Design Day at TechShop

On an overcast Saturday during a stormy San Francisco weekend, a group of explorers and hackers came together at TechShop to invent, design, and build field gear for explorers. The concept around Design Day was simple — enable exploration by creating tools that raise the bar on citizen exploration and science. The tools that emerged from the day were mobile, modular, field repairable, long lasting, and wildly cool.

It’s not too late to join the contest! “Share What You Make” on

Over 30 participants came together to share their talents and tap into the know-how of other experts and enthusiasts.

There were a number of focus group projects that began in the morning and progressed all day long. These were joined by other projects as collaboration unveiled unexpected possibilities.

Tortoise Shell Rover

When the field season begins, biologist Tim Shields heads to the Mohave Desert to study tortoises. This year he’ll be traveling with a new piece of tech. Equipped with two heavy duty rock crawler vehicles outfitted with cameras, Tim will be able to survey large areas of desert by working with two pilots operating the vehicles remotely. The end goal is that these pilots survey and locate tortoises, then share the GPS coordinates with Tim in the field. This leaves the trained biologist to head straight to these animals, which have become increasingly difficult to find.

The hack day began with a 3D model of a small tortoise shell, made on the mobile version of 123D Catch. This model was scaled up and rendered into a printable cardboard structure. The group assembled the structure and then built a brain for the crawler using an Arduino and a Beaglebone outfitted with an HD camera. The Techno Tortoise design was based on a shape that already works in nature, a tortoise shell, to house electronics and protect them from entanglements and the harsh desert environment.

Kayak Glare protector tent

Working with a laptop in the field can be challenging, especially if the sun is out. Glare makes the screen nearly impossible to see and in the case of an underwater vehicle, which is piloted by laptop, squinting at a screen quickly becomes fatiguing.

Here, worn out parts of a tent are being repurposed to cover a kayaker scientist and his gear from the sun overhead.

Plankton tow sampler for OpenROV

“I came with the idea of a simple surface tow net, but when I met the Aarons I set that aside to work on a more complex deep water sampler I never dreamed I’d be able to make in a day.” — Samantha

Manipulator Mechanism for OpenROV

One of the fine folks at OpenROV designed and built a motorized opening and closing mechanism which will eventually become the engine for a manipulator arm.

Midi Controlled OpenROV

Thanks to a group of tech driven musicians, an OpenROV can now be controlled using a midi keyboard. The project leader shared with me his ultimate vision — that these midi outputs will be adapted to a system created specifically for a person in a wheelchair with limited arm or hand movement.

3D Photogrammetry Jig for backpackers

Phone apps like Autodesk’s 123D Catch make impossible sounding tasks, like making a 3D scan of an object in the field, astonishingly simple. To help take clear, well spaced scans, this jig is built to hold a phone and rotate evenly around an object on a bicycle wheel. The object itself remains stationary on a plate attached to the wheel’s hub. The jig is adaptable and is light enough to carry on a hike.

This is only the beginning! The day ended with a few rapidly prototyped pieces of gear, but the real goal is ongoing. The focus groups that emerged have become connected through a shared interest in making science and adventure tech, and continue to work on projects that will enable anyone with a question to become an explorer.

A special thanks to OpenROV and OpenExplorer, with specialty equipment provided by Instructables and space provided by TechShop San Francisco.

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