By day, Scott Parenteau works as a commercial welder who runs a sheet metal fabricating business in Sacramento. By night, he dreams up and creates vehicles and large-scale kinetic machines out of metal. This year, the East Bay Mini-Maker Fair welcomes Scott and his robotic pod house, which he describes as an attempt to make the world’s smallest home for two people. We caught up with Scott to find out more about his designs and his Maker philosophy.
What led you to create the robotic pod house — possibly the world’s smallest home for two people?
I have always been fascinated by micro homes and started wondering how small I could design a metal dome house. The robotic pod house is the result of that experiment. It is an extension of my work, which is also art that can be lived in — such as my frightening walking machine, the Tinspider, which is actually just a not-so-scary RV with legs. Although the pod house is more art than function, it may be a glimpse of what a home of the future may look like, especially if you were living on the moon or Mars.
You’ve credited Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome and Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest as influences. What inspired you in each instance?
My brother built a dome in our backyard when I was about 10 years old and I’ve been fascinated with Buckminster Fuller’s domes ever since. In 2011 I decided to design my first dome using formed metal panels that could be easily bolted together. It worked extremely well and I have been using this design as a base for all of my other dome and pod projects. In 2012 I wanted to make a dome that was both mobile and edgy, kind of a mutant-camper-vehicle that I would bring to the Burning Man festival that year. While researching a method to move an entire dome house, I discovered Theo Jansen’s amazing Strandbeest linkage. Merging a Buckminster dome and to a Jansen Strandbeest leg system seemed to be the most obvious and the most difficult thing I could do, so I had to give it a try!
I understand you had the opportunity to meet Theo Jansen when he was in San Francisco recently. Tell us about that – how did he react to your use of his “leg” design?
In June 2016 I was invited to bring my Tinspider walking machine to the Exploratorium in San Francisco as a display next to an exhibit of Theo Jansen Strandbeests. This was a huge honor! Theo was there to speak for the opening reception and I had a rare chance to meet him in person. It’s still hard to believe I got a chance to speak with one of my greatest heroes. I pondered what first question I should ask a living legend, and eventually I asked him if he hated me for mechanizing his beautiful wind-powered linkage. He said, no, and that he views all of the transformations and mutations of Strandbeests as part of a natural evolution of the Strandbeest species. I guess that would make me unwittingly part of the Strandbeest reproduction system, which is kind of deep when you think about it.
What are your favorite things about being a featured Maker at a Maker Faire? What do you hope kids will get out of interacting with your pod house at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire?
Being a featured Maker gives me the awesome opportunity to show kids that metal work can be both fun and a vital skill to use in making their own amazing creations. Metalworking is slowly becoming a lost art and I hope in a small way I can help change that by displaying my machines and discussing the fabrication processes.
Why are Maker communities important these days?
You can never really know if an idea works until you actually build it. What I find exciting about the Maker movement is that it gives the knowledge and tools to the tinkers among us who can then turn their ingenious ideas into something the whole world can benefit from. The Maker movement is fueling a Renaissance of amateur geniuses.