"If I designed a computer with 200 chips, I would next try to design it with 150 chips, and then just 100. I just tried every trick I could find to make it real tiny."
Prototyper & Maker
Hi, I'm Arlo Emerson, a maker and prototyper with many years in the incubation/innovation space. My prototyping work typically involves UX envisioning blended with hardware hacks. I am a true maker and tinkerer, and my past experience as an enterprise developer and designer has been very helpful in elevating the projects I have worked on.
- Hack of the week
- Hardware prototyping
- Maker prototyping
- Envisioning with 3D & Motion
- HTML/JS prototyping
- UX prototyping
Featured hack of the week
Every week I build (or code) something and feature it here. Most recently I built a touchless robotic phone swiper and liker using junk parts. Read the LinkedIn article or watch the video:
I worked on the Microsoft Connected Car team and built physical prototypes of in-dash screens connected to hidden computers running the OS. This unit was intended for UX studies of apps that we could deploy to the in-dash screen.
Buildout of a car dashboard with hacked BMW jog-dial
As a maker, the coolest part of this project was getting that jog-dial to be a USB controller. I ended up doing it partially mechanically with a hidden mouse scroll wheel attached to the dial's spinner knob. For left- and right-click I physically soldered onto the circuit board, and ran the leads to a mouse controller.
A salvage center console out of a Toyota serves as our screen housing.
At least I think it was a Toyota ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Another unusual project was to construct models of smallish IoT devices. Hubs, stereo-controllers, LED-lightbulb controllers, and other one-off ideas. I chose to design and 3D print an angular enclosure for an Uno and a screen. I probably printed that case three times before it was "right". The photos below aren't even the final version (which is still running in my shop). I learned about the challenges and limitations of 3D printers, how to document your wiring, complex soldering, and animating in the C programming language.
I programmed several animations for this experimental device, including this "talking circle".
I worked on executive-level demos, one of which was an example of switching a light on or off using a mobile app we had built, using code we deployed to a web server, of which was pinged by this Yun.
Maker in STEM Education
I worked as a professional maker and co-founded the Microsoft Hacking STEM team. I did everything from soldering electronic circuits, making videos, writing code and technical documentation, giving dog-and-pony shows to the executives, manning our booth at trade shows around the world, and hitting our RTM dates to ship the final products.
- Code developer (Arduino) and contributing author and photographer for step-by-step instructions, e.g. Build a Seismograph
- Shot and edited several team videos showcasing the work
- Code developer for several Arduino-based projects, including technical documentation
As a maker, I've had the privilege to "play at work". It's fun to simplify something complicated into a single working demo. Here is an example of that: building demonstrative electrical circuits using copper tape. These were used at open house events, trade shows, and included as projects in our lesson plans.
Another fun work task is building circuits on breadboards. Projects would include anything from wiring up LCD screens to custom STEM-based experiments.
Here's the former VP of Microsoft, Qi Lu, checking out one of the first hardware maker kits my team designed and tested.
One of the more adorable projects we built was modeling the constellations with LEDs. These ran on coin batteries and used copper tape circuits on the back. This project was considered for production, but is too complex due to the trickiness of working with copper tape (without solder).
Electronics as functional art
I have built a guitar pedal or two. This one is very unusual in that the circuit is free-floating in the case. It is a functional art piece.
I like to recycle enclosures and old switches. I like the idea of using old telephone switchboard technology combined with microcontrollers.. Here's some telephone switchboard components combined with an Arduino.
Maker videos on YouTube
I produce YouTube videos about various maker/DIY projects. In this video I build a hands-free phone "swiper" and "liker". This project was intended as a simple proof-of-concept to demonstrate a simple mechanism can perform a seemingly complex action.
Here's another video where I demonstrate how to spin a compass needle with a magnetic field, with diagrams and explanation of Oersted's "right hand rule".
Maker - Robotics
I build and modify robots to create art on large format canvas (36x36" to 48"x48"). Read about my process.
I am producing videos of my robotics work as I complete projects. Here's one about the robot I built to make artwork.
Example of an autogenerated oil painting using my Python algorithm
I am always tinkering with some bit of code to make art. Examples include:
- I have written literally hundreds of scripts to generate illustrations from photographs. Here I demonstrate side-by-side comparisons of my technical illustration techniques. These include marker, oil, pen, and watercolor styles.
- Take a look at my process for autogenerating illustrations here
- Series of studies using OpenCV and Python to generate watercolor-like paintings from photographs.
I used ThreeJS to create a set of atomic nuclei diagrams. Try this one showing a Tin atom (use your finger to orbit the model). These were recently featured in the scientific paper How the Elements are Built by Miles Mathis. See full set of atomic nuclei diagrams.
Prototyping representations of hand input
using a two-way screen device (Microsoft)
Prototyping of UX for
hand gesture input (Microsoft)
Prototyping of UX for
holographic displays (Microsoft HoloLens)
For additional UX examples, please see my UX page.
For additional motion examples, please see my agency reel.
Hardware envisioning with 3D & Motion
My most recent motion and 3D work for Microsoft's IVAS project and Project Silica are protected by NDA, and I'm not able to share this publicly. However, prior to that I was Essence Global's motion and 3D artist working on the Google account. Examples of this work are in this reel:
I am often called to sketch a quick technical illustation of proposed hardware. I like to combine 3D assets and hand brushwork for an architectural look.
11th hour preso prep: Simple run-and-gun modeling and animations...
Renders and functional UI of a smart watch:
Mockup of an IoT Raspberry PI "kit" that was under consideration.
For the Microsoft IoT team I rendered several product prototype mockups for various IoT devices.
Stills from an internal full HD product demo video I shot. The device we were showcasing was supposed to be like a very thick version of an iPad, and could be used by the hotel industry. (If it was thick and ugly, no one would steal it from the hotel, right?). I milled a block of wood with radius corners, painted it matte black and taped a green square on the top of it where I could later corner-pin a screen. This worked reasonably well as a prop during shooting.
Renders of the circuit board printing process, used in an internal video.
More hardware envisioning in this motion reel.