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Contest entries. Engineers/Professionals vs. ordinary DIY guys Answered

Hey. Recent (as far as I started looking) contest entries are really awesome. Like the electronic orbit wheel, the 3D DLP printer, Carbonize your friends, Predator costume, etc etc etc.

The makers enter the cool contest here,of course. But if you have a look at the winners,  it is very often the machine engineers and the professionals/those that do it for a living. Some of the instructables even fit better on kickstarter imho because you simply cannot replicate it at home. (or did I got the gist of Instructables.com wrong ?)  Like the orbitng wheel or the 3D "diy" DLP printer. There is hardly a chance for an ordinary guy without specialized college eduction and/or access to hardware like waterjets, 3d printers and what have you. 

What do you guys think ? Fair ? Deal with it ? Obsolete participating in contests ?
So shoot !


I have no degree in most of the tech needed here. I am self taught. when i need to do something or get something done and don't have the money to have someone else do it for me, then I teach myself to do it. The following list are skills that I have had to teach myself to do in order to build some of the most amazing things you can imagine.

1. Electronics
2. Mechanical Engineering
3. Pneumatics
4. Hydraulics
6. Machine Tool design
7. Drafting
8. Drawing both with and without PC
9. Programming: C, C++, Assembly, Java, VB, HTML

and so on. The issue is not just about the tooling but about the concept and a cohesive concept for building/implementation.

If you think it, it will come. I have a short Tenure here and have won 3 contests without any real training. Or money.

If you really want to win the most important things are the Idea, and the tenacity to complete the task.

most of my work was done in my garage or basement. Yes i have access to CNC's and
now that i won a laser cutter, I can use that too. Understand that I didn't always have one i bought my first mill as a manual then thought myself how to make it a cnc. So if you don't have a machine to do the work then don't complain about it build one. There are plenty of instructable to help you do this. If you don't know how then READ. There is a world full of information and how too's out there to help.
Finally if you need help ask me I would be very happy to give you the aid you need Patawan, weather it be simple machining if needed or the use of my laser cutter or 3d printer or my help in some design work with solid works etc. or help with the circuit and or programming.

so don't let the lack of equipment or experience stop you. You can find a way to do it you just need a positive can do attitude. "USE THE FORCE" as it were, so many of us here would be glad to help.


Engineer (B.S. in mechanical, Ph.D. in robotics) and winner of a 3D printer in a previous contest here - I just read through all these comments, and I think it's an interesting discussion, especially between Kiteman and Deeg below. Kiteman, while I agree with your general statement that it's hard to draw a non-blurry line between "pro" and "hobby" (e.g. a hobbyist who happens to know a guy with a laser cutter, vs. an engineer who doesn't have access to one), but I disagree with your statement that

"Anyhoo, as I said earlier, lack of equipment is no longer a barrier to producing high-end projects. The only barrier is personal finances, which it would be inappropriate to assess. " (emphasis added).

As ianmcmill pointed about below, I think the original post was also about education - someone with an engineering/technical degree vs. someone without. If the goal is to design the whiz-bangiest fancy-shmancy widget imaginable, then yes, with a bunch of engineering education under my belt* (and at the time I wrote the contest-winning project, full access to all the equipment in a robotics lab at Cornell), then yes, I probably have a totally unfair advantage over a guy with a liberal arts degree who just decided to start tinkering in his garage with nothing but duct tape and a screwdriver. But only if that's the only way the contest is judged (more on that in a bit).

 Deeg, while I generally agree with your concerns, ultimately I think Kiteman is right that there's no way to draw a fair, enforceable line in the sand. Your brother's barber's son-in-laws's dog's groomer has a laser cutter? You took two semesters of engineering classes in college before switching majors? You inherited an old CNC router from your grandparents? Too bad, you can't enter the "hobby" version of the contest.

Ultimately I think you can accomplish your (Deeg's) goal of leveling the playing field a bit without actually having separate pro/hobby contests or subjective criteria like "could 80% of members build this". Off the top of my head:

- Cost limits on the project, e.g. "all materials including tools cannot be more than $50"
- Tool/material limits, e.g. "no laser cut parts or diamond-tipped saws"
- Judging criteria that include rewards for creative/efficient use of limited resources (if, at the end of the day you accomplish the same task, isn't it more impressive if you can MacGyver something out of cardboard and duct tape than nice clean laser-cut or 3D printed parts that snap together?)
- Along those lines - a "simplicity"/"low-tech" contest with a specific goal. As opposed to open-ended like "Show us anything that uses an Arduino!", make it "Design a device to do X", and reward the design that is simplest, cheapest, easiest to build, and most sustainable. Think along the lines of all those development projects to bring rechargeable reading lights, clean drinking water etc. to under-developed countries. They certainly don't have 3D printers available so the required use of fancy tools is actually a detriment to the project goal, and should be judged accordingly.

