With my LuxBlaster project leaving the comfortable realm of DIY online media and leaking into mainstream online media, and with the demo video going viral, it opened up the door for all sorts of misunderstandings, paranoid suspicions, and threatening arguments that touch on the freedom and legality of making technical prototypes for learning and experimentation.
It turns out DIY projects that may seem benign to fellow tech makers can still make others uncomfortable and suspicious. Even though the majority of media coverage of the LuxBlaster was neutral or positive as well as the video ratings, yet the intensity of the negative interactions on YouTube and some of the emails I received was unusual and reflected strong feelings of fear and loathing pertaining to slow drivers and to the legality/ethics of experimental prototyping.
Electronics makers and prototypers tend to underestimate the power of creating things because we do it all the time. But to some in the non-technical mainstream world there is no such thing as an experimental prototype built just for learning or fun. The intense exchanges on the LuxBlaster YouTube comments section are a case in point.
I welcome discussion on my LuxBlaster but after a while the comments and questions start to repeat and fall into the same pattern. I know some commentators simply are looking for a venue to air their frustrations regardless of the facts. I am glad the LuxBlaster can give them this satisfaction. Better to scream at a geek and his prototype than to take it out on other drivers on the road. For the rest, here's a list of Frequently Asked Questions along with my answers.
HOW DANGEROUS IS THE 3W LED ON THE LUXBLASTER?
The LuxBlaster 3W LED puts out 230 Lumens. This is annoying at best but no match for the disorienting power of a 3000 Lumens xenon auto headlamp. For two auto headlamps, that's 6000 blinding Lumens coming from behind your car.
WHY DID YOU BUILD THE LUXBLASTER IT IF YOU DON'T INTEND TO USE IT?
Welcome to the Makers Movement. It's part of the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) culture. We are individuals (not businesses) who like to make things be it electronic, mechanical, etc for experimentation. This culture is driven by learning through prototyping. A prototype is a proof of concept but not a completed product. The end result most of the time is a project that we share with other like-minded makers to solicit feedback and maybe open new creative possibilities to other makers through a process known as re-use thanks to open source licenses. There's often no material benefit but plenty of self-satisfaction. A maker is an artist who expresses him/her self through electro-mechanical creations. If you Google the term "Makers Movement" or DIY you will come across a long list of persons and groups interested in making things. The heart of the modern makers movement (about 10-years old) is an enabling technology known as the Arduino (http://arduino.cc). It's simple to learn, backed by a vast ecosystem of non-profit support, education, and after market tools. This is the context through which the LuxBlaster was made. The fact the mainstream online media was interested in it does not turn the LuxBlaster into a commercially viable product or change its nature as a modest experiment built over a weekend for a tech club workshop.
WHY MAKE A DANGEROUS ROBOT LIKE THE LUXBLASTER?
On a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being most dangerous prototype, the LuxBlaster is a 1. First, it's not a product that you can buy. But you can buy a gun or a rifle today. Second, the LED light on the LuxBlaster emits 230 Lumens which is hardly dangerous. Yet the 6000 Lumens from two xenon headlamps beaming at you from a speeding road bully behind your car or driving from the other direction is more dangerous. Third, the LuxBlaster can only be built by technical people, so it's not a mass market product. Four, if someone wants to get back at a road bully, they don't need a LuxBlaster, they use their brakes. Now, is this wrong and dangerous.
IF THE LUXBLASTER IS MEANT FOR THE MAKERS MOVEMENT WHY SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD?
I did not share the LuxBlaster with the world. I only sent the project link to two of my favorite makers portals. It seems other trade journals picked up my project from those portals. Next thing the LuxBlaster was leaking into mainstream online media. I have no problem with that except that some angry motorist who are looking to air their frustrations turned the LuxBlaster into a piñata and proceeded to hammer at it ignoring in the process my disclaimers and the context (educational prototype) through which it was made (tech club experimentation). On the positive side, the viral LuxBlaster video generated a healthy but intense discussion on road safety.
WHY DO YOU DRIVE SLOWLY IN THE FAST LANE? (VARIANT: GET THE F OUT OF THE LEFT LANE.)
I am not a slow driver. If any, I am an impatient driver. And if someone is flashing me to switch lanes, I respond quickly. Heck, I am not even an ideal driver. I did not design the LuxBlaster to make a statement or champion a cause. The LuxBlaster was designed as a demo for a workshop in my tech club called Pin13 Protospace. But angry motorists insisted on turning the LuxBlaster into a lightning rod. That's fine with me but when some commentators on both sides of the argument posted violent threats I realized the depth of their anger.
WHY MAKE THINGS THAT DON'T SERVE A GOOD PURPOSE?
I make things to explore, experiment, and to share. I have built dozens of gadgets over the years. Gadgets that I liked either because of their educational value or originality I document and publish on my website (http://techbitar.com) and shared on portals for electronics makers. There are hundreds of makers who share my passion for making things. We don't make good or bad things. We make things for our own edification. One of my projects is a PEZ Robo Dispenser. Is this a good or bad prototype? Some will say it's a useless invention while others will consider it interesting. I knew when I built the Pez Robo Dispenser that it's a one-shot deal to be used in one of my workshops knowing that students will find it amusing. That is that. When I am done with one of my projects, I disassemble and reuse the same parts for the next project. It's like a grown-up Lego.
THE LUXBLASTER IS NOT LEGAL
Legal or not, no one should take the LuxBlaster on the road or use it in a real world situation. The LuxBlaster is a lab experiment.
CAN TECHNOLOGY IMPROVE ROAD SAFETY
I think so, if automakers and policymakers work together. I have written a blog entry on the role of technology in improving car-2-car and driver-2-driver communications to improve road safety.