Vector Space invited to Boy Scout National Jamboree

Makerspace Logo at National Jamboree

From July 23 to the 25, myself (Jeff) and Elise Spontarelli were invited by Cognizant to attend the Boy Scout National Jamboree as a part of the STEMQuest village in order to help facilitate the stations available for scouts. Among the activities available were drone flying with the new DJI spark, block programming with the BBC Micro:bit, CNC milling with Shopbot, soldering skills (led by yours truly) and screenprinting (led by Elise). Overall, there were several hundred scouts that passed under our tent in the day and a half that we were working, and a grand total of 50,000 scouts and staff in attendance for the whole 2 weeks.
What was particularly impressive about the whole experience of being among all of these scouts was the willingness they had to learn and take apart things to figure out how to repurpose them in unique ways. One story we heard in fact, involved a student who was so energetic to take apart a laptop that he drilled directly into a laptop’s battery, causing a fire on the scrap electronics table. Thankfully while we were there the level of excitement was considerably less, but the amount of creativity demonstrated was unlike anything I’d ever seen from that age group before, and the level of skill demonstrated reshapes what I believe this age group can be capable of in the world of making.

Hill City Bike Project

For one week in July, Vector Space was turned into a full service, bike-hacking, pedal zone. With donated bikes from Bikes Unlimited, Scene 3, The Bike Shack at Lynchburg College, and L. Oppleman, we had frames, handlebars, and chains for days. The camp was lead by myself and my husband Adam as well as Jawansa and Michelline Hall, the dynamic duo behind Blackwater Branding.

On Monday students were introduced to our sponsors and the accompanying bike designs; each student chose their sponsor/bike combo and got to work planning. While the designs had a general direction, there were still several choices and modifications for students to decide on structurally, as well as all of the visual design elements. Over the next five days students brought their sketches to life. They rummaged through used bikes and tagged parts that they would use in their design, as well as marking where cuts and welds needed to be.

Days two and three were focused on disassembly and reassembly; each student learned to use an angle grinder (and when to use each of the cutting, grinding, and sanding attachments), and finally: welding. Using a mig welder students tool recycled bike tube and square steel tube and joined them to create new bikes. In the meantime, students were also working on visual design: vinyl cut stickers, paint colors, stencils, and sponsor recognition. The Halls taught spray paint techniques to create gradient effects and crisp, clean lines.

Some students needed to build seats or other additional bike parts, and then it was time to put things back together. With an extra day for installing brake lines and pedals, they finished up and took their bikes for a test ride.

The big reveal will be at Lynchburg's Get Downtown festival on September 8th from 6-9pm. The Vector Space booth will be on Main Street between 9th and 10th streets, in front of Favored Flavors. We invite you to come out and see the Pedal Parade, speak with the students, and maybe be inspired to do some bike hacking of your own!

Meet our students and their bikes:
Andrew Dunlop, Cargo Bike - Sponsored by Rule29
Madison Gallagher, Sidecar - Sponsored by F. Read Hopkins Pediatrics
Brandon Hudack, Tandem Bike - Sponsored by GLOC
Brennen Mahon, Rat Rod - Sponsored by Bikes Unlimited
Alec Neps, Spincycle - Sponsored by 434 Marketing
Lovelee Warner, Chopper - Sponsored by Blackwater Branding
Jacob Winters, Tall Bike - Sponsored by Academy Center for the Arts
Dylan Wright, Recumbent Bike - Sponsored by RIDE Solutions

Lynchburg's Free Pantry

By Elise Spontarelli

Last month I had the pleasure of working with several volunteers to build Lynchburg's first Little Free Pantry. The masterminds behind the project are Kristen O'Neill and Megan Huffman, who heard of a need and came to us at Vector Space for help. Tracey Dixon of Lynchburg Daily Bread had requested a pantry to provide access to food during non-business hours. While the Daily Bread serves lunch 365 days per year, those needing food during other times of the day can now access the free pantry.

Several women volunteered to help, so we started our reseach at and used plans for a Little Free Library as the starting point for our design. Using 3/4" plywood we spent two evenings cutting the pieces on the tablesaw and then assembling them using wood glue and screws. Next we turned our focus to the door and roof. We added hardware, a vinyl sticker and paint to complete the visual design. We shingled the slanted roof to keep pantry goods dry. 

Mounting the pantry provided a challenge as we wanted it to be secure without having to drill into the sidewalk at Lynchburg Daily Bread. A 4" post in a concrete base proved to be sufficiently sturdy.

During the build the News and Advance paid us a visit to learn more about the project. At the opening of the pantry Living in the Heart of Virginia interviewed myself and Tracey Dixon. We started a Facebook page and a group calendar for those interested in stocking the pantry. Within about a week of opening, the pantry had generous volunteers signed up to stock it every day through the end of 2017 (and beyond!). We are so thrilled and appreciative of the community support. 

Talks have begun about future pantries in and around Lynchburg. We have had groups and individuals reach out about a need for 24/7 food access in their area and a willingness to help. We look forward to working with the community to build more pantries, and encourage you to make your own. If you've build a Little Free Pantry or a Little Free Library, let us know! I would love to see your project.

