TinkerTour2016: A Vehicle for STEM


Our West Coast TinkerTour is officially ended and it’s been a wonderful ride! The short version is as follows:

Pre-trip Road Trip from San Francisco to San Diego. Sunburn. Minecraft. Strange rattle from engine. Tink certifications. Pokemon Go. New tank tops. Worse sunburn. Los Angeles. Awful AirBnB. 3D printed Stan Lee. Fusion 360. Hot. ScribbleBots. Disneyland. Oil leak. Circuits. San Francisco. Fixed strange rattle. More oil. Early morning. Reno. Long drive. Watch out for deer. Boise. Proclamations! TNT hippos in Minecraft. Sunburn turning into a rocking tan. Bend. Broken alternator bracket welded up (real source of earlier rattle). Tacos. Portland. Bracket broke again, roadside. JB Weld and creativity: fixed. Circuits at Autodesk office. Core 77. Fancy aprons. Tacoma. Cracked ignition rotor. More JB Weld and creativity + zip ties. Limping into Seattle. UW Fusion 360. More Circuits. High Fives.

Which pretty well catches us up.  Everyone has been fantastic and so, so sweet to host us at their respective organizations.  It’s always great to meet our Tinkerers in person, thank you to everyone that came out to see us. We met teachers, students, designers, fabricators, engineers, carpenters, welders, dads, moms, grandmas and grandads, government employees, administrators, IT guys, gamers, Minecrafters, grown men Minecrafters (big difference), car guys, key makers, AutoZone employees, surfers and even DisneyLanders who were all stoked about Tinkercad, Fusion or Autodesk Circuits and shook my hand when I told them what we were up to. Thank you so much for being so hospitable and nice to us in spite of our delirium and unwashed clothes.

The car acted very strangely for a vintage Italian – in that it drove near perfectly. (No jinxes, please).  Some little weirdness here and there, but nothing too unexpected, and nothing a quick stop at the auto parts store wouldn’t fix.  I’m proud of our Fiat project.  It’s a blue little thing, with a great big Tinkercad logo on the hood.  A hood, which took many hours of sanding and filling to get just right.  The center console came out great, we decided to make it out of carbon fiber and I’m glad.  The turn signals are bright; the concentric rings have an unexpected drop-effect and are a fantastic replacement for the original filament bulbs.  The grill is water-jet-cut aluminum, taken from an SVG exported from Tinkercad.

All of these projects, and a few other bits, were created by some heretofore “fancy” methods.  I mean that carbon fiber or water-jet ANYTHINGS have always seemed pretty unattainable, at least in my circles – let alone the software workflows to even get to one of those mediums. One goal of this tour was to buck those conceptions.  Everything we did to the car, we did as individuals with no professional experience.  We used Tinkercad, Fusion 360 and Autodesk Circuits as tools to ideate and visualize these pieces, and used production methods that are now available to most everyone in the US. 3D printed prototypes, laser-cut cardboard and even rolls of carbon fiber are just an online order away, printed circuit boards are available through Autodesk Circuits and the components are everywhere – we even poached an Apple remote (shh..!) to program the turn signals.WP_20160406_005

When we brought in the students from Leadership High School, that was arguably the most important part of the experience.  When asked what their ‘ultimate’ customizations would be, things like carbon fiber (anything), custom grills and “hella USB ports” (of course) came up.  Luckily, they didn’t ask for custom rims – I couldn’t afford that.  These must have been pie-in-the-sky ideas, because when I explained how easily we could make these mods, their eyes got pretty big.  The machine-intensive processes like laser cutting and water jetting were done at Autodesk’s Pier 9 space in San Francisco, but we saved the carbon fiber layup for the students.  I think the kids made the connection at this point, as it seemed to make up for the seemingly endless sessions of sanding and body work I put them through.


Before working at Autodesk on 123D and now Tinkercad, I’ve always viewed CAD as a tool that would never be in my kit.  I have to assume they did too, because when I explained that the console was just a bunch of simple shapes, and the turn signal bezels were some hollowed boxes, they began asking questions like, “Could you model a phone holder on the side?” and “If the sides were a different angle, how would you get out the cardboard mold?”.


There’s no question that hands-on execution of a theory is helpful, and real experience most always trumps abstract knowledge.  We proved that opportunity for those kinds of experience is more available than you might think.  To that point, the TinkerTour was an awesome chance for some kids with (sometimes very strong) opinions about design to have a hand in making them real, while learning the hows and whys.

This isn’t the first car-project-cum-STEM-project that’s been done.  In fact, my 6th grade shop teacher (yes, back when shop was an elective) brought in his Model A and for 2 hours a week, I sanded and learned to bend sheet metal. This week, somewhere between Bend and Portland, I got a tweet from an organization who specializes in real projects that apply STEM concepts, including a refurbished Studebaker Lark.

This isn’t a treatise on vintage cars in the classroom, but I’ll just say that we ended up with a cooler thing to point to than any egg drop device I ever made in middle school.  And speaking of cooler, I think we’ll steer clear of the Summer months for the next one.

See you next time.