Grant From MythBusters Offers Advice for Aspiring Hardware Hackers

If you’ve always wanted to tinker with hardware — up to and including building robots — but didn’t know how to start, Grant Imahara of the science-themed, blow-em-up TV show MythBusters has some advice:

“Anything that’s already broken is fair game! The worst-case scenario is it stays broken. The best-case scenario is you find out how it works or, even better, transform it into something else.”

Hardware hacking, like other kinds of hacking, boils down to getting your hands dirty and possessing a desire to know what makes things tick. And for many hackers, that desire starts at an early age.

“I think it’s something you’re born with — the desire to know how things work inside,” Imahara tells Mashable. “And you can tell your kid is a hardware hacker if none of the Hot Wheels cars have wheels, if the remote control gets take apart on a weekly basis.

“The best thing to do is give them more things to take apart so they can see how things work on the inside. Give them tools, and teach them how to use those tools.”

Imahara, who is hosting a Memorial Day Science Channel special on combat robotics, says he also started hacking at a tender age. “Even when I was young, I would build things with Lego or make ‘robots’ out of cereal boxes — long before I learned metalwork. The desire to build was always there.”

Although Imahara has a degree in electrical engineering, he says the robot-builders he’s met — especially those who take their bots into combat competitions — come from a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds.

“When I started Battle Bots in 1999, the guy sitting next to me was a high school teacher with no robotics experience at all. There were special effects guys, engineers, software guys who just wrote code — all kinds of people who had a desire to build something,” he says. “And they would do it in their garages or even their kitchens…. You don’t need to be an engineer or have your own machine shop.”

Imahara also notes how much the tools for would-be hardware hackers have grown in the past decade or two.

“I remember when I was a kid and I was interested in robots, there was really nothing out there but Erector Sets and Tinker Toys,” he says. “But now there’s such a variety of robotics-specific choices that you can buy off the shelf and get someone building and programming and exploring.”

For older sorts, Imahara also gives a nod to Maker Faire, which he calls “fertile ground … It’s about ideas, and taking those ideas into something physical.”

He recommends taking a trip to Amazon to browse through the many available books on robotics. His own book Kickin’ Bot is a specific how-to guide for building combat robots.

“And these days,” Imahara adds, “you’ve also got the Internet. There are thousands of webpages and open-source guides.”

Image based on photo from Flickr, dahveed

More advice from Imahara on first design.

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