XMakers: a new TV format for young makers
The Italian TV Channel DeAKids, a channel owned by DeAgostini Editore, the famous Italian publisher, has recently launched a new format, XMakers, the world’s first and most innovative television format aimed at making children approach digital fabrication, robotics and 3D printers’ worlds.
The presenter of the format is Giovanni Muciaccia, a well known face in the kids’ TV environment, as he launched and conducted for many years a very successful format, Art Attack, with a public made of mainly children and teens, but also teachers and parents.
The new format was born, as Giovanni Muciaccia himself told me in an interview, from a visit made by DeAKids' authors to the FabLab Milano in Milan, where they met Massimo Temporelli, the founder of the FabLab, who introduced them to this fabulous new world of making and of laser cutters, 3D printers and the like. With all of these new technologies in mind, they went back to their headquarters and had long and fruitful meetings and brainstorming with their authors and came up with this really new proposal, not before consulting with children and teens themselves about what type of toys or other things they dreamt about, and discussing their feasibility with the FabLab team. Once defined what the desires of the young public were, and after having checked that they could be prototyped and reproduced, the ideas for the final projects were selected.
The format consists of a team, the XMakers, headed by Giovanni Muciaccia,, and composed of Massimo Temporelli, a physicist and founder of Milan’s FabLab, Francesco Marchioro, a young actor who’s in the role of Leo, the bizarre coder and problem solver of the team; Giulia Palafferri, a young actress impersonating the digital artist, an absolute master in using every kind of advanced machine and technological device, and who’ll be also in charge of the aesthetics of the prototypes.
Another main character in the TV format is iCub. iCub is an android, on loan to the program by the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia di Genova, the Italian Institute of Technology based in Genoa, an Italian excellence in the field of robotics. iCub, who’s a member of the Makers team, is known worldwide as one of the most advanced androids and is in charge of all the research phases preceding the actual making of the prototypes.
The team transforms the dreams of children into reality, working on the DIY principle, using the most advanced technologies available to the general public, transforming everyday objects belonging to the children into avant-garde toys and objects.
The format has a Headquarter, from where Giovanni is coordinating the works and iCub conducting its researches; a lab, where the other Makers work, and a test area, dedicated to crash tests and the like. There’s also, for each episode, an external connection with expert guests: Giovanni Allevi, the musician; Vittorio Brumotti, the trial bike world champion; the car pilot Luca Betti and many others. Makers is really innovative and especially up to date with the Makers’ Movement of the last few years: it leads children and teenagers into a futuristic world that is already reality, it teaches them that their dreams can become real objects and that they can actually make something with their own hands, using the right instruments, available, if not privately for everyone, at least in shared spaces like the FabLabs. In at least four out of ten episodes, Arduino boards have been used to make the desired prototypes: X Toys, the Ultramachine, The Robotic Alarm Clock and Clothes from the Future.
X Toys, the second episode in the series, was about customizing some toys: three action figures saw their heads removed and substituted by heads created with 3D printers; a radio commanded car was equipped to become an air car, while the chest containing the toys was modified to have an alarm and a wight sensor, thanks to an Arduino board. The Ultramachine, episode umber three, is a customized toy car: the Makers removed its tires and substituted them with 3D printed cog wheels, drone-like propellers and a lighting system with a light sensor, governed by an Arduino board.
The Robotic Alarm Clock is, once again, a customized alarm clock, to which 3D printed robotlike head, arms, and body have been applied, together with a motor and wheels, and Arduino becomes part of an identification system for school books: based on the day of the week, the robot indicates what books one needs for that school-day. The last projects including an Arduino is Clothes from the future, where Arduino will be the main character in the making of trousers with integrated musical keyboards.
I was so lucky as to be able to interview Giovanni Muciaccia on the new program, and he was so kind and enthusiastic that it was a real pleasure talking to him. He really gave me the impression of being totally happy and into the project, and I really hope it gains the success it deserves and will keep going on in the future, as it is a really innovative form of intelligent TV, something particularly rare nowadays. Plus it teaches children and teens that they can actually MAKE something, and make their dreams, or, at least, the feasible ones, come true. Not only that, it teaches them about new technologies, and about subject that may sometimes seem difficult at school: engineering, science, technology, mathematics (the electrical engine, air cars, propeller flight, sonars, catapults, the physics of sound, wind energy, bike mechanics, electromagnetism and solar energy).
Giovanni told me that he’s particularly satisfied as once again he becomes the presenter of an educational and intelligent type of TV, a well done one, and that it’s the first digital fabrication program in Europe and maybe in the whole world, therefore he feels it’s particularly innovative and going towards what our future will be, even though many of the things they use in the program have already started entering our lives little by little, without us noticing it.
Genoa is the home of the most complex android ever built, an android that has much Open Source in it, therefore it’s often used as the base to go further.
“How was the idea born?”
G.M. “The idea was born when some people working for DeAgostini went and visited the FabLab Milano. Massimo Temporelli, the physicist, showed them how all of the present machines worked. There the idea was born to make a program, and the idea was further developed by the a team of internal authors. Once the idea was born and developed, a survey among teens and children on what they’d most wish as a non existing toy, gave the idea for the projects and prototypes. I coordinate the efforts and I have the role of guaranteeing that the project will result in something real and functioning, working with the internal research and development team. All the projects have the potential to be reproduced at home. Today, some of the machines needed to produce the parts are available at FabLabs and other spaces, but soon they’ll enter many houses and later most of them. Arduino was chosen as it is quite intuitive and is already known by many teenagers and children, therefore that was a natural choice. The program has an enormous potentiality and can become the first in a European formats. This is because its new, innovative, and talks about future, but about a future that is already reality. It’s reality in the fact that, for example, the touchscreen we have on our monitors, wether PC’s or mobile devices’, is the same touchscreen present on the android, who feels when someone touches it.”
“How was the cooperation with FabLab Milano born?”
G.M. “FabLab and DeaKids already met and I had worked with them on another format, Freestyle, earlier. Massimo Bruno, the director of the TV channel, was far-sighted in choosing me, as my public knows that I am a creative, imaginative and a little bit of a maker, too! Massimo Temporelli, founder of FabLab Milano, told me that in the first ever born Italian. FabLab, in Turin, they hung some pictures of “Makers”: Macgyver, Doc and others….including me. I used to play with electronics as a teenager, at times when soldering was a must.”
G.M.“Because it’s intuitive and easy to program to do what you wish to do. It’s versatile for individual creativity, to make what you think real.”
“How were the marvelous projects you’re showing born?”
G.M. “We had surveys done among children and teenagers. They were born from their imagination, their wishes, their fantasy. They’ve been later filtered according to their technological feasibility.”
Hoping that the program will go on for years to come, with ever new proposals and prototypes, we wish Giovanni and the entire team the deserved success, and will keep you updated on other initiatives coming form them!
by Silvia Bianchi