almost 600 people come through and enjoy all the excitement of interactive activities, demonstrations and workshops!  I gotta say we all had a great time and we have officially made this an annual event.  So you can start getting excited for next year.  Take a look at some pictures from the event:





Milwaukee MakerFest

It’s time we put on a show for the people of Milwaukee. The Makerspace hasn’t had an event like this for about two years now! Shame Shame!

Please click on the logo above to head over to our Kickstarter Campaign.  There you will find out all about this event and the crazy awesome things we have in store for you.  Backing us generously would make us all very very happy, and would greatly enhance our ability to put on a fantastic event for you!

Find out more at

Why don’t you just die.

As I am finalizing my MagneTag prototype for a small production run, I have been looking into efficient ways to cut fabric.  Right now I trace by hand and and cut with scissors.  I’m currently thinking I may want to make several hundred of these initial units.

With that in mind I am going to try die cutting my design with a shop press.  Since I’m not exactly sure what my final product will look like aesthetically, I am reluctant to shell out a lot of money to have a die professionally fabricated. What’s the fun in that?  I figured I would try my hand at a home brew hacked version.

I laser etched my design into two different substrates: wood and acrylic.  Then a took an old rusty bandsaw blade and hammered it teeth down into the laser kerf.   Then I took a Dremmel and ground a sharp edge into the steel.

An initial test on a manual hydraulic press gave mixed results.  The wood is too soft to keep the blade from becoming embedded; the steel needs to pass all the way through the substrate.  The acrylic seemed to work better, and surprisingly did not break when I tried to use it.

There is still lots of room for improvement, but I’m pretty happy with this first attempt.

DIY Bandsaw Blade Cutting Dies.

DIY Bandsaw Blade Cutting Dies.

Gettin' my grind on.

Gettin’ my grind on.

P.S. This is the 500th post on this blog!

Arduino Programmer Shield

I gotta say I’m pretty proud of my design for a custom programmer shield.  The images below show the Arduino, programmer shield, and a target board (ATTINY85).  I made the boards using the laser cutter method (which you can find videos of on this site somehow).  The target boards slip right into the header pins I bent up for the purpose.   Makes a really handy programming and testing jig!





Belt Made from Raw Metal, Leather, Fire, and Light.

I have to say there are not many things that make me feel better than making something that I am really proud of.  A lot my time at Milwaukee Makerspace is spent lamenting the malfunction of my latest prototype, so I’m in a good mood today.   The belt pictured below was made completely from scratch using technology.  Some of it old, some of it new.  The buckle was drawn up in Sketchup by importing one of those “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters from WWII (Screenshot below).  The CAD drawing was converted to GCODE and fed into one of the Makerspace’s awesome CNC routers.  Using a tiny tiny bit, you can route out a pretty detailed design in carving wax.  The wax buckle was then sand casted into white bronze thanks to Frank (our Makership recipient), who taught us how to do it.  It is noted that the Makerspace if fully equipped to do spin casting with investment, and I tried my best to make it work but failed twice.  I have not given up though, for failure is the path to success.  The casting came out great.  It looked like some medallion from a sunken pirate ship.  It wasn’t until we decided that a pendant of that size would only look good on Flava Flav, that this casting became destined for beltitude.   The last step was to take some scrap metal around the shop and some solder and braise the functional pieces to the cleaned up buckle.

It is common knowledge that The Little Prince is a book densely filled with universal wisdom, written in prose a child can grasp.  Both XiaoQian and I are quite fond of the characters, so we chose to decorate the belt with quotes and animations from the story.  To do this we harnessed the deepest secrets of quantum mechanics to cause a population inversion in an inert gas in order to coerce 25 Watts of coherent light from the atoms.  In other words we laser cut some leather that was lying around, which worked much better than it did even in my imagination.

In the end we have a meaningful and personalized accessory, made with the tools, materials, and people from Milwaukee Makerspace.