This is a LONG and very detailed blog post.
The Back Story:
I always dream big.
When I decided to leave the engineering world behind (January 2013) and focus full time on Shakar Bakery, a part of me felt sad that I would no longer be able to do cool engineering work. But then I thought to myself “wait, why not incorporate cool engineering work into your cakes?!” If I succeeded in doing this then I’d mesh the best of both worlds and be a happy camper! I’ll be honest, ever since I started this business in 2009 I wanted to make a moving cake. Unfortunately as an environmental engineer, a chemist and a baker my knowledge was pretty limited and thus years passed without a moving cake.
Until I met Garen Khanoyan, a JPL engineer who happened to have degrees in electrical engineering and computer sciences! I met Garen after I wrote an article on the Mars Rover in 2012 (read it here) and I soon learned he was co-owner of Harsanik.com , an online directory of vendors catering to wedding services (coincidentally I also wrote a story about this for the Armenian Weekly. Read that one here). I attended one of their bridal shows in March as a vendor and during a quick chat with Garen he asked the magic question: “Have you considered making a moving cake?” Let me tell you, I was pretty excited and my very loud “yes I have!” must’ve proved it. So now that I found my electrical engineer to help me make a moving cake, WHAT would I make? It had to be amazing, a show stopper, a really big challenge. Neither of us had ever dabbled into this sort of project, and Garen joined in on the fun knowing that no money was to be made from this. This project was for our own growth and learning experience! I actually found an excerpt from our e-mails dated March 13 2013, check it out:
me: So while I was remodeling and organizing my kitchen today I got the first idea for a moving cake. I thought of a really creepy cake for Halloween that would combine movement and your sensor board. It doesn’t have to be this exact design, but the engineering idea is pretty neat. The design I’m thinking of is an evil clown. everyone HATES clowns. Now imagine you have an evil clown cake with eyes that actually move… and when you near the cake and face the eyes move to look straight at you and the clown blinks. or if we want to get super creative, we can make it open it’s mouth and laugh.I don’t know about you, but that would make me pee my pants
Garen: Creepy Halloween moving cake! Nice! we’ll need simpler designs first before we start moving too many parts!
me: We have from here till October to practice with simple designs and work our way up. I think big!
Since you’ve already watched the video, you can hopefully see that we didn’t stick to the “simple design.”
Right about this time Daft Punk released their Get Lucky track teaser and that’s when I knew I had to make THEM! In 2007 Daft Punk toured the US and I missed their concert due to the stupidest reason in the world. My sister had EXTRA tickets and I didn’t go! To this day I kick myself in the butt about it. I waited years for a new cd so that I can redeem myself and go to their concert! So I decided to make a tribute cake for the French duo. I’d create my own mini-concert in case I couldn’t score tickets this time around!
When I proposed my design idea to Garen, he thought I was crazy but the challenge was too awesome to turn down. I can tell you one thing: ignorance is bliss! If we knew how much work we were getting ourselves into, I don’t know if we would’ve proceeded with the project! I kid, I kid, this is too amazing to ever turn down! My design idea was to build a DJ board and make both Daft Punk members out of cake! I wanted them to move to music, one of them bopping their head in a yes motion, the other in a no motion. This is the quick sketch design I showed Garen:
By sheer coincidence Lego started to sell the exact thing I wanted to build:
So now came the fun part! I would design and sketch out the entire build of the model, and Garen would figure out the electronics. He chose the Arduino platform.
I decided to sculpt the helmets out of rice krispies treats to keep it light (that didn’t really work well. The heads ended up weighing 6-8 pounds). We used a coffee can as a base because originally we were going to house all the electronics in there (looking back while writing this blog really makes me laugh at how naive we were with everything!) Obviously that didn’t happen- we eventually realized we would need access to the electronics so we decied to house them underneath the DJ board.
Here are the first prototypes for the helmet articulation structures:
Neither of these made it into our final model. Neither design was strong enough to move the heavy pounds of helmet. So the bad news was that we figured this out AFTER the helmets were sculpted. It took 10 hours to sculpt the rice krispies… My wonderful sister decided to partake in this project and do the helmet sculpting for me…it was with a heavy heart that I had to tell her that one of the helmets had to be re-made! bad news for me because I had to do a lot of the work…anyway, here is a photo of her amazing first job:
One of the biggest lessons I learned on this project was that rice krispies treats (RKT) are the Devil’s Spawn. Don’t believe me? Look at this picture:
RKT is one big PITA to work with. Apparently the secret to sculpting with it is to make it WITHOUT butter. Sheesh, I think I spent 20 hours just dealing with RKT on my structure!! So making Guy’s helmet TWICE was not fun…not fun at all. But we did have to re-design the support structure for the motors. We eventually used a lazy susan bearing for the “yes” motion because it could support up to 300 pounds of weight and reduce strain on the motor. Garen also stubbornly insisted on keeping the legos structure for the “no” movement. He was going to make it work no matter how many hours it took! It was cool, it was different, it was nerdy (and we are definitely both very nerdy) and Garen is a huge lego fanatic. LEGO MADE MY HELMET MOVE! haha!
Here are the final images of what we really used:
The mechanical redesign and a much beefer servo motor for the silver helmet
Here is a picture of my initial DJ Board and you can see my structure for the DP members. I say initial board because I first built it out of foam board and then painted it black with non-toxic paint. Well, I learned that when you paint foam board it warps. SO after spending 4 hours building the DJ board, I had to destroy it and rebuild it- this time I used MDF and my wonderful Dad helped me put it together with power tools. So initial picture:
Here is a picture of the one I built after I tore down the painted foam board:
My base structure was finally built! Now I had to wait until Garen finished his electronic portion so that I could actually start building the cake! This part was really tricky because we had to feed all the cables from the helmet to the base bottom. It took a lot of coordination on both our parts to complete the cake! Here are some screen shots of Garen’s work:
Now pictures of the helmet building:
Since I was making the cake for fun, I opted to make one of the robots out of cake dummies so that I wouldn’t waste cake! If this were a real commissioned order, this cake would’ve fed 100 people.
A photo of how I layered the real cake. Again, I used one tier of cake dummy to save cake. I fed 60 people with the real cake!!! Also, I removed the layer of rice krispies, I was experimenting in this photo.
This project took 2 months to design, over 100 hours to build the structure and another 100 hours spent on the electronics, programming, and mechanics . We had a lot of bumps in the road and we worked through every single one. This was the first time I ever built a cake structure, the first time I sculpted with rice krispies, and the first time I built a cake on such a massive scale! This was Garen’s first time coding an Arduino servo, and creating head motions that defied weight restraints! I have to admit that we did a last minute surgery to the silver helmet to make the “no” motion more fluid.
But everything worked out perfectly! Considering this was our first time, we did a pretty neat job!
I’m sure I’ll be adding more photos to this blog, so check back at a later time! Until then…