Clearly, this won't work for every contest. The Arduino contest is probably always going to be biased in favor of computer science/engineering people no matter what you do with it. But, I think if new contests are formatted carefully to begin with, then you don't have to worry as much about who enters them.

This totally hit the nail right on the head !
Very well written and argumented.


4 years ago

I just saw the forum thread about voting. I, too, was confused about the role voting played and didn't realize that the finalists were chosen (in part) by voting. If an Instructable gets the votes from members then it deserves to be included regardless of whether the members have any hope of building it. The members have spoken!

Community votes are out of the question. No doubt.


Community (=member) votes always choose at least half the finalists (sometimes contest sponsors choose some of the finalists).

I thought of the voting 'voting'. Not the judging 'voting'. Sorry.

Ah, right.

The simplified way things work is:

The contest opens, and folk enter. Members can immediately vote for any entries they like.
The contest closes. Voting continues, to give late entries a chance to catch up on votes.
Finalists are chosen. This involves counting votes, but also consulting sponsors if appropriate.
Finalists are passed to judges. The judges are usually invited from the more active members, but can also include staff from the sponsoring company. Judges are not told the votes the finalists earned, or which finalists were chosen by sponsors.
Judging happens. Winners are contacted to check they live in valid countries.
Winners are announced.
Prizes are sent.

Because Deeg referred to choosen finalists that are being vote for by the members/community before the actual judging begins.

*its how you market yourself, you got 108 followers.
*Follow the instructions of the contest to the letter. if Krylon is sponsoring a spray paint contest, slip an image of the can next to your finished product.(i got a $50 itunes gift card once)
*If your instructable is using mostly google images, its not going to win. period.
*Put cheesy jokes in the text, use "interesting main images" (look up asteroid belt). sex sells, do a project on something reflective and stand in the reflection in a speedo, post pictures of your underwear. My highest instructable has 63k views, on how to fold laundry. briefs are more funnier than boxers, especially if they have cartoons on them.
*Back in the day clear Macro shots were all the rage. It didn't even have to fit the project, i called it macro porn.
*Some projects like you mention are complicated like a doctoral thesis. I believe the spirit of instructables is to make instructions that are clearly written that others can follow, and to "show off" what you made. Your probably not going to make a set of orbit wheels, but you could cut a slot in a screw when you cant find your tools or mix a batch of oogoo.


4 years ago

Maybe some contests should have two winners, a "pro" and "hobby"; the hobby winner is limited to projects that could conceivably done at home.

Nice idea, but where do you draw the line?

More and more people are able to own better and better equipment, and have easy access to specialist equipment via online services like Ponoko and Shapeways, that it is relatively easy for hobbyists to produce "professional" projects.

It's even harder to divide hobbyist from professional if you think about cooking, textile or craft projects.

I understand what you are saying but the contests are replete with judgment calls: does an entry fit the requirements? who is the winner?, etc. It doesn't seem like a big deal to add another. The judges could ask of the winner(s): could 80% of Instructable members conceivably build this project without resorting to buying high-end equipment? For the examples in the original post: carbonize your friends, yes; the orbit wheels, no.

Agreed that this probably doesn't make sense for some categories, including the ones you listed.

I guess it comes down to: who is Instructables trying to appeal to? Does it want to be Popular Mechanics, which largely covers projects that few of its readers can accomplish, or MAKE Magazine?

There's something to be said for "high end" projects in that they can inspire but it seems like there should be a balance. For example, the orbit wheel instructable took first place in all three contests in which it participated. Maybe it could have been limited to just one.

But, that's the point, unless the site collects detailed personal data, including your individual income, such a judgement is impossible to make - since this is an online community, free 3D designing software, and online manufacturing services are available to absolutely every member, depending purely on finances.

And even if the site means-tested every member, there is the issue of equipment - I own some nice saws, but they were inherited from my great grandfather. I could not afford to buy saws of similar quality. I own a scroll saw, but I bought it second hand, from a man who just wanted to get rid of it. I don't own a laser cutter, but I know a man who has one at his work, and can occasionally get me access to it etc etc.

I don't think we need to means-test Instructable members to know that the orbit wheels project is beyond all but maybe 1% of members. :) I understand what you are saying the but flip side is that you are potentially ignoring the desires and frustrations of members. Some members, when they see what's involved in winning a contest, may take their ideas elsewhere.

I work for web companies so I know how important page views is, especially for sites that rely on advertising. The orbit wheels generated 50k+ views which is more than my top two instructables combined. We don't want to discourage super high-end projects but I would think limiting such projects to winning a single contest (or having a special category) would be a reasonable compromise.

View counts vs cost is a spurious argument, IMO.