To learn more about Lynchburg Free Pantry, visit the Facebook page:


Week of Making Events

We are excited to announce a lineup of events for all ages during the National Week of Making. Sponsored by Innovative Wireless Technologies, Inc., our four events include a free meetup for educators, family workshop, college night, and escape room demo.

Escape Room Demo - Monday, 6/19 at 5:30PM

Have you ever wondered how escape rooms seem to transport you to a different world? Learn how the expert makers at One Way Out come up with and execute their creative escape room ideas. This $10 event includes a demonstration, Q&A, and a short hands-on activity.

Family Night Workshop - Tuesday, 6/20 at 5:30PM

This is an evening for kids ages 8-12 and their caregivers to work together. Adults and kids will have unique tasks to complete as they work towards a common goal. Registration includes one adult and one child.

Maker Educator Meetup - Wednesday, 6/21 at 5:30PM

A free opportunity for teachers, librarians, and parents to discuss maker-based topics, pedagogies, ideas, and insights. We will create a Maker Map, share successes, get feedback on upcoming projects, troubleshoot ongoing issues, and mingle. Refreshments provided; registration requested.

College Night - Thursday, 6/22 at 7:00PM

We welcome all college students to come explore Vector Space! Hear from your peers and what they're building at Vector Space, and get a tour of the facilities. Plus, free pizza!

Week of Making at Vector Space is generously sponsored by Innovative Wireless Technologies, Inc.

My, How Things Change!

Our first birthday was in March, so we thought we'd share some pictures from before we moved in versus today. Enjoy!

Synesthetic Piano

Have you ever wondered what Beethoven's 5th symphony would look like as a painting? Of course not, that doesn't even make sense. Beethoven is music, meant to be enjoyed by the ears, not the eyes. But then, there are a lot of things we modify in order to see: vibrations of the earth's crust seen as graphs, magnetic resonance images, the gamma rays of a distant supernova, and on and on. So why can't we paint a song?

The Hill City Keys project seems like the perfect opportunity to find out. Since I can't play piano, I'll instead leverage the talent of the Lynchburg community. And since I've often heard some impressive music played at the community market piano, I decided to make it my painting piano. So I wired it up to a Raspberry Pi that detects the notes being played in real time, which then sends the notes to another Raspberry Pi at the Academy Center of the Arts, which controls a robotic arm that moves a paint brush depending on the note being sent, painting a picture of the music being played.

You can watch the arm paint in real time below, followed by a more detailed description of the project.

The Piano

Detecting Notes

There are many ways to detect the notes played on the piano. A few different options would be to put a touch sensor on each key, watch the keys being pressed with a camera, or you could detect the sound being played.

I decided to take the audio sampling route. Music notes are simply letters we assign to specific audio frequencies. When the air vibrates at 132Hz, that's middle C. So in order to detect the note played on the piano, we first need to record audio samples. The Synesthetic Piano does this using a simple USB microphone connected to a Raspberry Pi. The Pi records an audio sample for a short period of time, which contains a waveform of amplitude versus time. Unfortunately, amplitude is not what we're looking for. Any note can be played at any amplitude, what we need is the frequency. Fortunately, Joseph Fourier figured out that any function can be represented by a series of sine waves. Along with this realization, he came up with a clever way to transform a function of time into a function of frequency, which is exactly what we need. In essence, the Pi records an audio sample of amplitudes versus time, it then recreates that sample with a series of sin waves. Those sine waves have a known amplitude, frequency, and phase. The Pi then takes the sine wave with the highest amplitude, as it most likely represents the note being played. It then looks up the corresponding note of that frequency. Mathematically, it looks like this, with $f(t)$ being the amplitude versus time function and $f(\epsilon)$ being the resulting function of frequency.

$$f(\xi) = \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} f(t)e^{-2\pi i x\xi}dx$$

Python's wonderful Scipy library comes with a discreet Fourier transform function that does all the hard work for us. I just chose a sampling rate that keeps the notes accurate while reading one note every tenth of a second.

Sending and Receiving Data

Once the piano figures out what note you played, the data needs to be sent to the painter. Since the piano and the painter are very far from one another, I chose to transfer the data over the internet. Another challenge to consider is that these two devices are on two different networks, neither of which I have administrative rights on. This meant that I couldn't just send data directly from the piano to the painter. Instead, I decided to use the MQTT protocol by sending all the data through CloudMQTT


The Painter

The painter's job is to be inspired by music to paint something beautiful.

The Arm

The arm is made of aluminum, with stepper motors as the joints, and a 3D printed hand. When C, C#, D, and D# are played, the shoulder will quickly or slowly move clockwise or counter-clockwise. Similarly, E, F, F#, and G do the same for the elbow.

The Paint

There are four different color paints, each pumped by a 3D printed peristaltic pump. These are positive displacement pumps, which means they pump the same volume of paint with every step of the motor. When G#, A, A#, or B are played, one of the four paints are pumped onto the canvas.

The Big Picture

There are two things I look forward to learning from this experiment: are the paintings repeatable, and do good songs look better than a random mashing of the keys?


Check out the photos from our Hill City Robot Combat II event!

Our next combat robot event will be August 27th at Riverviews Artspace. Start building now!

Also, check out our summer project for 12-18 year olds to build combat robots.


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