Father and sons invent pumpkin-carving machine

Brian VanDiepenbos and his two sons will travel to Michigan this week to show off their latest invention, punkinBoT.

Posted on Oct. 23, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 23, 2013 at 1:00 p.m.

GOSHEN — A Goshen man and his two sons are carving a niche for themselves with an invention they like to call punkinBoT.

Brian VanDiepenbos and his sons, Alex and Eric, are driving to the Henry Ford Museum just outside Detroit this week to show off their latest creation, a motorized machine that carves custom designs into pumpkins. The men began working on punkinBoT last year after talking it over at a meeting of Makespace Goshen, a group of local inventors.

“I just wanted to see if we could do it, just kind of a challenge,” Brian VanDiepenbos said. “And it was something to do with my boys here together.”

The trio spent about two months building a prototype of the machine with a plastic pipe and wood frame to show at Maker Faire Detroit in 2012, a two-day festival that draws inventors and do-it-yourselfers from coast to coast.

“We’ve been improving on it since then,” Alex VanDiepenbos said. “There’s been some major changes, like the framework, but there are just little improvements here and there that make it easier to use.”

The VanDiepenboses revisited Maker Faire Detroit this past summer and have demonstrated the machine’s pumpkin-carving skills at the Fort Wayne Regional Maker Faire, Fashion Farm in Ligonier and First Fridays in downtown Goshen.

“Usually people will walk by, they’ll look at it and they get this puzzled look on their face, and all of the sudden they get a great, big smile and say, ‘Oh, that is so cool,’” Brian VanDiepenbos laughed. “I love to see the reactions.”

Once the pumpkin is secured in place, its measurements are fed into a computerized spreadsheet and a design is selected. The machine cuts the pattern with the help of a prosthetic hand.

“The hand has been a part of family pranks for years,” Alex VanDiepenbos smiled.

Most pumpkins take less than five minutes to carve depending on the detail of the pattern. The trio has come up with more than 100 patterns for punkinBoT, ranging from cheery sunflowers and Pac-Man to spooky ghosts and tombstones. At the Henry Ford Museum this week, they will carve pumpkins with special designs including the Ford logo and the Model T.

“Really, the most time-consuming part is getting it mounted up in there and getting it measured,” Alex VanDiepenbos said. “The actual equipment is fast.”

The VanDiepenboses have even tried punkinBoT on watermelons.

“Watermelons look really nice because you have the green on the outside and the red flesh on the inside, so you can get a really good contrast,” Alex VanDiepenbos said.

Eric VanDiepenbos said he hopes to see punkinBoT’s reach expand beyond Maker Faires and his family’s garage.

“The eventual goal of this is to make a more finished version of this machine to sell to other people,” he said. “We’re going to start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter soon to raise money to make more of these for people to buy.”

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