Members of Dorkbot-Austin foster technological creativity

Rebecca Fu

From developing seaweed-farming technologies to transforming robot toys into aliens, participants of Dorkbot-Austin pride themselves in doing strange things with electricity.

Dorkbot is a monthly gathering of artists, hackers, engineers, students and hobbyists. Together, they discuss new electronic and technological art ventures, listen to workshops and, occasionally, make presentations on personal projects.

“Dorkbot overlord” Erin Parr, who is responsible for organizing events, coordinating speakers and promoting meetings, said Dorkbot-Austin hopes to maintain its laid-back vibe to provide a relaxed environment for sharing ideas.

“We like to call it a science fair — with beer,” Parr said. “It is a great place to listen to others talk about their passions and foster an environment where people feel inspired.”

In 2000, Douglas Irving Repetto founded Dorkbot, which eventually spread throughout 40 international cities. The Austin chapter of Dorkbot will have its next meeting on April 20 at Hackerspace, and it welcomes people of all ages.

Mickey Delp, owner of Delptronics and presenter at various Dorkbot events, said the meetings promote an environment where people who consider themselves “makers” can share new ideas and projects.

“Austin has such a do-it-yourself mentality,” Delp said. “There are so many artists and makers in Austin. Dorkbot gives people the ability to see some stuff that’s going on in people’s garages and the places where they’re building things you might not otherwise see.”

Delp, whose company makes electronic music instruments, recently created an interactive music machine that debuted at South By Southwest. He said the machine has numerous buttons that connect to different tunes and beats. By pressing different buttons, a person can create different combinations of sounds.

“Kids loved playing on it,” Delp said. “I had a line at my table for three days straight, so it was gratifying to see that.”

Delp created the machine to learn how people interact with these devices. He said he hopes to eventually build interactive music exhibits for museums and plans to present the music machine at the upcoming Dorkbot meeting.

Parr said the speakers and presentations are always entertaining.

”Last month, we had a fantastic lineup,” Parr said. “One speaker spoke on creating gorgeous designs for books and video games and another on his creation of an animatronic monster for a local student film.”

In addition to the presentations, Delp said he also enjoys the opportunity for passionate makers to connect under one roof.

“The energy is my favorite part about it,” Delp said. “You’re not watching somebody present a new product that they want to mass market. These are just people who love building stuff, and I think that this is the best way for all of us to meet.”

Joseph Lopez, communication arts professor at the University of the Incarnate Word, said after six years of attending Dorkbot, he keeps going back for the people he has met who share similar passions.

“It is not only about the presentations,” Lopez said. “There are usually people from all walks of life with varied interests that make up the creative space, and the interactions you end up having with other audience members make the experience great.”

Delp said he recommends people first attend a Dorkbot meeting before deciding if Dorkbot is for them.

“Don’t even worry about who’s presenting what, because it’s interesting every single time,” Delp said. “You might think, ‘Well, it’s not really my thing.’ Well, go anyway because you get exposed to new things.”