David Forbes was on his way home to Tucson, Arizona, after a family trip last summer when a policeman stopped him in the Detroit airport. The officer said he had received 50 panicked phone calls since Forbes had entered the building, and now his entire family had been marked for extra screening. The delay was inconvenient, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Forbes had 160 circuit boards and enough electronics to start a data center strapped to his body. What the authorities didn’t realize, though, was that all the equipment wasn’t dangerous—it was actually a wearable TV set.
One night last february, Ben Allen and a group of electrical-engineering students at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands needed some help testing their 20-inch-long prototype of the classic 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controller. The group was in the early stages of designing an absurdly enlarged version of the device—one as long and wide as a compact car—in an attempt to break the world controller-size record. In honor of the quest, they enticed some fellow geeks to join them at a campus pub by offering free Guinness.
Richard Perkins and Mike Tassey both worked in information technology in the U.S. Air Force before decamping to various cybersecurity consulting roles in and around the Department of Defense. But throughout their careers they've always considered themselves hackers at heart, which is why they spent the past two years developing the ultimate mobile hacking device: a drone aircraft that can discreetly break into Wi-Fi networks, emit jamming signals, and even pose as a cellphone tower to intercept communications from the ground.
Darren Samuelson had just taken his last photo of Manhattan when the police arrived. He and his father had been working from an empty dock across the Hudson River, and the authorities wanted to know why they were pointing a five-foot-tall, six foot-long, 70-pound folding contraption at the city. Samuelson pleaded that it was a camera, and that he was just a tourist.
When design student Markus Kayser wanted to test his sun-powered, sand-fed 3-D printer, he knew the gray skies outside his London apartment wouldn't do. So he shipped the 200-plus-pound contraption to Cairo, Egypt, flew there himself, and haggled with officials for two days to get it out of customs. A few small "tips" and 11 hours of driving later, he finally made it to the Sahara.
Ben Krasnow has built his share of odd contraptions, including a liquid nitrogen generator made from an air conditioner, and the "thirst extinguisher," a commercial-grade fire extinguisher that cools, carbonates, and dispenses his homemade beer. Now, for no other reason than wanting a real challenge, the 28-year-old engineer picked the toughest DIY project he could imagine: a homemade scanning electron microscope, or SEM. "I wanted to see if it was possible," he says.
Lance Greathouse does not follow football. It wasn't until last fall, at an Arizona Cardinals game, that the Phoenix dental-laser repairman, who harbors a severe DIY robot-building habit, was introduced to the art of tailgating. There, he spotted cars packed with grills, plasma screens, refrigerators and more. "But I never saw anything that was all-in-one," he recalls.
The first time retired computer engineer Jack Clemens tried to build a scale model of the USS Macon, a helium-filled naval airship lost in bad weather in 1935, his cat jumped on the prototype from a high shelf and ruined the hull. Clemens finished a second version in 2008 but totaled it during an unexpectedly windy test flight. Finally, in April, Clemens completed version number 3, a 20-foot-long radio-controlled replica accurate down to practically every detail, from the airbag to the propellers.
Chris McIntosh's first recliner was not your standard La-Z-Boy—it was electric-powered and capable of going 15 mph. After finishing it a year and a half ago, he used it to pull a doughnut on his high school's front lawn, circle the gym during a pep rally, and rule the street near his home in Orinda, California. Now a freshman at the University of Southern California, McIntosh spent his youth building ad-hoc vehicles (he once made a mini hovercraft out of a leaf blower), so when the chair's paltry electric motor burned out, he decided it was time for a monster makeover.
One day late last year, Bill Rulien decided he’d had enough of people boasting about how they had modified their golf carts with hotrod paint jobs or monster-truck tires. “I thought, I’m gonna build something that will say, ‘Well, top this.’ ”