Varun Adibhatla

New York City, New York

What does it mean to be a maker?

Makers have a unique ability to make tangible, what others could only marvel either in their heads or on screens. While those folks have special talents in story-telling, programming or analyzing - makers make that extra effort to be able to mould their thoughts and HOLD their creations, watch it grow and evolve and then move and interact with a physical space or be used by another human being. In some ways, to make is to yearn for what our human ancestors must have felt when they created the first tools to invent fire or the wheel.

What are you doing in the Maker community?

Street Quality Identification Device aka SQUID is a low-cost sensor platform using off-the-shelf components such as a Raspberry pi, an accelerometer, a GPS, and a camera to survey all 6,000 miles of New York City's Streets and provide a visual ground truth to discover potholes and other street defects in an equitable manner.

The story of SQUID began when I put my phone on my bike and rode a 100 miles around NYC to collect bumpiness data. I published this data on a map and it got a lot of interest.

One day, our professor at NYU CUSP said that it would be cool if the city had some way of getting real-time visual data of the streets. That's all it took for us to spend the next few months driving around the city streets using a messy set of sensors & wires jammed inside a takeout container.

Today, SQUID is a recipient of a knight foundation prototype grant and we are proud to say that we are officially working with the city of Syracuse to survey all 400+ miles of its streets so that they can make data driven decisions towards preventative road maintenance.

Who are some other Makers you admire and why?

The rocket boys from West Virginia and my dad who made model-kit F-14s. As a kid, I watched him as Topgun's soundtrack played in the background. I then proceeded to retrofit my GIJoe boats with motors. That's how I caught the bug.

As a restless engineering student in Hyderabad, India, I remember watching the movie October sky. The story of those scrappy kids from the non-descript West Virginia town making home-made rockets is exactly what makes America the powerful beacon it is to the rest of the tinkerers who hope to one day change the world for good.