My last 5 projects total well over 115,000 views, yet, between them, the total cost of following them would be around £3.00

Overall, I average just under 21,000 views per project, but the most I have ever spent on a single project is £35 (my beer project).

My top-viewed project, over half a million views so far, cost me absolutely nothing at all.

Anyhoo, as I said earlier, lack of equipment is no longer a barrier to producing high-end projects. The only barrier is personal finances, which it would be inappropriate to assess.

No project may be entered into more than 3 contests anyway, and it is very rare for any project to win more than one. The Orbit wheels were a fluke, but, speaking as a loser in each contest it won, it definitely deserved everything it got.

I would suggest that, rather than gnawing at the bones of past contests (nothing you or I can say will change the results), I think it would be far more constructive if we both moved on and started working on projects for future contests.

Don't you think?

I hardly think that looking at recent examples for ways to improve Instructables contests is gnawing old bones but whatever.

Sorry to interrupt your dialog and I don't want to disgrace any more but the topic was, to put it straight:
The ordinary instructable user will not stand a chance against an engineering degree.

Therefore the idea about one instructable, one contest sounds really reasonable. But as I take a look at the views of this thread, this is not affecting everybody here.

More (b)luck next round. Just kidding :)

That would be reasonable. As this sites grows bigger and bigger, more and more people are drawn into it. Especially when it comes to cool contests. I think this sites was at first created for the hobbyist. And the whole "maker" hype just made it very popular next to sites that came after it like thingiverse & co.
Dividing between pro and semi-pro would demand a great amount of moderated reviews. Which requires a lot of time and (wo-)man power.
On the other hand, there would be no need for this when the sites definition and rules about contests would be stricter and more clearer i.e. definiteness and precision.

Personal factories are cool institutions. It has never been easier to go from drawing board to prototype for home users. This could even be compared to the introduction of the IBM-PC (respectable Apple I) but for the DIY faction.
But there is one(two)disadvantage in printing or cutting your project in a remote facility. This is distance and time. You upload your designs to the factory which is (far) away from the maker. It takes time for the thing to be processed and shipped to you. Version revisions of your design take a lot more time this way. For example you find a glitch in your files or after one nights sleep you come up with another great solution or you just discover this stupid mistake you made.
Tl;dr it restricts the explorer and trail and error process. You must be absolutely sure your design is working.

I mean where is the fun in starting up your CAD tool and designing and uploading your piece. Its just about delivering a killer project to actually win contests. I must admit I had been bitten by the bug once I saw how my laser skyrocketed in views.

Gather professionals and engineers around you. Buy access to machinery.
Fair enough.

In other words:
Use machines you don't own, use knowledge you don't have.

I mean, there is a discrepancy between some contest winning instructables' character of DIY-relevance, i.e. rebuilding it at home (what instructables were meant to be) and the skill, ability and budget of the target audiance instructables.com is aming at.

I struggled with myself to write this as I don't want to play the sorehead and I must say I won the JuryRigit-Contest. But it just weighs too heavy on my mind to not write it down.
Anyways. I don't think anything will change in that matter and Kiteman is right when he says you cannot try to suit everybody.

So I'll never mind. Better luck next time.


4 years ago

I understand. Some of the contests draw such incredible projects that it seems if yours didn't involve CNC, arduino, conductive thread and 17 gyroscopes attached to sharks with laser cutters on their heads then you don't stand a chance.

But other contests are ripe for those of us with a simpler skill set. Concrete, recycling, craft, any food contest, woodworking...

And if you have a great idea for the higher tech contests, team up with someone or seek help. This really is a great community!

There are ways and means.

I made my last winning project by borrowing time on my school's laser cutter.

You can use the resources at a makerspace (the author of the orbit wheel project used the resources at MITers, the hacker space for students at MIT), Tech Shop or hacker space.

You can design parts at home on free software, then upload the files to any of several online services that will cut or print what you want.

It's easy to look at the high-end projects and feel unable to compete, but if you go through the closed contests, the majority of winners were made with "hobby grade" tools.

But, your issue is one that will (IMO) never be addressed to the satisfaction of all - it is only days since another member got very hot under the collar because some contest-winning projects are too simple, and could be made by just anybody...

Yeah right on that 'satisfaction of all'.

Borrowing time on hightech machines is a good idea !
Now I just need to get this basic machine engineering expertise to compete with MITers ;) But I get what you want to say. No offense.

The thing witn groups like that, you don't work alone. There is always somebody around to bounce ideas off, exchange skills etc.

Tech Shops provide formal training in their hardware, which you are required to go through before being allowed to use individual tools. You go from etching coasters to... well, when I visited the Tech Shop in San Francisco, I had to dodge a member test-driving a scratch-built all-terrain wheelchair that actually had massive tank-treads instead of wheels.